The purpose of a museum is to tell a story. Whether it be a story from eons ago or one from just a few years ago, a museum is meant to encapsulate audiences with their best renditions of the past. Unlike museums of natural science, which are backed up by hard numbers and data derived from the scientific method, historical museums have a bit more creative freedom. These museums attempt to recreate a historical moment by drawing conclusions based on the evidence that they managed to gather but these things are not objective. How historical museums arrange their exhibits, adding or omitting supporting data as they see fit, makes the experience subjective to their own interpretation.
At the Sixth-Floor Museum in Dallas, which depicts the story of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the exhibits are arranged to tell the story of Kennedy’s presidency leading up to the assassination by the lone gunman Lee Harvey Oswald. The museums message seems clear, that Oswald acted alone without any outside influence, and that the assassination seemed to be out of nowhere. I believe that the Sixth-Floor Museum is purposely arranged to encourage conspiracy theory. By encouraging conspiracy, which is already very popular among the event surrounding the Kennedy assassination, the museum can continue to draw in patrons. I come to this conclusion for several reasons, the main ones being the large number of enemies that Kennedy makes during his presidency, Oswald’s connections to Russia, and Jack Ruby’s connection to The Mafia.
The presidency of John F. Kennedy was not as smooth as his campaign for president said that it would be. In their exhibit, “A Time for Greatness: Kennedy for President,” the curators for the Sixth-Floor Museum depicted Kennedy’s campaign as one of positivity, and while that was a nice message, the reality of his presidency was one of difficulty. As depicted in the main exhibit below, Kennedy managed to make a lot of enemies. Domestically, in the passage of the Civil Rights Act, Kennedy made an enemy of segregations and by being tougher on crime he made an enemy of organized crime, most notably the Mafia. Abroad, he managed to upset the Cuba with the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and later he got on the bad side of Russia with the Cuban Missile Crisis. The museum makes mention of these threats but did nothing to put to rest the suspected involvement of these groups besides a small mention that they denied doing it. They make no mention as to why it would more trouble that it would be worth for these groups to attack such an important figure. They just mention the threat and move on, which leaves doubt in the viewer’s mind.
Another loose end that I think the museum purposefully leaves is Lee Harvey Oswald’s connection to Russia. While the museum explicitly states that Oswald was a lone gunman, there is still the question of whether he had outside influence or not. It described Oswald’s time in Russia, including him meeting and marrying his widow, Marina Oswald, but they make no mention of is ambition, or why he left Russia. The Russians thought him incompetent and only allowed him to stay in their country because he attempted to kill himself when they initially tried to reject him. Without this information, Oswald makes an appealing potential agent for the Russians should they bear any ill will toward President Kennedy. There is simply no room for error when choosing a political assassin, especially for such a high-profile target.
Finally, there’s Jack Ruby’s connection to the Mafia. Being the man who killed Oswald, Ruby is a pretty important character in this story. Ruby was known for being mixed up with the Mafia, including owing them money, and it would have been easy for them to put pressure on him to kill Oswald. Again, the museum simply makes mention of this connection and does nothing to reasonably dismiss the possibility. If the Mafia had put the hit out on Kennedy, a popular theory, killing the lone gunman Oswald would have kept any connection to the Mafia from surfacing. If the museum truly wanted to keep the narrative that Oswald had no outside influence, they would have made sure to either not mention Ruby’s connection to the mob, or give a reason as to why they would not pressure him.
Museums exist to inform the public, but like it or not, they are still businesses. If they can’t make any money, they would have to shut their doors. By subtly encouraging the conspiracy surrounding the Kennedy assassination, the Sixth-Floor Museum would continue to generate interest in the story of the assassination. They still manage to stick to the widely accepted view of how the event of the assassination occurred but they leave doubt in the observer’s mind. This is a great way to continue to generate a curiosity for John F. Kennedy’s without losing the integrity of being a museum.