JFK Car Draws Thousands to Dearborn

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On any day, the sleek, black 1961 Lincoln automobile that sits in the Henry Ford Museum draws a sizable crowd.

"You can't just sort of breeze past this car," said Matt Anderson, curator of transportation at the Henry Ford Museum. "You have to spend time with it. It has that kind of presence about it."

Maybe it's the bulletproof tires. Or the inch-thick bulletproof glass. Or perhaps the floodlights illuminating flags at the front of the auto.

But on Friday, November 22, 2013, there was no question what brought thousands of people through the museum's doors.

"It is a direct link to the tragedy in Dallas and an example of how the country was moved after," said Anderson. "I mean the car was literally rebuilt and put back into service and you look at it and you see how the whole philosophy of protecting the president has changed."

The tragedy, of course, is what happened November 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was fatally shot while he made his way through the streets of Dallas, Texas.

"For many people [the car] is very much an emotional link to that event," Anderson said. "And seeing the car they feel like they're a part of it or at least experienced it."

The car, retired after serving several presidents post-Kennedy, was donated to the museum in 1978, where it has sat ever since. And Anderson says, the car looks virtually the same as it did then. No restoration has been done.

But the car has changed since Kennedy was a passenger. Each succeeding president made modifications -- painting the body black, permanently closing the convertible roof and remodeling the interior, for example.

The renovations took nothing away in the minds of the people visiting though.

Bridget Butler worked in the museum when she was in high school. She said she's seen the car countless times, but still made a point to visit it on the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination.

"It's just such an important part of American history," she said. "It's one of the darkest days in American history. I felt I should be here to be a part of it. No matter how many times I see the car, I still get a chill. I will never stop getting a chill about that and I will never stop remembering."

Teddi Ragland, a Detroit resident, used the day and the exhibit to show her niece and nephew the famous car from a day she remembers clearly, though she was a young girl at the time.

"Any anniversary brings back the memories," she said. "I think we need to share our history and our knowledge of history and the importance of it so that tragedies won't happen again."

Even those who were not alive at the time of the assassination said they felt the gravity of the moment and the weight of history.

"It's a little overwhelming to be able to see something that's so important and realize the sorrow that came out of it," said Sarah Taylor, who was visiting on a school trip from Circleville, Ohio.

"His assassination was so dramatic and so shocking for the entire country and to be able to see this, it's pretty amazing," agreed classmate Casey Adkins.

Admission to the museum was free in commemoration of the anniversary.

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