Tuesday, November 1, 2011

6th Floor Museum has a surprising supporter - Debra Conway

Dallas’ JFK museum to oversee Dealey Plaza events for 50th anniversary 
of assassination

By DAVID FLICK Staff Writer dflick@dallasnews.com
Published: 30 October 2011 11:38 PM

For the past few months, officials at the adjacent Sixth Floor Museum 
have been quietly at work, trying to ensure that what those cameras 
capture won’t embarrass the city.

For one thing, they have been conducting a campaign to raise $2.2 
million to complete the restoration of Dealey Plaza in time for the 50th 
anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

And to avoid the carnival atmosphere that has often prevailed at 
previous anniversaries on the plaza, museum officials are planning to 
take over commemoration activities there.

“We have reserved Dealey Plaza for that date,” said Nicola Longford, the 
museum’s executive director. “I think, for the 50th anniversary, we have 
an opportunity to offer a dignified, appropriate event for the city of 

That has not always been the case.

Many people assume the annual gatherings at the plaza — which have 
attracted hundreds and, in some years, thousands of spectators — have 
had some official sanction. But the museum’s decision actually reverses 
a hands-off policy by both the museum and the city of Dallas that has 
lasted decades.

Only once before, when the plaza was dedicated as a National Historic 
Landmark district in 1993, has there been an official ceremony 
commemorating the assassination.

Museum and city officials have said in the past that by avoiding such 
events, they were honoring the Kennedy family’s wishes that the 
anniversary receive no official recognition in Dallas.

In the organizational vacuum that resulted, ordinary people who came to 
the plaza to quietly honor the slain president found activities there 
often dominated by conspiracy theorists, performance artists and 
assorted publicity-seekers.

Critics charged that on what should be a solemn day, a circus atmosphere 
has sometimes prevailed on the plaza.

“I don’t think we know yet what will take place. It may be simply a 
moment of silence,” Longford said of the 50th anniversary commemoration. 
“It will absolutely not be a festival. It will be a dignified and 
appropriate commemoration.”

Museum officials have been working with some of the city’s cultural 
institutions to help commemorate the event, but Longford said such talks 
were in the early stages and declined to elaborate.

She said museum officials contacted the John F. Kennedy Library 
Foundation, chaired by Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline, about the decision 
to conduct an official commemoration in Dealey Plaza.

Longford declined to characterize the reaction, but added, “I don’t 
think the Kennedy family has changed their stand.”

In response to a request for comment by The Dallas Morning News, a 
foundation spokesman emailed a brief statement that officials of the 
Kennedy Presidential Library and Kennedy Library Foundation were still 
in the early stages of planning, “but how others choose to mark the 
anniversary will be up to them.”

Among those supporting the museum’s takeover of the ceremonies — perhaps 
surprisingly — is Debra Conway, president of JFK Lancer, the 
organization that for most of the past two decades has held the speaking 
permit for the plaza on the anniversary.

“I’m kind of glad,” she said of the museum’s plans. “I don’t think a lot 
of those things that have happened will happen when the museum takes 
over. I think they’ll have a ceremony that won’t get out of hand.”
Conway describes her Southlake-based organization as a clearinghouse for 
information on the JFK assassination and other topics.

She acknowledges that representatives affiliated with her group have 
used the commemorations to espouse conspiracy theories. But she said the 
comments were respectful, and she blamed any inappropriate behavior on 
other participants.

Despite having reserved the plaza, she said, her group has had no power 
to enforce who speaks.

“We’ve tried to stop them and they ignore us,” she said.
Museum officials are hoping that the fundraising drive to upgrade Dealey 
Plaza will also help project a better image of the city.

“When they broadcast from the plaza, we don’t want Dallas to be 
embarrassed by what they see in the background,” Longford said.
The work was envisioned as the second phase in the restoration of the 
plaza, which has deteriorated over the decades. The $500,000 to complete 
the first phase came from a 2003 bond issue.

Phase I restored the fountains and peristyles along Houston Street, the 
most visible part of the plaza. The partial restoration may have worked 
too well, according to Willis Winters, assistant director of capital 
projects for the Dallas Park and Recreation Department.

“Phase II was never included in the 2006 bond program, probably because 
what we did in 2003 looked so good,” he said.

The city has pledged to kick in $750,000 for the second phase, which 
will improve paving, lighting, irrigation and signs, and — in the most 
visible change — will restore the pergolas on top of the grassy knoll.
Phillip Jones, CEO of the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, said 
JFK assassination anniversaries have always posed a challenge to people 
trying to draw visitors to the region.

The assassination is among the darkest days in the city’s history. On 
the other hand, there is no doubting that Dealey Plaza is a major 
tourist draw.

“I think it’s a balancing act,” he said. “I think the Sixth Floor Museum 
can celebrate the life of the president, but we’ll have to be very 
selective on how we promote it.”

The 50th anniversary will also mark a kind of watershed, he said. After 
five decades, the death of President John F. Kennedy is passing from 
being a personal memory to becoming a purely historical event.

“One of the things we need to do is to educate the younger generation,” 
Jones said. “I think it allows us to position ourselves as a new city, 
very different from what it was 50 years ago.

“There’s an opportunity there we haven’t had in a while.”


Over the next two years, the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza will:

•Oversee a $2.2 million campaign to finish the restoration of Dealey Plaza.

•Plan details of the 50th anniversary commemoration on Nov. 22, 2013.

•Discuss the participation of major Dallas cultural institutions.
Other efforts

•Officials at Love Field, where Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as president 
aboard Air Force One, are planning to have a historical panel about the 
event erected by spring 2013.

•A memorial garden honoring President John F. Kennedy is planned for the 
new Parkland Memorial Hospital, opening in 2014 or early 2015.

SOURCES: Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, City of Dallas Office of 
Aviation; Parkland Foundation

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