A weekly round-up of my favorite preservation related stories from around the web and in the news. Click on the title of each story to jump through to the original article/blog post.
“President Abraham Lincoln stood on a battlefield in Gettysburg, Pa., 150 years ago [this week] and declared “a new birth of freedom” for the nation. That same year, an African-American man named Lewis Henry Bailey experienced his own rebirth. At age 21, Bailey was freed from slavery in Texas. His journey began in Virginia, where he was sold as a child in a slave jail. Today, the building where Bailey and thousands of slaves once lived before they were sold is the home of the Freedom House Museum and the Northern Virginia chapter of the Urban League, one of the nation’s oldest civil rights organizations.”
Dallas, 1963: City of Hate? – Atlantic Cities
“In the wake of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Dallas earned a new moniker — the “City of Hate.” It’s a damning nickname. Is it fair? Fifty years ago, Dallas was the nation’s right-wing “center for resistance.” After President Kennedy’s assassination, Dallasites faced years of trouble while traveling around the country. They were sometimes even denied service because of their hometown. What most non-Texans didn’t realize was that the city had a more glamorous and cultured side as well. It was home to new luxury apartment towers, a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed theater and the flagship location of Nieman Marcus. The Fort Worth hotel Kennedy stayed at on his final night transformed his suite into a room filled with sculptures and paintings by Monet, Picasso, and Van Gogh.”
WWI Created New Culture of Mourning – Deutsche Welle
Historian Jay M. Winter explains how the First World War permanently changed the culture of mourning. Whether Verdun, Shoa, or 9/11, what remains of the deceased is often only a name. Before WWI, mourning centered around the place where the physical remains of a person was entombed. Because of the massive number of casualties and the way in which soldiers perished during WWI, there was not a body to bury/burials were lost in the back and forth movement of the frontlines. It was at this point that spirtualism and seances became popular. It was also at this time that the list of names on memorials became an accepted practice in mourning: “The names were the things that mattered. The names are all that mattered. In war memorials you’ll see them, in churches, in Germany, all over the world. What matters is the list of the names in the parish or the town, the school or the university. It is the names. It is a way of bringing the bodies back home in a metaphorical sense of the term. Those names defined families that were empty, that had absences.”
Where Were You? 50 Memories to Mark 50 Years – Here and Now
“Here & Now has been receiving emails, web comments, Facebook messages and tweets (and even one fax) from listeners, with their memories of the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, 50 years ago today. Many of these stories share common threads: Class lessons interrupted, seeing parents and teachers cry, being glued to the television for days. Memories also came from foreign countries, on board planes, in hospitals and in the telephone room of an Air Force base. We’ve loved reading them and wanted to share 50 here to mark 50 years past.”
Just a few months shy of the fiftieth anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, a 1920s apartment building in Dallas was demolished causing local controversy and national headlines. The building, at nearly 90 years old, was historical and eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, to be sure, but the controversy over its demolition was not based on either fact. Instead, the controversy arose from the building’s link to the death of JFK
Eight months prior to the assassination, Lee Harvey Oswald and his family lived in the apartment building for about six months. It was there that Oswald ordered and had delivered the gun that killed President Kennedy. And it was there that investigators believe Oswald, a twenty-three year old former marine, planned the assassination.
This is only the latest incident in which the city of Dallas has struggled with its connection to the infamous assassination. In its immediate aftermath, many wanted to sweep the tragedy under the rug. A citizen effort led by a local merchant resulted in a monument that continues to inspire controversy. Later, painted Xs mysteriously appeared on Elm Street where the president was struck by bullets, the Sixth Floor Museum in the book depository became a place of interpretation for thousands of people who visit Dallas each year, and finally, this year dozens of commemoration events will take place all over the city.
Immediately following the president’s assassination, the most prominent advocate for moving forward without memorializing the tragedy was then Dallas mayor, R.L. Thornton. He felt Washington was the appropriate location for any monuments to the slain leader. Though the “city of hate” stigma may have been undeserved, what Mayor Thornton did not realize is that place memory is powerful. Memorial or not, the City of Dallas will always be remembered as the place where the vibrant and popular 35th president was killed.
Local merchant king, Stanley Marcus, moved forward with a memorial choosing Harvard educated Phillip Johnson (ironically, the Kennedy administration had just months before rejected Johnson’s candidacy for the Fine Arts Commission after a review of his career as an American fascist and Nazi propagandist in the 1930s). Inspired by Mies Van Der Roe, Johnson designed a box of white pillars linked together and floating above the ground. Approved by Jacqueline Kennedy and funded by donations, the monument was meant to symbolize the freedom of Kennedy’s spirit. Johnson described it as “devoid of expression or moralizing” and “monumental in its empty presence.” It is “a place of quiet refuge, an enclosed place of thought and contemplation separated from the city around, but near the sky and earth.”
Reviews were not especially generous when it was finally opened to the public in 1970. The long delay, necessitated by the construction of an underground parking facility, was yet further indication of where the city’s true priorities stood. Recently, LA architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne wrote:
The memorial by Philip Johnson, for its part, also symbolizes the city’s deep ambivalence about commemorating the assassination. A spare cenotaph, or open tomb, designed to be built in marble, it was instead cast in cheaper concrete. And its location east of the assassination site suggested an effort to tuck the history of that day away.“
While Dallas’ JFK memorial remains divisive, millions of people who visit the city each year seek out sites associated with the assassination. They come to just walk the “Grassy Knoll” at Dealey Plaza to reflect on the tragedy. They gaze into the traffic zooming along Elm Street. Up until this week, they could look from the Xs painted on the pavement marking the places where Kennedy was struck by bullet(s) to the sixth floor windows of the Texas School Book Repository where Oswald perched that fateful day. (The Xs where removed earlier this week during street repairs made in preparation for tomorrows commemorations. Mysteriously, the city does not know who painted the Xs or has maintained them over the years). And they visit the Sixth Floor Museum housed, as the name would indicate, in the space where Oswald fired on Kennedy. The museum “chronicles the assassination and legacy of President John F. Kennedy; interprets the Dealey Plaza National Historic Landmark District and the John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza; and presents contemporary culture within the context of presidential history.”
Tomorrow, among other commemorations planned across the city, a new memorial to Kennedy will be unveiled in the grassy knoll area of Dealey Plaza. An austere plane of aluminum alloy the size of a large door, it bears the concluding words from the speech JFK was to deliver upon his arrival at the Trade Mart, but never did. “We, in this country, in this generation, are — by destiny rather than by choice — the watchmen on the walls of world freedom,” he was to say, before concluding with an invocation from Scripture: “Except the Lord keep the city, the watchmen waketh but in vain.”
By marking the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination with fanfare and memorials, the city of Dallas is moving forward in its efforts to make peace with the role it played in the death of one of America’s most popular political and celebrity figures.
Fifty years ago this week, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Thousands of miles away, my ten year old father sat in a classroom in Kentucky. When the news came in, his teacher dissolved into tears. It was a moment he never forgot. He could still see the room at Bend Gate Elementary. Could still smell the chalk in the air…
Millions of people across the country also remember(ed) that moment – where they were when Kennedy was shot.
Recently, my mother gave me a huge tub filled with family photos and newspaper clippings saved by my father’s mother. Among the ephemera collected over a lifetime, I found that my grandmother saved more than a week’s worth of local newspapers relating to the Kennedy assassination. A life-long Republican, who wasn’t particularly political, nor particularly sentimental (she was constantly tossing out old things and you had to keep a real eye on her or else your favorite heirloom would end up at Goodwill) – and yet she held onto newspapers that detailed the death, mourning, and assassination investigation of a man for whom she had never voted for the rest of her life. For me, this discovery cements what historians have said for a long time. Kennedy’s death deeply impacted Americans and American culture.
Just remembering where you were the day of his assassination was and is a cultural trope. Young, old, Republican, Democrat, it didn’t matter -you remembered where you were when Kennedy was shot.