Almost 50 years after President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed, visitors at the preview event of Philadelphia University’s striking new exhibition, “Single Bullet: Arlen Specter & The Warren Commission Investigation of the JFK Assassination,” were transported back in time to the scene of the assassination on Nov. 22, 1963.
The exhibit reflects a tumultuous time in U.S. history that still evokes controversy over the Warren Commission finding that one shooter, Lee Harvey Oswald, was responsible for Kennedy’s assassination.
For many visitors, a highlight of the exhibit was a full-scale model of the 1961 Lincoln limousine President Kennedy was riding in when he was hit by two bullets during a presidential motorcade through Dealey Plaza in Dallas.
When sitting in the rear seat of the model, where Kennedy was sitting at the time of the assassination, visitors can observe from computer monitors built into the model where the bullets struck the president and the view from other key vantage points, including from the Texas Book Depository window where Oswald was perched when he fired the shots.
About 200 PhilaU faculty, staff and students and visitors attended the preview of “Single Bullet,” the inaugural exhibit of The Arlen Specter Center for Public Policy at Philadelphia University. The exhibit features the collaborative work of architecture, graphic design and law and society students and faculty members, and staff of the Specter Center.
Howard P. Willens, former assistant counsel of the Warren Commission and its last surviving member, spoke at the event about the Commission’s findings, the numerous conspiracy theories that have emerged over the years, and his new book, “History Will Prove Us Right: Inside the Warren Commission Investigation into the Assassination of John F. Kennedy.”
Almost 50 years later, he unequivocally defends the Commission’s finding that Oswald was the lone shooter responsible for Kennedy’s assassination. “I have no reservation whatsoever in reaffirming on a daily basis the conclusion of the Warren Commission,” said Willens, who spoke to an overflowing room during an interview moderated by Evan Laine, director of the law and society program.
Joan Specter, the widow of Sen. Arlen Specter, said at the event, “I think it’s amazing. It really shows how that single bullet could have happened,” referring to the conclusion of Specter and the Commission that one single bullet hit both Kennedy and then-Texas Gov. John Connally, who was sitting in front of the president.
Many of those who lived through the events of that day remember it clearly—and emotionally. For many of today’s college students, however, it is an historical event from a long-gone time.
Dylan Herman, a fourth-year architecture student who was born in 1992, said working on the exhibition “brought about the importance of the time period.” For his generation, he said, “We were alive for 9/11 and have an emotional connection to it.” Now, he said of the JFK assassination and that time in U.S. history, “I feel much more connected to it, and the emotion of it.”
Christina Minopoli, who worked on the project last spring as a senior graphic design major, appreciates that it presents the evidence and allows viewers to come to their own conclusions. “We worked together with the design-build team to create a cohesive exhibit.”
Frank Baseman, program director and associate professor of graphic design communication, said the project was a lesson in history for PhilaU students. “They needed to become mini-experts about the JFK assassination and Specter’s role on the Warren Commission, so they had to do research,” he said.
In addition to the limousine model and cameras in the exhibit’s Assassination Room, the Investigation Room includes a model of Dealey Plaza that shows the trajectories of the three shots that Oswald fired from the Depository window, and such artifacts as copies of the 1964 Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Evening Bulletin announcing the findings of the Warren Commission; selected volumes from Arlen Specter’s personal set of hearing transcripts; and a signed letter by former CIA director Allen Dulles to former U.S. Pennsylvania Sen. Hugh Scott recommending Specter’s work on the Warren Commission.
Jennifer Barr, archivist for the Specter Center, said the documents on display contribute an extra layer of reality to the exhibit. “For the people who lived through that time it might give them a sense of nostalgia, but for the students who didn’t live through that time it makes it seem more tangible,” she said. “It helps make it feel real.”
That sense of reality was the purpose of the exhibit’s design, said associate professor of architecture David Kratzer, who worked on the project with his students. “The idea was to put the visitor in the place of Arlen Specter and in the place of JFK,” he said.
Senior architecture student Corey Pedersen created the manikin showing where one of the bullets hit Connally, who was riding in front of Kennedy and was wounded during the assassination. For many visitors, the manikin helps brings the scene to life, showing clearly how one bullet could have traveled through the president’s neck and struck Connally in several places. “The most incredible part of this experience is the fact that you get to go back and look at history and be a part of it, because this experience is so immersive,” Pedersen said.
The exhibit, which officially opens Oct. 21 and runs through April 11, 2014, was supported with a $100,000 grant from PNC Foundation. The exhibition is open to the public weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Individual and group tours can be scheduled by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Arlen Specter passed away in 2012 after representing the Commonwealth for 30 years as its longest-serving U.S. Senator and one of the most influential of his time. In December 2010, he donated his extensive archive, encompassing 50 years of public service, to Philadelphia University to establish The Arlen Specter Center for Public Policy. The Center’s mission is to foster greater understanding of political science, government and history through research, educational programming and exhibitions inspired by Specter’s career as reflected in his extensive archive. The Specter Center will be housed in the historic Roxboro House at Philadelphia University, which is currently undergoing renovations.
To view more photos from the preview of “Single Bullet”, click here.