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Kennedy, Oswald and our brains

By David Butler Science and the world 27 Feb 2014
From the Sixth Floor
From the Sixth Floor

I have just visited the “Sixth Floor Museum” at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas – the place where President John F Kennedy was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald, just over 50 years ago. It gave me the creeps, I found it very disquieting and I was quite numb after. My friend Bob, the same age as me, could only handle it for a short time and had to leave. Even the mention of the “grassy knoll” disturbed him.  But others around us seemed to enjoy it. The sixth floor of the Texas book depository is an iconic place and one of the few places in the world dedicated to a public execution. The sixth floor of Dealey Plaza hasn’t changed much in 50 years and you can see the place where Lee Harvey Oswald took his shots, you can see the crosses on the road where President Kennedy and others were shot and there is all sorts of stuff there including Jack Ruby’s hat!

Why was it so numbing?  I, like many, can recall the assassination I was 8 and I can even remember the colour of the radio where the announcement came from. Is this just an old, but very “sticky” memory coming back? Perhaps even a form of mild grief related to a loss of innocence? Or did the voyeuristic feel of the place get me? Was it being amongst people where you could clearly sense/overhear that many didn’t believe the official story being presented? Most Americans, even President Johnson, believe there was another gunman or conspiracy.  There is no closure in this place for those who need it. I couldn’t help feeling sadness for Jackie Kennedy and her family and even for Oswald – what happened to his family?  And perhaps it was just me  but the exhibition just reinforced my age!  Overall it felt like a flawed place for communal memory.

To take something from the experience? – perhaps a reminder that “threats hide in hard to find places” – we believe that awareness of this is critical for optimal pain treatment.

I would love to hear from others who have been there or too similar places.

– David Butler


  1. robertjohnsonnoi

    just reading your words creates the same ‘gut-ache’ that i had walking around there in the JFK museum. I ,too, remember the time and place where i was… when my grandfather walked into the kitchen and told my mother and I what had just happened. It was that same ‘gut-ache’ that i felt a few days ago in Dallas…. for me, it wasn’t the people and their conversations as i quickly walked around, and then exited… i didn’t even hear those folks….. in fact it wasn’t all the history and specifics of the museum, the things i had never known up until then…… it was the memory.

  2. timcocks0noi

    I wasn’t born when Kennedy was assassinated, but I immediately recognised that view from the sixth floor.

  3. My mirror neurones are working overtime reading this lovely piece David. I was, age twelve I think at the “Flicks” with my brother and sister at the time. The film was stopped and the announcement made. I took my siblings home and broke the news to my parents !!! There went my innocence again, feeling that I was being blamed, as the messenger for the tragedy !!! The word I hang onto In your article is “Closure”. I strongly feel, in the domain of persistent pain that towards the end of biological healing the brain “Hijacks” the process to manifest thoughts, feelings and emotions that have been inadequately resolved…….Until closure is found no amount of biological and sociological intervention is going to resolve the issues presenting……

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