Staples: So we control the crowd by creating a path, like a mouse path. Between columns, going between columns, but not always to the floor. Sometimes the columns would be just floating and you could see feet on both sides of them.
Charles: What I walked off to look for was a floor plan. I cannot find an overall floo rplan.
Thelen: I do not think it is important.
Staples: I mean describe, what I was trying to do is describe the intellectual part of getting from the entry and the Kennedy years to the corner window and what you have to go through.
Charles: Do you know where a floor plan is?
Staples: I do not.
Thelen: You do recall more or less the challenge of getting to the window.
Charles: Absolutely, absolutely.
Staples: One of the things that I think I might have done. There is something in there, something.
Thelen: I do not know what that came out of, but it was sitting here.
Charles: Let me get these papers.
Staples: One of the things that we had to do or take advantage of was that there was a lot of photograph of him going through the city and the event itself. There then were people in the grassy knoll or on the grassy knoll in the plaza in the greenbelt between. You had a sort of group of views from the left side of the road and one group from the right side of the road. What we did right before you get to the corner window, we wanted to sort of darken it up, so we had a series of panels you had to walk around to get to, but the ones that were here on the side we then put little tiny pictures of down both sides leading towards the event.
Thelen: Why did you use little tiny pictures?
Staples: There were a lot of them and it just seemed like you could get this sort of, dun dun dun dun. There had been reasons to do some big pictures other places, so you change, hunker down once in a while.
Thelen: Then when you open it up, you really open it up.
Staples: Exactly, exactly, when we open it up by the way you step past the last picture and you are now in the corner window and it was very dramatic. We have…
Charles: This is not the best thing to be looking at, but I think it is useful [paper rustling] and I am going to take your lunch. We should turn this around the other way. [background noise]
Staples: You are entering there at the, no.
Thelen: Here is the elevator. Here I come off the elevator over here.
Charles: You are going to go back out that way.
Thelen: And you are going to lead me like this.
Charles: Yes, we sort of lead you - this is where this big first picture is. No it is not shown here. It is the sixth floor with all the boxes.
Staples: The way the FBI found it.
Thelen: Okay, oh I see.
Charles: These are little panels, but basically you are supposed to go this way and learn about the early sixties and what was life like then. One of the differences between the plan in eighty-two to eighty-three and when we came back in [feedback] eighty-eight and then we opened in February eighty-nine is it was felt there should be more of the early period. Really understanding what the period was like. We also had the lunchroom in the eighty-two plans. It had been taken out and put up here. By eighty-eight we all felt that was artificial to move it like that.
You had early sixties, you had sort of what is going on political, you are kind of setting up, not so overtly, but setting up, who might have done it. We have a Cuban missile crisis going on, we have got segregation issues going on, kind of what are all the issues that have, stakeholders you might say that do not like Kennedy a lot. The Russians, Mafia, the brothers are taking on the Mafia. Then you come down in here and we start, it is the trip to Dallas. There are some absolutely brilliant films that were made and working with Conover we interviewed several filmmakers. We outlined what the goals were and the Mondells just did brilliant films. This one about before they get to Delly Plaza and this was the filmmaker’s idea, they just captured real clocks that he passes, so you are kind of keep watching this and you know what is going to happen.
Staples: I do not remember that that was there.
Charles: No that was here, it was the trip to Dallas. Then you get to, I think this is before your little, this is a really old plan, this is oh-one, what the hell is going on? Is the corner window just that one window or two windows, one window I guess.
Staples: It is one.
Charles: Okay. It is here, I guess those are those two lines maybe or something. It is in this area that you go through these little photos, or you think they are here?
Staples: No they are there, from here to there.
Charles: And when were they, these three shots of light, I guess they got changed?
Staples: No, they are three panels that sort of have bigger pictures.
Charles: And then they are on both sides?
Thelen: On one side Delly Plaza versus the other street. These are the little ones that you come into.
Staples: And we painted the walls dark.
Charles: Yes, the rest of the walls are kind of this brindal grey and they get darker as you get in here. Partly with these panels, Bob is blocking your view down to the window. One of the problems with this physical layout - every exhibit you are dealing with a physicality of a building, sometimes you can influence the building. In this case, that is the window Oswald is supposed to be at. We had to kill him before that, we had to kill Kennedy before the visitors can get to this window.
Thelen: I guess that tells you something about me. [laughter]
Staples: It does, it really does.
Charles: You are waiting, stalking. Anyway that was our approach. We felt that if we were telling this story in a somewhat linear fashion, Kennedy has to die before you get to the corner window. The public does not even know about the corner window until somebody reports that they have seen a gun up there. The press runs up there.
There is all this excitement after Kennedy, it is like who did, what happened, what is going on here? They know something has happened there. We said that there were two evidential areas in the museum. One of them is here, is the window. One of them is back here, is the stairway because back in here is where a gun was found, back among boxes. Those areas became our artifacts. We actually had an agreement early on that there would not be any artifacts in here. The artifacts…
Staples: Well we had the teletype machine.
Charles: We had one - well we do have the teletype machine. Other things we did not really go for. They have since been collecting some and it is okay. It certainly did not need artifacts. I mean this was a story that…
Thelen: This is an enormous artifact.
Charles: Then you come around and we have an area in here where you, we talk about - I am sorry I keep just looking at this plan. This reflected ceiling plan, no wonder I cannot figure it out. These are all our ducts, but at least gave us the overview. Anyway, around in here we have an area which is about the three days between Friday when he is killed until Sunday when Oswald is killed. It is sort of this incredible weekend. I spent that weekend in the student lounge at Oberlin College riveted to televisions and just remember the news layering. You got another piece of evidence, I mean my God what is happening. This was like being in a murder mystery except it is lasting for three days.
When we were writing the specs, Conover and I were writing the specs for the films - Conover is a little bit younger than I am. This was my perspective, I said, “that film has to be that layering with real reports,” which they did a brilliant job on. Then we kill Oswald here. Then back here is a bigger theater where they did a beautiful film about the funeral, no narration, just the music and it was the real music. They collected footage from all over the world, all the tributes. So you can cry in there. Then we kind of bring you out and now you kind of have to go through who did it, all the investigations. You can stand here and talk about the grassy knoll, what is that evidence?
Staples: The conspiracy theories.
Charles: Who are all the conspiracy theories. There is a film back here with Walter Cronkite about you know what is the legacy et cetera, that is back in here. You sign your books back in here. It has been incredibly well received and by museum people too.
Thelen: You are looking surprised or am I misreading you?
Charles: We did not have a clue.
Staples: You did not think you had done.
Charles: I am not sure we…
Staples: Tell him the Sammy Davis story.
Charles: Throughout this whole thing I would say I am not sure either of us - I am not sure we ever talked about is this going to work or not. You know, you are just kind of doing the best you can, making the best decisions you think at the moment. Conover and I had sort of agreed to share curatorial responsibilities. She led all the research in the Texas area and we led the research here at National Archives, it was a great great partnership.
It went on hiatus. Conover and Lyndalyn could raise the money, not that it was ever that expensive. The county commissioners are called county judges. So a new county to be the head of all the county judges, Judge Judy, I think his name is Judy. That is television, that is not right. Anyway, got elected, young guy, late thirties, Republican, in his inaugural speech in January he says, “it is the county building, we have to finish the sixth floor, this is not acceptable, Dallas needs to tell this story.” Now you have a big man saying we have to do this, he has got backers. Next morning the Dallas morning News says we have to tell this story. The Times Herald says we have to tell this story. Within a day we got a call from Lyndalyn saying we are back in business, you guys have to come back we are starting again.
We had to rethink all of our ideas. I would say about two-thirds of it is the same or similar to where we were and about a third really changed. Then it was quite quick, it all got designed, built - researched, designed, built in a little over a year. I do not remember that we ever discussed between ourselves is this going to work. We were installing the show and I am down there, you were not there I do not think, we were kind of going back and forth depending on who had to watch over what things, and Lyndalyn in her white suit, the rest of us are filthy in this place, comes in and has Sammy Davis Jr. in tow. We are a couple of weeks from opening, but the graphics are not all up, the structures are up. I think that I was working with Protoproduction to get the graphics up and kind of laying them out and so on.
Lyndalyn and I give Sammy Davis Jr. a tour, but we are describing it, here you are going to see, now we are going here, now we are going here, you know, now you are coming through this little area, you are coming to the window. He was getting it. It was clearly working with no graphics, but the ideas, he was really getting it. He said that he came to Delly Plaza every time he played Dallas and he happened to be in town with Liza Minelli and Frank Sinatra when that trio was kind of going around doing things. He, on his own, always came to Delly Plaza, every time. Lyndalyn had seen him and she had gone out and grabbed him and said, “come on in.” It is really cool that he is getting it, et cetera. That evening Lyndalyn drives me to the airport and I said to her, “I think it is going to work.” She almost drove off the highway, she said, “you have not thought that it was going to work?” [laughter]
Thelen: Visitor response.
Charles: Right. You do not - you are doing the best you can on any of these projects you just do the best you can.
Staples: In the time you have to do it in.
Charles: You hope that you have enough innate understanding of this process.
Thelen: But to get to that point clearly there must have been discussions, even arguments between you about any one of these pieces of it. In your mind as it is about to open, what if we had done it this way? Or do you just…
Charles: At that point you are working fifteen, sixteen hours.
Staples: I do not think that there were any arguments, there were just discussions.
Thelen: Well, okay, I meant discussions.
Staples: Because there was never a heated revolt that one had to put down. It was just nuances, softening it, making sure that the words were as accurate as could be because we were working with these guys, the conspiracy people.
Thelen: Well, for example, that is right, what if we characterize this way instead of that way, a conspiracy.
Charles: Well I had said to Conover and this was part of the discussion about, well and it is part of a much bigger discussion of who is in charge. I have played that one out in a couple of those writings. You know, dance partners and so on, who is leading and who is doing other things. One of our arguments was in this particular exhibit where it is all graphics, we can make anything any size we want. Making Oswald huge is one statement. Making him little is another statement.
Thelen: Indeed, good example.
Staples: We had his handprint .
Charles: With his fingers.
Thelen: Taken off by the FBI.
Charles: It was his police card. We had a photograph of it.
Staples: We had it initially sort of five feet tall. That drew kind of negative responses.
Charles: We reduced it down. Well, before we opened. All of our discussion.
Thelen: The hand was five feet tall?
Charles: Yes, all of our discussions were very much group discussion. Here design, design is controlling the story almost, not quite but it is surely taking a very big lead in the story.
Thelen: Explain a little more.
Charles: Again what size you make things, what colors you make things, do you try to change the mood? How you are going to go through this space. We all agreed that with the idea that we ought to - that Kennedy had to be shot before we could get to that window, despite our interviewer. The whole storyline was a whole discussion, how do you have this story and this story and this story.
Once having done that - and we agreed on what the topic of every panel would be. We would come back with layouts for every panel, just something like this, what is in it, what is big, what is little, what is a text. We also had said philosophically design wise and everybody agreed, this was like a newspaper, this was like a documentary film. If it was going to be a film it would be black and white. That was a conscious decision.
Everything is gridded carefully like a newspaper, it has a very strong grid. The graphic designer we worked with would keep me on grid every time he would review a layout and say, “Barbara you cannot go off the grid, you have to stay on the grid, you are going to lose it.” It is a fairly tight design in that sense, but scale makes a difference, where you put big pictures, little pictures, again where you are focusing people. The color, there are a few color photographs but mostly the only color is a little logo that says the Sixth Floor. I do not know if you can see it in one of these pictures. Yes, here, this little logo shows up on every panel.
Staples: Which is seven stripes basically.
Charles: It is seven stripes for the seven floors and that one is grey. Kevin Osborn is the graphic designer we worked with and he came up with that. One of his early designs had the crosshairs of a gun, that was not accepted. This is the red brick, so that color shows up, but the rest of the show is very very monochromatic, very consciously.
Thelen: Like a newspaper.
Charles: Yes, like a newspaper of that period anyway. Keeping the design simple, leaving the structure. It is just a very simple design. I heard a story once from John, the guy in Annapolis who does visitor studies and has written a lot and so on, I am forgetting his last name. He was one of the leaders in early visitor studies, how we think about museums and so on. I do not know if I have one of his books?
Thelen: Not Drieking.
Charles: No that is a woman, Dieking.
Thelen: Lynn Dieking.
Charles: That is Lynn Dieking, but Lynn Dieking and John. (Falk)
Thelen: That is the John, I am putting them together. I know who you mean.
Charles: I think that he told or somebody was at one of his sessions told me that one of the things he would say to museum people, “what exhibit have you felt is most powerful or has caught your attention or whatever the most in the last year, last five years, last ten years?” to get discussions going. At least for probably the first five years or so after this opened, maybe even ten years, the Sixth Floor continually was one that museum people.
Thelen: So he was surveying museum people.
Charles: And they were responding that it was the Sixth Floor. A year or two after it opened, whenever the AAM [American Association of Museums] was in Dallas, no it was in Fort Worth, the Dallas museum community set up a bus tour of museums to Dallas, organized by the art museum, they would not include the Sixth Floor.
Thelen: They would not?
Thelen: Well, why not? I mean, if you know.
Charles: Was not a museum? I do not know, whether they were embarrassed of it, it is not high art? I do not know. It was not included. Despite I think the Sixth Floor people tried to be included, but they were not included.
Charles: But it was not on the tour. I was out there because there was a session about the Sixth Floor so I was out there to participate in it. I also had some deadlines back home, so I was mostly staying in my room trying to write. I found that when I would go out and people knew I had been involved - people were renting cars and driving on their own to go over there. Then they were cornering me and wanting to talk about it. You kind of go, “I have done this for eight years, I do not know that I want to talk about it.” That is a true story. It was not on the AAM’s agenda for the tour. The people controlling it from the Dallas end did not include it on the agenda. People find it extremely powerful. I am glad we did it.
Staples: We are now into an audience that has no connect to the event at all. They are still coming.
Thelen: Do school groups go?
Charles: I think some, it probably would be hard to get funding in this agenda for that. I do not know how many actual school groups they get. Initially got a lot of police people. We were very concerned initially, it had very high security. It was the first kind of museum we had run into before Joburg where you had to go through metal detector and that kind of stuff. They have taken all of that out, that is no longer a problem. We had long discussions of being afraid that somebody would try to get their gun out or take a gun in there and so on, that has all come out. It has been there twenty-two years and they are debating now what to do, it needs some refurbishment. We have - it could all be refurbished exactly as it is if they want to do that. We still have people who can silkscreen who can redo it all. We are not sure what is going to happen.
Thelen: This leads us into the question of an exhibit is life after you put it up, most of them do not last twenty-two years.
Charles: They are like your children, you send them off to you for adoption. You hope the kid behaves well and hope you take care of it and that we raised it right. [laughter] It is great that it is still there. Then it has been very very well taken care of, it is very gratifying. Exhibits do not last. Here you end up - it is great that this is going to AU because here is a whole career that will disappear.
Thelen: That will otherwise disappear.
Charles: Other than a few writings. Literally.
Thelen: I think this is the first collection of designer stuff, museum designer stuff that is going to be preserved.
Charles: As far as we know other than in an institution’s own archives.
Thelen: How do you deal with - I guess, how do you deal with the reality that you are solving the problems you are setting it up. Some days are you really proud, you were not until you were going to the airport when you said I think it is going to work. There is a moment where you conclude it worked or presumably some where they do not work as well or do you fix it until it does work.
Charles: No, we rarely fix something. Most of them, I think most of our projects work quite well. This one, I do not know that we ever, Conover or Lyndalyn or us, ever outlined the goals. I do not think that there is ever a document that talks about the emotional goals or what do we want visitors. I would have to relook. There is this report from eighty-two to eighty-three, we should look at that. I think the goal was always just tell the story, tell it honestly.
We did have to agree, I mean there are books there that say the martens did it. I mean you could have anybody and their brother doing this. We sat down and agreed what were the books we were going to work from, that everybody would agree. Well, if you just even use the official books, the Warren Commission and there is another Senate Commission, there are three or four commissions, you get every viable conspiracy theory in there because they analyze them all. That lets you talk about all of those, but it does exclude the martins, so you have some parameters on what you are going to work with.
We stopped production at the very last minute when we realized that one map over here which I think was the one of what we thought was Oswald’s route versus another map of maybe what is the timing of Kennedy, anyway one way or another we realized that in different places, maybe it was even two different Oswald things, we did not have the exact same down to the minutes or seconds information. We then realized, we had to - I called Proto, said, “you cannot screen that we have to look at our artwork.” What book did we take if from, well this one was done from this book and this one was done from this book. Then we had a conference call, what time are we going to use, should we make up a new time? [laughter]
I do not know where I was quite going with that. I was starting to say that we had not consciously talked about mood or experience. I mean we did not talk visitor experience that I remember as to what we wanted the visitor experience to be. I think that we just wanted to solve this need for Dallas to face up to the story and the event.