Saturday, November 9, 2013

The JFK Oral History Project - Mission Accomplished

This is a re-issue of a blog post that originally appeared in Pick's Place 1.0, re-issued in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination.

As mentioned in these pages previously, my friend Andy and I were invited by the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza to be interviewed about our memories and impressions of the events of November 22, 1963. Here is a brief chronicle of the trip, which we made on Friday, February 17, 2012.

I arrived at Houston's Hobby airport Thursday afternoon (on time, amazingly, thank you Southwest Airlines), took the shuttle to Andy's office in downtown Houston, then headed to his house in the Houston suburb of Spring, TX. Over dinner, we attempted to prepare for the interview, but having gone over this story so many times, there really wasn't much to rehearse. I went to bed, stayed up late like a kid on Christmas Eve, and woke up early.

We began the day with a blend of coffee called "Lunch with Elvis", that contained a hint of peanut butter and banana flavoring. Andy is a coffee enthusiast and tries various blends of beans he gets from a place called HEB Cafe on the Run.

At approximately 7:30am CST, we hit the road to head for Dallas.

According to Andy, no trip up I-45 is complete without a stop a Buc-ees, a rest stop in Madisonville. He had been singing the praises of this highway Mecca ("better than South of the Border") ever since we began planning this trip. The place did not disappoint. It has everything. Great for shopping, browsing and people-watching. We were stalked and stopped by a guy describing himself as a World War II re-enacter, and told us we must go to some event in Palestine (pronounced "PAL-est-een") in May. They even have a George Patton impersonator! We managed to break away and hit the road again.

We arrived in Dallas around noon, parking in the Sixth Floor Museum parking lot, grabbed some lunch at a restaurant around the corner, then went over to the museum at 1:30. (Sign on the front door of the museum: "No Firearms"). We checked in, asked for Stephen Fagin, Associate Curator, who greeted us in the lobby and took us to the media room. Although we have dubbed this event "The Sixth Floor Summit", the media room is actually on the first floor.

I had my copy of "Rush to Judgment", a first edition I bought used at the Strand book store in Manhattan many years ago. I asked Mr. Fagin if Mark Lane happened to be in the building. When he said yes, I jumped out of my seat and asked if I could get him to autograph my book. However, by "in the building", Mr. Fagin meant there was video of Mark Lane among the museum displays. Oh well.

We sat down, got mic'ed up, and started shooting. The interview went on for just over an hour, with Mr. Fagin moving the discussion along with brief questions and allowing Andy and me to do the talking. There were no brain freezes, very few, if any, "ums", and we had a great discussion, from our impressions of watching history unfolding through the eyes of a second grader and how our perspectives evolved over time.


Once the interview was over, we went upstairs to the museum, which had not changed much since I had been there in 2005, just spruced up a bit. Mr. Fagin took us to the renovated seventh floor, which is used for special exhibits and lectures. We then went outside to walk around Dealey Plaza.

The thing about Dealey Plaza is, when you go there for the first time, you feel like you've been there already, having seen so many pictures and documentaries. It all looks very familiar.  Another thing about Dealey Plaza is, there really isn't much to do there, except walk around. Other than a very small plaque embedded in the ground, marking the spot as a national historic landmark, there is not much to see. The picket fence, one possible sniper's perch for a hypothetical second gunman, has been replaced with a new fence and backs to the museum parking lot. Nothing mysterious there. The other possible sniper's perch, the manhole on Elm Street, used to have a removable cover, but has now been welded shut. We walked around a bit, took some pictures, chatted with some tourists, and we headed back to Spring, stopping, of course, at Buc-ees for gas, and some beef jerky to take home.

The next day, we sat at Andy's kitchen table and discussed the interview on video, and the awesomeness of the whole experience. After that, Andy drove me to Hobby for my flight home (again, on time).

We will be getting a DVD in the mail of the entire interview. The video will also be available in the Reading Room of the Sixth Floor Museum for researchers and scholars. If anyone wants a copy of the DVD, please email your address to me at jrpickens@gmail.com and I will send you a copy.

We hope all will find our story as interesting as we think it is.