Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, Ruth Ann McBeth Rugg '79 is "making
meaning" for those trying to understand JFK's assassination.
David Van Meter
unidentified woman stares intently at a 1960 photo of a young, smiling
Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. Like many of the half-million visitors who
come to Dallas' Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza every year, the woman
there is a small pale-blue x painted in the middle of Elm street. It marks
where Camelot ended, and where a nation's innocence was taken. Passersby
speak in hushed tones, looking from the x to the grassy knoll to the corner
window of what used to be the Texas School Book Depository.
seem to reach the same conclusion: Something bad happened here. And it
continues to hurt us. Badly.
the woman turns to a stranger.
didn't the media do more? They're so aggressive today; why didn't they
find out what happened?" she asks, her eyes growing wet. "I
remember Walter Cronkite crying when they announced Kennedy had been shot,
but the media didn't do anything."
McBeth Rugg '79 could answer that question. Since January, she's served
as the director of interpretation for The Sixth Floor Museum, which now
occupies the sixth floor of the building where investigators concluded
that a sniper fired three shots a little after noon on Nov. 22, 1963.
of the reporters were in press cars or on buses, which were pretty far
back," said the 42-year-old Rugg, a museum veteran holding Fort Worth's
Amon Carter and Kimbell museums among her credentials. "All they
knew was that the motorcade picked up speed. The presidential limousine
went to Parkland Hospital, but the motorcade was due at another event
at the trade mart; most of the press went there."
Rugg was only 5 years old in 1963. During the televised coverage of the
funeral, Rugg remembers her mother ironing in the den -- and then sitting
down to cry. Today, Rugg counts hundreds of theories trying to answer
who killed Kennedy.
more I know, the less I know," she said. "Who did it? I don't
have a clue."
Rugg's job anyway. She simply tries to "make things have meaning,"
she said. "My
definition of meaning is making sense or significance of the information
or experience that you encounter. And at The Sixth Floor Museum, you can
either focus very tightly on the event of the assassination, which is
meaningful to some people -- or broaden to embrace some of the ideas that
are part of the legacy of President Kennedy."
itself holds more than 400 photographs, 45 minutes of documentary films,
artifacts including the Zapruder camera (which captured the assassination),
the FBI model of Dealey Plaza used by the Warren Commission and even two
"evidentiary" spots recreated after the event -- the sniper's
nest and the stairway he may have used to escape.
On the museum's
website, visitors can view Elm Street from the alleged sniper's exact
vantage point. Yet, most of Rugg's job is to provide the "broadening"
that other visitors seek, from the events leading up to the assassination,
to how the world responded afterward.
window of eye witnesses is closing," Rugg explained, "so we
are actively gathering oral history. We still get lots of calls from people
who say, 'My grandfather passed away, and we're cleaning out his house
and we found this box of stuff. Would you like to take a look at it?'
Sometimes, it's nothing, but sometimes we find things of interest."
the Tribute to Jackie now on display, some 40 photos of the First Lady
captured by the photographer she trusted most, Jacques Lowe. Patrons see
not only a first lady, but a mother and a devoted wife.
Rugg -- a
mother herself, she and husband Jerry have three: Ben, 16; Audrey, 12;
and Rebecca, 11 -- also played a significant role in the restoration of
the John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza. Two blocks southeast of the museum,
the 30-year-old memorial is called an "empty tomb," four white
walls open to the sky and surround a black granite marker engraved with
the words John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
architect Philip Johnson designed the structure hoping people would discover
their own meaning in the simple monument. Over time, they found more and
more a place marred by broken lights, chipped paint and graffiti.
the museum took over management of the neglected structure and rallied
support from Dallas County and the City of Dallas. Supplies and expertise
were donated, cracks filled, lighting replaced, the granite slab refinished.
And for Rugg's
part, she wrote and produced a 35-page historical overview of the controvery
surrounding the memorial as well as added interpretative signs around
the memorial. Both were firsts. The memorial was rededicated in June.
are institutions of communication," concluded Rugg. "Now, I
drive by the memorial in the morning, and people are there and reading
the signs. And, for the first time, they now know what they're looking