Lance Nicholas’ eyes widened a bit as he sat inside a life-sized, wire-frame of the stretch limo President John F. Kennedy rode in the day he was assassinated.
Nicholas, 61, was a sixth-grader at an elementary school in Delaware County on Nov. 22, 1963. The up-close and personal flashback made him feel a little funny.
“It’s surreal,” he said.
The 24-foot car is the highlight of a brand new exhibit now open at Philadelphia University’s East Falls campus that focuses on the assassination itself and the work of the Warren Commission, the committee charged by President Lyndon B. Johnson to look into the assassination.
“Single Bullet: Arlen Specter and the Warren Commission investigation of the JFK assassination,” also gives visitors the chance to examine documents and photos from the personal archives of the late Sen. Arlen Specter, who is credited with developing the theory while he was a staffer with the commission.
Specter, who lived in East Falls for decades, donated his archives to the university in December 2010 as part of the Arlen Specter Center for Public Policy. The exhibit is the center’s first.
Visitors to the “Assassination Room” can sit where JFK sat that fateful day in Dallas and, with the help of live-motion capture imagery, picture themselves being in the crosshairs of Lee Harvey Oswald’s rifle in the moments before he made history.
“It’s kind of spooky and creepy, but it’s that historical significance that puts you in that spot as it’s happening,” said Ted Nicholas, Lance’s son, who helped construct the car before graduating last spring.
Outside of the limo is a clear silhouette representing Abraham Zapruder, whose private home-video footage of the shooting was used by the Warren Commission. Visitors can watch the silent, color video from where Zapruder stood the day of the assassination.
The exhibit, housed at the Paul J. Gutman Library, also includes photos, videos and documents tied to Specter’s work on the Warren Commission.
“It brings up memories of Arlen being away all week and coming home only on the weekends. He worked very hard on it,” said Joan Specter, his wife. “It’s amazing that people are still interested in the Kennedy assassination.”
Amanda Bonelli, a fourth-year architecture student, said working on the exhibit made her understand how events like the JFK assassination can hang around in people’s hearts and minds.
“There have been incidents since I’ve been born that have impacted history or have played a really big role in how history has turned out. This was that for everyone back when they were my age and went through it,” said Bonelli.
The exhibit was not created to nudge visitors to agree with Specter’s theory. It’s up to the individual to draw their own conclusions about what happened at Dealy Plaza nearly 50 years ago.
“The exhibit was never about only saying it was Oswald,” said Dave Kratzer, associate professor of architecture. “We said, ‘Here’s all the different ideas that are going on…and it hopefully leaves visitors making up their own minds up.”
The exhibit runs through March 2014.