September 15, 2017

The Last Years of Jack Ruby

By Stephen Fagin, Curator, The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza

Jack Ruby in jail, visiting with attorney Phil Burleson in 1964.  Credit: Robert L. White Collection/The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza

Whatever happened to Jack Ruby?” It remains one of the most frequently asked questions we receive from Museum visitors and students. Most are surprised to hear that Ruby spent the remainder of his life incarcerated in a building adjacent to Dealey Plaza. After being found guilty of murder with malice on March 14, 1964, Ruby remained in a cell on the sixth floor of the Dallas County Criminal Courts building while his attorneys appealed the verdict, which was ultimately overturned by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Had he not passed away on January 3, 1967, Ruby would have received a new trial in Wichita Falls, Texas later that year.

Deputy sheriff Benny Bob Barrett (1940-2015) spent a lot of “babysitting” Jack Ruby. His Oral History was recorded in 2009. Credit: Oral History Collection/The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza

Jack Ruby was a unique prisoner. In addition to regular jail personnel, Sheriff Bill Decker assigned deputy sheriffs to “babysit” the high-profile prisoner to make sure he stayed safe. “You just had to sit there and hopefully get along with him,” recalled deputy sheriff Benny Bob Barrett in his oral history, “and most of us did.” Ruby’s well known respect for law enforcement continued during his incarceration as he engaged his “babysitters” in conversation, sometimes planning future business opportunities.  “Ruby [had] the idea that he could manufacture this stuff to keep people’s hair from coming out, and wanting me to go into business with him,” explained Barrett. [He] never gave up his desire to make money.”

Ruby made this drawing for the children of deputy sheriff Archie Barnes. Credit: Archie and James Barnes Collection/The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza

Deputy sheriff Archie Barnes played dominos and other games with Ruby. Ruby once presented Barnes with a geometric drawing—one of countless intricate doodles he made in jail—for the deputy’s children. Barnes also recalled, “We both read a lot during this time… and especially on deep nights when the lights wasn’t as bright… I got to where I couldn’t see good.” Ruby loaned Barnes his eyeglasses and later insisted that the deputy keep them.

According to Ruby’s optometrist Dr. Thurman Ray, Ruby went through several pairs of glasses while at the Dallas County Jail. Ruby kept “breaking them, flushing them down the commode,” said Ray in his oral history. “I always said… ‘Only a crazy man would do this.’” Researchers continue to speculate on Jack Ruby’s mental state during the final years of his life. Deputies were aware that Ruby was suicidal at times, and Benny Bob Barrett heard that Ruby once “jumped up and stuck his finger in that socket of the light bulb supposedly.”

In an oral history recorded less than two months before his death in 1995, Ruby’s longtime attorney Phil Burleson bluntly stated that during this period Ruby “was totally out of it” and often made bizarre allegations. Ruby shared with deputy sheriff Al Maddox his fears that he was being injected with cancer cells. While this has persisted as a conspiracy theory for many years, it is medically impossible to contract cancer via injection.

However, as with most aspects of the Kennedy assassination story, there are still lingering questions associated with Jack Ruby, his colorful past which included low-level mafia connections, and the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald. Following a court appearance during his appeal process, Ruby famously told reporters, “The world will never know the true facts of what occurred, my motives.” He further suggested that people in high positions “had so much to gain.” This statement, among others made in these final years, continue to interest (and perplex) researchers who believe that there is more to the story of Jack Ruby.

September 6, 2017

Back to School at The Sixth Floor Museum: Engaging, Connecting and Inspiring through History

By Ani Simmons, Museum Educator

At The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, we strive to engageconnect, and inspire students with education programs that take place at the Museum, at individual schools and through distance learning that connects classrooms across the globe. President John F. Kennedy was an advocate for many important causes like volunteerism and civil rights that still affect our society and continue to be taught in schools today. Far more than the story of a 1963 presidential assassination, these programs help students engage with history, connect with the past, and become inspired to make a difference in the future.

Engage

Engagement is of paramount importance in effective 21st century education. As a museum educator, my goal is to engage students in learning about our collections, then show them how these objects tell a story.  A record, magazine, or photograph might remind them of something they remember from a grandparent’s house and spark a conversation. Before they know it, they’ve learned something and they are asking questions about museum careers!

When you can engage physically with a historic object, you’re often able to emotionally connect to the person who used it. One example is our program “History Detectives: 1960s Time Capsules,” where students unpack a time capsule based on a real person’s story and containing actual 1960s-era objects and documents from the hands-on Education Collection. Students develop understanding of the individual and their unique experience from that time, while increasing the critical thinking skills required of a historian.

By engaging students with the stories of the people who made the history, we help them segue into the overall concept of history. They learn that history is not about memorizing dates and isolated facts; it’s examining the people and their choices that resulted in historical events. In this hyper-connected world, a successful program entices students to slow down long enough to engage with people and their stories from the past, and then connect the lessons they learn to the present and future.

Connect

In the Museum’s “Living History” programs, Curator and Oral Historian Stephen Fagin interviews a guest with memories of the 1960s in front of a group of students. The students are able to connect emotionally to that history, and then they’re given the chance to ask the guest questions – what they wore or what kind of car they drove back in 1963 – however they best connect with that person’s story, and then they can become an oral historian for a short while.  Students who attended a “Living History” program said they felt like they had time-traveled back to the 1960s!

Making connections spans all ages, from students to teachers. Teachers who foster connections with concepts they’ve learned or objects they’ve examined at the Museum take that sense of discovery and excitement back to their classrooms. Their enthusiasm is contagious!

One of our other programs that’s very prescient today is our Civil Rights program, called “Resistance in Dallas: Civil Rights and Kennedy’s Legacy.”  It focuses on a 28-day protest that occurred in 1964 in downtown Dallas, just months after the assassination of President Kennedy and just blocks from Dealey Plaza. It fascinates teachers and students to learn about Civil Rights events that took place right here at home. While the events in Selma, Alabama and  Jackson, Mississippi are well-known, teachers often don’t connect Civil Rights with Dallas. It’s transformative for them to see the actual images that document what happened.

Inspire

During teacher workshops, when I get the chance to bring out some of the more powerful artifacts in our collection, like the SCLC Handbook for Freedom Army Recruits, I try to inspire teachers to see themselves as a key influencer in their students’ lives. They are not just teaching the students in front of them, but their students’ children. When students are taught in a way that impacts and inspires them, they will then teach their own children. It is my job, as a museum educator with access to a vast array of primary sources, to engage and connect teachers to the available resources, then inspire them to use them in a creative and effective way.

I want to inspire teachers to teach ideals that I believe President Kennedy would have supported, ideals that are part of his legacy. If you are a teacher and would like more information about our education programs at The Sixth Floor Museum, contact Ani Simmons at education@jfk.org.

August 4, 2017

Summer at The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza

Your guide to getting the most out of your visit to the Museum

The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza welcomes many visitors from all over the globe during the summer months. However, as Dallas locals know, summer is not our most forgiving season, since temperatures sometimes reach triple-digits. We have compiled a list of tips that will help you enjoy your trip to the Museum this summer, no matter how high the heat index.

Wear comfortable clothes

Summers in Dallas are H-O-T! Out-of-towners are often surprised that while the temperature may only be 93, the heat index makes it feel much warmer outside. Thankfully, The Sixth Floor Museum is indoors and air conditioned, but we still recommend dressing for the sweltering heat outside. Comfortable walking shoes, breathable shirts and shorts are recommended.

Buy tickets online

Sometimes the Museum sells out. Summer is a busy time of year and we want to ensure your visit is a special one! You can buy timed tickets online a minimum of two hours in advance at www.jfk.org. Often, buying tickets online helps you better plan your trip and it might minimize your wait time to get into the Museum.

Take note of museum hours

Unlike many museums that are closed on Mondays, The Sixth Floor Museum is open daily. Admission hours are Tuesday – Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Mondays 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. However, if you do arrive early on a Monday, have no fear! The Museum Store + Café is open from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. Located across the street from the Museum at 501 Elm street, it’s situated on the corner of N. Houston Street and Elm. Early birds can enjoy coffee from Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters and snack on pastries from Rush Patisserie and sandwiches from Bolsa while they wait.

Visit Museum Store + Café

We strongly recommend a visit to the Museum Store + Café after you view the exhibit as well. In addition to the delectable assortment of edibles listed above, the Café also sells Henry’s Ice Cream, a delicious North Texas treat. The merchandise is eclectic, including a wide range of books, collectibles, jewelry and gifts. You’ll find items pertaining to President Kennedy’s campaign, assassination and legacy. The Museum Store + Café also carries jewelry, books and gifts that evoke Jackie Kennedy’s famous personal style, as well as items that center around rich culture of Texas and downtown Dallas.

Get the most out of your day in Big D

Did you know that when you park in The Sixth Floor Museum’s parking lot during the day, your parking is valid until 7 p.m.? In addition to visiting the Museum, we recommend getting the most out of your day in Dallas by visiting other nearby institutions or eating a meal at one of the great restaurants in the West End. For this, you will also want to wear comfortable shoes! Many exciting attractions and food destinations are just a 10-15 minute walk away.

Regardless of how you plan your trip around a visit to The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, our goal is to ensure your time in the Museum will be a profound experience with lasting memories. We hope to see you soon at The Sixth Floor Museum!

 

July 6, 2017

Pop Culture and the Kennedy Assassination: Doctor Who

By Stephen Fagin, Curator, The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza

The BBC television program Doctor Who holds the Guinness World Record as the longest-running science fiction series in history. Such a record is not terribly surprising considering that this British institution premiered one day after the Kennedy assassination in 1963. Perhaps because of its coincidental connection to the program’s 1963 premiere, its historical and pop culture significance, and its malleability for science fiction writers forever pondering “what if,” the Kennedy assassination has been curiously linked to Doctor Who for virtually all its history.

Original 1963 series logo

Doctor Who, the television program, was developed entirely during the Kennedy years, beginning in March 1962 when the BBC began to explore creating a new science fiction series. Its premiere on Saturday, November 23, 1963, was delayed approximately five minutes by assassination news coverage. Ratings were poor as one might expect, and in a rare move, the BBC decided to rerun that first episode the following week. The assassination occurred during production of the series’ second story, “The Daleks.” Reportedly, shooting of the series was interrupted and postponed once cast and crew learned that President Kennedy had died.

John F. Kennedy and the assassination were not directly referenced in the series for twenty-five years, though a wax figure of President Kennedy made a brief cameo appearance in the 1970 Third Doctor story, “Spearhead from Space.” During its 25th anniversary in 1988, Doctor Who was particularly nostalgic and John F. Kennedy was twice mentioned. The story “Remembrance of the Daleks” took place in November 1963 near the same London junkyard location where the television series began a quarter century earlier. This story opened with a view of the Earth and included a famous quote by John F. Kennedy from his “Strategy for Peace” speech at American University in June 1963—the first and only time his voice is heard in the series’ history.

Another 1988 story, entitled “Silver Nemesis” specifically mentioned the Kennedy assassination for the first time. The Doctor, now in his seventh incarnation, revealed that he launched a dangerous artifact into space which, unbeknownst to him, had returned to Earth’s orbit once every twenty-five years, triggering some terrible event each time. In 1963, he noted, this would have been the death of President Kennedy.

Photo by Walt Sisco, Courtesy of The Dallas Morning News

The assassination again resurfaced in Doctor Who mythology in the very first episode of the re-launched series in 2005. In the premiere, “Rose,” the Ninth Doctor is shown standing along Main Street, observing the Kennedy motorcade moments before the assassination.

In reality, the face of actor Christopher Eccleston was Photoshopped into a famous Dallas Morning News photograph taken by Walt Sisco. The implication, however, was that the Doctor was in Dallas when President Kennedy was shot.

Who Killed Kennedy (1996)

Beyond television, President Kennedy and the assassination have been referenced numerous times in the worlds of Doctor Who through original novels and audio-only adventures that fit within the series’ official canon. Among these, most notably, is the fan-favorite novel, Who Killed Kennedy (1996). Author David Bishop, writing as an investigative journalist, constructed a complex narrative linking bits and pieces of the series history together, building up to a climax that revealed, once and for all, what actually happened in Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963, and how the Doctor was directly involved in this significant event.

Matrix (1998)

The 1998 novel Matrix presented an alternate reality in which President Kennedy survived his trip to Dallas but was assassinated three years later while visiting London. And as one might expect from the titles, Kennedy is referenced in two audio adventures: The Conspiracy and 1963: The Space Race. November 2013 marked the fiftieth anniversary of both Doctor Who and the Kennedy assassination.

Shroud of Sorrow (2013)

To once again acknowledge their connection, the Eleventh Doctor novel, Shroud of Sorrow, takes place the dayafter the assassination where an alien entity is trying to use the tragedy as part of a plot to plunge the Earth into grief. The Doctor teams up with an FBI agent and a reporter at The Dallas Morning News to save the day.

It is inevitable that a historical event such as the Kennedy assassination would turn up so many times in a series centered on time travel, yet Doctor Who holds a special distinction because of its November 1963 premiere. It is likely that, in time, President Kennedy and the assassination will again be part of this long-running series’ history.  As for when this might happen next, Who knows?

To read the books mentioned in this blog or see other fictional stories related to President Kennedy or the assassination, make an appointment to check out the Museum Reading Room!