Since JFK assassination, no US president has visited Dallas’ Dealey Plaza

By Todd J. Gillman, The Dallas Morning News

WASHINGTON — In the six decades since President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, the United States has had 11 presidents. If any of them visited Dealey Plaza or even drove through the triple underpass, there’s no record of it.

For whatever reasons — be it superstition or coincidence — every presidential motorcade since Nov. 22, 1963, has steered clear of the site where a sniper ended Kennedy’s life.

Presidents have made dozens of visits to Dallas in the past 60 years. Many got very close to Dealey Plaza without driving through it.

“It seems to me it would have gotten some attention,” said Dallas historian Darwin Payne.

No such headlines exist.

Gerald Ford led a parade in an open-top car barely a quarter-mile away, flanked by nervous Secret Service agents.

Barack Obama came within 1,000 feet, heading for the Omni hotel the night before the George W. Bush library opened in 2013. That motorcade exited the freeway onto Commerce St. but turned right and circled around the Hyatt Reunion rather than continuing through the triple underpass.

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama greeted Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, after disembarking from Air Force One at Dallas Love Field on April 24, 2013. (Sonya Hebert-Schwartz/Dallas Morning News/TNS) 

Bill Clinton watched a basketball game at Reunion Arena, and Ronald Reagan addressed a prayer breakfast there. Donald Trump held a campaign rally at the American Airlines Center. He, Reagan and others appeared at the Municipal Auditorium near City Hall.

There’s no record of any of them driving past the assassination site.

“I don’t know of any taboo per se unless it’s among the presidents themselves,” Payne said. But he’s nearly certain “no president has gone through Dealey Plaza since then.”

The Secret Service and Dallas Police Department did not respond to inquiries about any post-1963 policies related to dignitaries and Dealey Plaza.

No thanks

Kennedy’s successors haven’t lacked the opportunity to visit.

Just in time for the 30th anniversary on Nov. 22, 1993, Dealey Plaza was designated a national historic landmark.

Dallas officials invited the current president to attend the dedication.

Instead, Clinton held a White House news conference with the president of the Philippines and brokered an end to a strike by American Airlines flight attendants.

Clinton stayed several times at the Mansion on Turtle Creek, about 2 miles from Dealey Plaza.

On Oct. 16, 1995, he addressed a $1,000-a-plate luncheon only a mile away at Le Meridien hotel, where the Dallas Marriott Downtown now stands.

In March 1994, he served as best man at his brother Roger Clinton’s wedding at the Dallas Arboretum.

Even the three Texans who served as commander in chief since Kennedy — Lyndon Johnson, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, a current Dallas resident — apparently kept clear of Dealey Plaza.

Johnson’s only visit

Johnson, Kennedy’s vice president, wouldn’t set foot in Dallas for over four years after taking the oath of office aboard Air Force One at Love Field after the shooting.

It was Feb. 27, 1968.

The secrecy was extraordinary.

The Secret Service gave Dallas police only one hour’s notice before LBJ’s 707 landed at Love Field.

Flowers flattened by passing traffic rest next to the
Flowers flattened by passing traffic rest next to the “X” marking the spot where President John F. Kennedy was shot, during the Annual JFK Remembrance Ceremony at Dealey Plaza on Nov. 22, 2019. (Smiley N. Pool/Dallas Morning News/TNS) 

“The man’s coming,” the agent-in-charge in Dallas, Forrest V. Sorrels, told police Chief Charles Batchelor, The Dallas Morning News reported the next day.

Johnson left his Hill Country ranch early that morning for a surprise appearance before 7,000 delegates to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association conference. Thousands of attendees, caught unawares, missed the speech.