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Facing the Past: A Modern Dilemma

Facing the Past: A Modern Dilemma

By on Nov 24, 2011 in Nerd Debates | 0 comments

On the anniversary of the JFK assassination earlier this week, the Tribune newspapers had an interesting article written by Molly Hennessy-Fiske (Los Angeles Times) about how the city of Dallas struggles with its identity as the place where President Kennedy was killed. The article is called “Modern Dallas Coming to Grips with Kennedy Assassination: a museum plans a 50th anniversary event in 2013 and a restoration of Dealey Plaza, part of an effort to shed for good any lingering collective guilt in the city.” It presents an interesting modern dilemma over how museums, cities, etc. balance the negativity and notoriety of an event with the tourism it attracts.

The article features a photo of tourists smiling while getting their picture taken on Dealey Plaza, which seems odd to me. What kinds of souvenirs do they sell there? There is also a sidebar article on Jerry Dealey, a descendent of the namesake Dealeys, who now gives tours there. This sidebar describes a strange scene Dealey reports on anniversaries where “he has watched the area become a circus scene with actors dressed up as Kennedys and people on stilts vying for publicity.”

 School Book Depository, Dealey Plaza (Dallas) Dec. 2011

School Book Depository, Dealey Plaza (Dallas) Dec. 2011

Coincidentally, my family and I are planning a trip to Dealey Plaza next month. Like the dilemma some people in Dallas may feel, I feel somewhat uneasy calling this excursion a “Nerd Trip” and I don’t plan to bring the “Nerd Trips” sign, which is a featured picture at other presidential sites.  It seems disrespectful. Maybe it’s because the Kennedy assassination is part of more recent history. What do you think?

I don’t know I would have as strong of a concern if I were visiting Ford’s Theater in Washington. Another recent Nerd Trip  (which I still have to write up) included a trip to the Princeton Cemetery to visit President Grover Cleveland’s grave, which I definitely considered to be a Nerd Trip. However, I wasn’t comfortable having my picture taken with the Nerd Trips sign in the cemetery, we took the photo outside the gate. Again, it’s seems disrespectful.

As I visit more of these locations, it’s interesting to see how cities and historic sites balance the need to face the negativity of past events with the education and learning of a modern audience. When my friend Julie and I took “The Ultimate Nerd Trip” to Monticello, Montpelier and Ashlawn-Highland, I was very impressed how the tour guides at each location were very upfront about slavery and the three presidents we were learning about. More on that in a later post.

I encourage you to read the two articles about Dallas and the Dealey Plaza dilemma. I will let you know my thoughts after our trip to Dallas.

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