On any given weekend, a trip to Dealey Plaza will result in more than one encounter with an attention-starved conspiracy nut eager to impart to you his view of “what really happened” here in 1963. It's not unusual for a complete stranger to walk right up to you and offer a conjectural "All right, so tell me if this makes sense to you ..."
On my most recent visit, one confused out-of-towner tried explaining to several visitors that since Elm St. is curved, there's no way a shooter could have hit President Kennedy from up the road. His eyes brightened as he asked each of them, "How could a bullet possibly follow a curved path?" Ah, mystery solved.
But even if you have no interest in such pseudo-scientific debates, you’re sure to come away from Dealey Plaza with something. For history buffs, movie fans or those just wanting to add another travel snapshot to the ol’ photo album, time there is well spent.
Myself, I’m going to avoid the whole issue of “what really happened” – and, I hope, a storm of fanatical e-mails – and serve merely as your tour guide to this infamous site.
The North Pergola
This is the spot you’ll find everyone milling about as they take turns playing chicken with Elm St. traffic. It’s one of two pergolas that bookend the north and south sides of Dealey Plaza.
This, the northern structure, is where Abraham Zapruder was positioned as he recorded the most analyzed 26 seconds of film in history. At the west end of the steps, you'll find the pedestal on which he stood.
The pergola overlooks the spot where John F. Kennedy received the fatal shot, though many disagree on the precise location. More than one X mark the center lane of Elm St., but those who seem to have all the inside information will tell you the exact spot lines up with Zapruder's pedestal and the plaque along the sidewalk.
The Texas School Book Depository
It’s now the Dallas County Administration Building and houses local government offices, but was in the ‘60s one of two distribution sites for the Texas School Book Depository Company.
Oswald, as most people know, was employed there at the time of the assassination, having been hired just five weeks prior.
As evidence suggests, Oswald took a short break from his order-filling duties and managed to shoot the president from the southeast-corner window on the depository's sixth floor.
That floor is now home to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, where the window has been preserved in an artificial half-opened position. The area inside the window has been recreated to appear as it would have during the shooting.
The Grassy Knoll
Personally, I think these are the oddest words one could choose to describe this area. Who uses the word “knoll”?
Though I suppose we couldn’t have gotten through history referring to it as the "fenced slope” — no character. At least we weren’t stuck with “hillock.”
It is, of course, the area of most controversy here in Dealey Plaza. Was there a second gunman stationed behind the stockade fence? Did the fatal shot come from somewhere in this area? Only the knoll knows.
Incidentally, if you’re tempted to break off a piece of the fence for a keepsake, just know that nothing of the original remains. It had already been picked apart and repaired repeatedly when the Dallas Parks Department and the Sixth Floor Museum finally replaced it entirely.
Interlocking Tower 106
Better known as the North Tower, this railroad switching station dates back to 1916 when the seven railroads then serving Dallas consolidated their lines to form the Union Terminal Company.
It overlooks the parking lot behind the stockade fence where a second, and possibly third, gunman may have been positioned.
Switch operator Lee Bowers Jr. was working in the tower at the time and later testified that he had seen “something out of the ordinary” occur behind the fence.
Bowers died in 1966 in what some say were mysterious circumstances. Others say it was just him running his car off the road because he was overloaded with antihistamines.
The Union Terminal Company Underpass
This structure, known commonly as the Triple Underpass, accommodates Commerce, Main and Elm streets running into and out of Dealey Plaza. Immediately after President Kennedy was shot, his limousine raced beneath it toward Stemmons Freeway.
In front of the underpass, between Main and Commerce, is where onlooker James Tague was standing when he claims he was hit in the face by flying debris. Evidence suggests a stray bullet may have struck the curb in front of him, which lines up with a trajectory originating in the vicinity of the School Book Depository.