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Chris Sayer’s Travel Diary

Sunday, 20 Jul 2014

Location: Dallas, USA

MapWhen the time came to bid farewell to Toronto and Canada, we did so with heavy hearts. I suppose we had taken to the city because it had become Dayna’s hometown, but we also felt an affinity with it. Everyone we’d met had given us a smile or some friendly banter, and there was always something happening in and around the GTA (Greater Toronto Area - what locals affectionately refer to the downtown).

When planning the trip months ago, we opted for an alternate journey home to Australia instead of the usual Toronto-Los Angeles-Australia. The slightly circuitous Toronto-Dallas-Australia route allowed us to visit a brand new city for us, and also for Dayna and Adam. We decided to hire a car from Fort Worth airport (closest international airport to Dallas), and in air-conditioned comfort on a 40-degree day, Dayna’s phone GPS “Siri” guided us into downtown Dallas.

Our hotel was conveniently located on Elm Street in the middle of the city. We arrived before midday, a few hours before our check-in time, so we stowed our luggage and went for a walk, heading west. Crossing a few intersections, a seven-story corner red brick building came into view, and Elm Street then went down a gentle decline while sweeping to the left before passing under a triple overpass railway bridge. Grassed areas lay on both sides of the road, and on the right-hand side was a white marble pergola sitting at the top of a small hill alongside a picket fence. As we walked through the crowds of people who were milling around, a strange feeling of eerie history came over us. We had never been here before, but we all knew about this place. A small white “X” in the middle of the road marked the very spot where John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22nd, 1963.

The official explanation of what happened that day had the shots being fired from the sixth floor of that red-brick building by Lee Harvey Oswald. That floor has now been converted into a museum commemorating JFK’s presidency and assassination. I thought the displays were very well presented and interesting interpretations of the times and chronology of events that day. The snipers nest had been set up behind glass as it was that day, and it had an unusual aura around it.

What struck all of us was how small the area really was, a fact that may not be so obvious when viewed on a screen or pictured in a photograph. The observation from a sixth floor window gave an unnervingly close view of the cars down below. Then again, standing at the picket fence on the so-called “grassy knoll” gave an even closer view of the road. We stood at the same plinth that Abraham Zapruder had stood to film the most famous home movie in history. We were standing in the middle of a downtown park in an average mid-American city where the history of the world had been changed in about ten seconds, fifty years ago.

During our Dallas visit we toured several placed that figured in the assassination story. Oswald’s rooming house, the corner where he allegedly shot police officer J.D. Tippit, the picture theatre where he was arrested, and the police station alleyway where he was himself murdered (although the roller door was closed). Perhaps the most interesting meeting we had was with a guy called Robert Groden, who was sitting on the grassy knoll selling copies of his books and DVDs. He had a fascinating history – he was a photographic technician who was called to testify at several Government assassination commissions, and was a consultant on Oliver Stone’s “JFK” movie, making a couple of cameo appearances in the movie. We also had a chat with a guy who was a witness to the shooting that day, as a 13-year old (or so he claimed). He told us that some shots had definitely come from the grassy knoll.