Armchair Field Trip: The Grassy Knoll

Whether you believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone or think that John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963 was the result of a huge government conspiracy, there's no question that Dallas is the place where it all went down. Since that's where I was last week, of course I had to check out the Grassy Knoll.

As a side note, when we were consulting the GPS system in our rental car, we weren't totally sure how to look up the site of JFK's assassination. We didn't know it had taken place at Dealey Plaza and didn't know what the name of the museum was (or, in fact, that there even was a museum). We jokingly wondered if it would be listed under "Grassy Knoll" in the GPS Yellow Pages. Guess what? It was.


Anyway, when we got to Dealey Plaza, we discovered the Sixth Floor Museum, a museum dedicated to JFK's life, death and legacy. The museum is, as its name implies, on the sixth floor of what used to be known at the Texas School Book Depository where Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shots that killed Kennedy (or didn't fire the shots, depending on your theory). Maybe it's just me, but I found it rather morbid that the museum was housed in the very place JFK's (possible) killer holed up to shoot him.

At the museum, I learned some interesting facts about the events surrounding that fateful day.

BookDepository2.jpg"¢ Lee Harvey Oswald was an employee at the Book Depository at the time.

"¢ There were concerns about the President's safety in Dallas because United Nations Ambassador Adlai Stevenson has been hit with a protest sign and spat on in the city less than a month earlier.

"¢ Minutes before JFK was shot, a local T.V. station announced that it was clear that any worries about anti-Kennedy activists in Dallas were completely unfounded.

"¢ A Presidential car with a bulletproof top didn't exist then, although plans for one were in the works.

Zapruder.jpg"¢ The only video known to exist of the entire event is the Abraham Zapruder video, which he sold to Life magazine for $150,000. He also turned a copy of the film over to the Secret Service.

"¢ Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as President an hour and 38 minutes after President Kennedy was pronounced dead. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy stood next to him wearing the same clothes she was wearing when her husband was shot approximately two hours earlier.

"¢ JFK's funeral took place on November 25th, 1963 "“ his son's third birthday.

"¢ Lee Harvey Oswald was pronounced dead two days and seven minutes after President Kennedy was pronounced dead.

"¢ The plaza is named for George Bannerman Dealey who published the Dallas Morning News for a number of years. He also was a key player in helping to revitalize the Dealey Plaza area.

"¢ Buildings in Dealey Plaza have not been changed since 1963, which is really noticeable when looking at the extremely modern Dallas skyline behind it.

And, oddly, available in the gift shop were action figures of not just of JFK, but also Abraham Lincoln, Uncle Sam, and"¦. Laura Bush?? (Is it just me, or is that a strange combo?)

Well, I'm hesitant to ask, but what do you think? Single shooter? Government conspiracy? JFK is actually still alive and hanging out in a bar somewhere with Elvis and Tupac??

Previous Armchair Field Trips:

The Corn Palace
The International Spy Museum
Intercourse, Pennsylvania
Ogunquit, Maine
Aquinnah, Massachusetts

© via Wikimedia Commons // CC-BY-SA-4.0
The People of Texel Island are Professional Beachcombers
© via Wikimedia Commons // CC-BY-SA-4.0
© via Wikimedia Commons // CC-BY-SA-4.0

If you’ve ever tossed a message in a bottle into the ocean from anywhere in Northern Europe, it’s likely it ended up on Texel Island. Located off the North Coast of the Netherlands, Texel is at the intersection of several major currents, and close to several shipping routes. For the last 400 years, Texel residents have survived, in part, by scavenging items that have been lost at sea.

According to documentarian Sam Walkerdine in a piece for The Mirror, the practice has faded as other economic opportunities have opened up, but many residents still scour the beaches for lost items. One professional beachcomber, Cor Ellen, claims to have found over 500 bottles with letters inside—and has even answered some of them.

Ellen is one of the subjects of Flotsam and Jetsam (2012), Walkerdine’s 13-minute documentary on the Texel Island beachcombers (you can watch it above). In the film, a handful of Texel Islanders show off their best finds, and share their stories and strange observations. Ellen, for example, brags about scavenging crates of food, fur coats, powdered milk (“I didn’t have to go to the milkman for one year”), and even umbrella handles from passing cargo ships. Another beachcomber reminisces about finding something more personal: the collected photos and memorabilia of an English couple who had broken up and tossed their memories into the sea.

One of the weirder observations comes from Piet Van Leerson, whose family has been beachcombing for at least five generations: he claims that only left shoes wash up on Texel’s shores. The right shoes, meanwhile, end up in England and Scotland. (The shapes cause them to go in different directions.)

Beachcombing is such a big part of life on Texel, they’ve even opened several museums to show off their weirdest, funniest, and most interesting finds.

If you do decide to try and get a bottle with a letter in it to Texel, the residents have a few suggestions for you: drop the bottle somewhere off the coast of England, weigh it down with pebbles so it doesn’t get caught by the wind, and of course, remember to include a return address.

YouTube / British Movietone / AP
A Film Tour of London in 1981
YouTube / British Movietone / AP
YouTube / British Movietone / AP

Earlier this month, the Associated Press began releasing loads of archival video on YouTube. A large part of that collection comes from British Movietone, which has uploaded thousands of videos of all kinds, including many newsreels.

I have scrolled through countless pages of such videos—most without sound and/or extremely esoteric—and I finally discovered a 1981 gem, This is London. It's a sort of video time capsule for London as it was in the late 1970s and early 1980s, comprising plenty of stock footage of all the sights, royals, and ceremonies you can imagine.

If you've been to London, this is a great glimpse of what it once looked like. If you've never been, why not check out London circa 1981?


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