Texas city turning ‘Ruth Paine house’ into JFK-related museum

IRVING, Texas – The day before he presumably assassinated President John F. Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald surprised his wife by stopping by the house where she was staying, a small ranch house in the Dallas suburb of Irving.

As he left the next morning, according to investigators, Oswald grabbed his Carcano rifle from the garage of the house, occupied by Ruth Paine in November 1963. He then went to his job at the Texas School Book Depository, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now, the city of Irving is turning the small ranch house into a museum, hoping to capture momentum building in advance of the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination.

“The Sixth Floor (Museum in Dallas) and most books and articles about the assassination deal with the president, the Warren Commission, the questions that followed – all things that are today almost larger than life,” said Kevin Kendro, Irving’s archivist.

“We want to show this small part of the events from an individual, human perspective in a way that people come away with a feeling of how serendipitous life can be,” Kendro said. “One minute you’re a suburban mom dealing with everyday problems and the next you’re at the center of tragic, historic events.”

Oswald’s wife, Marina, and their two children were living with Paine on Nov. 22, 1963. Over the past 50 years, a number of residents have lived in the house, but it hasn’t stopped those interested in the assassination from stopping by to see and photograph the house.

“About 10 years ago a local amateur historian suggested to city leaders that the house needed to be preserved and recognized in some manner for its connection to the JFK assassination,” Kendro said.

The city purchased the house in 2009 for $175,000 and has spent $30,000 on work to restore it to its 1963 appearance. City crews repaired the house’s original cabinets, rebuilt a telephone stand and had picture windows refabricated.

“At this point, we have removed the updates and changes that were made to the house through the decades and with the help of Ruth Paine and photos from the time, we are returning the house to its 1963 look,” Kendro said. “We have just brought on a museum design team to help us tell the story.”

To develop a plan for the museum, city officials turned to the Irving Museum Advisory Board.

“They decided that they would like to tell the story of how a suburban Irving housewife raising her two children was suddenly swept into the center of one of the most historic events of the 20th Century,” Kendro said. “So, we want to use the house to tell Ruth Paine’s story, her life in Irving, her befriending of Marina Oswald, her interactions with Lee Oswald and the sudden life changing events that followed.”

Added Kendro: “I think it is interesting the number of people who still drive by and stop to look at the house and take photos. The guys working on the house have been startled a number of times by people coming into the house while they’re working.”

The new museum, located a couple of miles from downtown Irving, is expected to open this fall. Once open, visitors will be shuttled from a nearby visitor’s center to the house, which sits in the middle of a residential street.

IF YOU GO: Irving, a city of 220,000 located west of Dallas, is also home to the Irving Arts Museum and the National Scouting Museum. The city is also located near the Dallas Cowboys’ and Texas Rangers’ stadiums in nearby Arlington.