DALLAS — The city is preparing to mark the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination with events designed to celebrate his legacy and show how far Dallas, and the country, have come since that fall day in 1963.
In addition to a city-sponsored ceremony at Dealy Plaza on Friday, there will be concerts, panel discussions with eyewitnesses, public art installations and a day of service.
After the assassination, Dallas was denounced as "the city of hate." On the eve of the anniversary, the Dallas nonprofit group 29 Pieces has attempted to dispel that reputation by placing thousands of works of art throughout the city exploring the theme of love.
On Thursday, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra will perform the first of four concerts with two works tied to the assassination: "Murder of a Great Chief of State," composed by Darius Milhaud in the weeks after Kennedy's slaying, and Conrad Tao's "The World Is Very Different Now," commissioned for this year's anniversary.
Also on Thursday, Dallas-area residents will participate in a day of volunteering in memory of Kennedy, who created the Peace Corps and memorably urged Americans, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."
As part of the day of service, officials and student volunteers in University Park, a Dallas suburb, plan to hold a ceremony at a park in Kennedy’s honor, planting a tree and rose bushes in memory of Jacqueline Kennedy.
Tanner Houghton, 18, a senior at Highland Park High School, is scheduled to speak at the event.
"I'm going to be speaking about the incredible legacy of service that John F. Kennedy lived," said Houghton, an Eagle Scout and student body president at his school, which requires students to perform 50 hours of community service to graduate.
Houghton was born in 1995. His father, Steve, was born in 1963 — two weeks before Kennedy was killed. Steve Houghton's mother told him how she was nursing him while watching television at their home in Utah when Kennedy was assassinated.
Houghton sees Kennedy's emphasis on service as "a wonderful challenge to all of us that is perhaps more poignant today than ever before."
Dallas volunteers will also help sort food for distribution at the North Texas Food Bank, a nonprofit group that provides 175,000 meals daily.
"While President Kennedy left us physically 50 years ago, his spirit still motivates us every day in immeasurable ways. There are children all over town this week who will be participating even though they were not alive when President Kennedy was in office," Colleen Townsely Brinkmann, the food bank's chief philanthropy officer, told the Los Angeles Times.
The Sixth Floor Museum in the former school book depository overlooking the spot where Kennedy was shot has hosted panel discussions with curators and eyewitnesses leading up to Friday’s anniversary.
A panel of eyewitnesses on Wednesday included a former Dallas Times Herald photographer who captured the iconic image of Jack Ruby shooting assassin Lee Harvey Oswald; a former Dallas police officer; the chief surgery resident at Parkland Hospital who treated Kennedy; and Eugene Boone, a former Dallas sheriff’s deputy who found Oswald’s rifle in the book depository.
Boone, 75, who lives in Abilene, Texas, spoke with The Times about what he saw that day.
"Almost from the beginning there seems to be overtones of a conspiracy," Boone said of the assassination.
But Boone, who testified before the Warren Commission, said he stood by its findings that Oswald acted alone. He doesn’t put much stock in books detailing conspiracy theories.
"Most of them should be located in the fiction section of your local library," he said.
There are many who disagree.
As of this month, 61% of Americans believe others beside Oswald were involved in Kennedy's slaying, according to a Gallup poll.
Each year, conspiracy theorists in a group called JFK Lancer gather in Dallas to discuss the latest research, hear from speakers and stage a small memorial ceremony in Dealey Plaza.
This year, organizers are expecting about 400 people to attend the convention, which starts Thursday at the Adolphus Hotel downtown, according to the group’s president, Debra Conway.
Dealey Plaza will be closed early Friday for the official ceremony, which will include the unveiling of a monument to Kennedy, musical performances and readings from Kennedy’s speeches by historian David McCullough. Bells will toll across the city, to be followed by a moment of silence marking the time when Kennedy was shot.
The 5,000 tickets to the event were distributed through a lottery, and most JFK Lancer members did not receive tickets, Conway told The Times.
But she said her group received assurances from city officials that members would be able to enter the plaza after the official ceremony to stage their own observance.
"If we do anything, it will be a little singing and a few short speeches — something very traditional," Conway said.
The Texas Theatre, where Oswald was arrested, is scheduled to screen the Kennedy documentary "Rush to Judgment" on Thursday, followed Friday by the movie Oswald sneaked into, "War Is Hell," and the Oliver Stone film "JFK."
The latter screening will be preceded by a re-creation of Warren Commission interviews with two theater employees and the man who saw Oswald enter the theater. A special preview before the film will include archival footage of then-Texas Gov. John Connally sharing his account of the assassination. Connally was wounded in the attack.
Near the theater, at the spot in Oak Cliff where Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit was shot by Oswald, the Dallas Police Assn. plans to stage a candlelight vigil at 6 p.m. Friday. Marie Tippit, 85, of Dallas, the officer’s widow, is expected to attend.
Before the vigil, she and her three children will take flowers to Tippit’s grave, as they have every year on Nov. 22.
Tippit, now a great-grandmother, told The Times that she also plans to attend the memorial in Dealey Plaza, "just to remember President Kennedy and what happened to our whole nation when he lost his life."