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Irving House Where Oswald Stayed Turns Into Museum

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IRVING (CBS 11 NEWS) – As the anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination looms, the City of Irving is making a museum out of the home where Marina and Lee Harvey Oswald spent their final night together.

Ruth Paine and Marina Oswald were two young mothers, with two children each. They were living in Paine’s tiny Irving home the day President Kennedy was shot down.

Oswald had normally visited Marina on weekends, but came out on a Thursday night instead, then left for work at the Texas Schoolbook Depository the next day.  It’s believed he carried a rifle, which had been placed in a rolled-up rug, in Paine’s garage.

“I was sitting on the sofa with Marina when the report came,” recalled Paine, who was befriending Marina Oswald by providing her a place to live.  “We were watching the whole time and Marina said, ‘This is so sad for his wife and for the children.’  And I lit a candle and she said, ‘Is that praying?’  And I said, ‘Yeah.’  It was just a terrible shock for us all.”

(credit: CBSDFW.COM)

(credit: CBSDFW.COM)

The women stayed at the house watching television for about three hours. Then deputies came knocking, looking for evidence of Oswald shooting Dallas police officer J.D. Tippett.  It wasn’t until later that the women tied Oswald to the JFK death. Paine says that was a big surprise to them both.

Now the Irving home has been recreated from photos and Paine’s recollections of how it looked the last night Marina and her husband were together.  From her bedroom to the garage and rug where Marina knew Lee Harvey Oswald had once stashed his rifle.

“Sure, it’s painful to come back,” Paine told reporters who gathered at the home on Monday.  “Mixed memories of this house, I think would be the right thing.  It was a great place for little kids.”

Paine is now retired in California but was crucial in helping recreate the look.  Some items, like knotty-pine paneling and bathroom tiles, still remain.   But appliances like the washer don’t exist anymore; the sofa where Paine spoke to reporters had to be custom-made.

Shirley Smith, who’s normally a city numbers cruncher, pulled the furnishings together.  “I wanted to make the house seem alive, and I knew the way to do that was through the details, through the furniture, through the little pieces.  The baby shoes and a crib or blocks on the floor toys, things like that.”

Smith haunted garage sales, thrift stores, and eBay for furnishings.   She says one of the more satisfying finds was living room drapes.  She’d agonized for months trying to get a match — but didn’t know for sure. Then after she’d bought the window coverings a photograph came in.  It showed the drapes were, indeed, a match.  The hardest things to find, she said, were baby beds.  “The baby beds were really hard to find.  If they’re donated to thrift stores they destroy them because they’re not safe for children.”

Besides the ‘60s-era interior, the Ruth Paine House Museum also has vignettes of events that weekend projected on a “pepper ghost” screen.  Actors deliver actual lines the characters said that day, but onto a glass screen, and it seems as though they jump out of a wall.

Paine hopes the home will reflect a human side to women caught up in a national tragedy, not willing participants in a crime.   “I think that will make it real to more people.  I hope also that some of the conspiracy theories will fade.  Because the evidence really pointed all toward Oswald.”

Smith agrees. “I would just like people to come and see.  Learn how this affected an average housewife [she says of Paine.]) She was just opening her heart and her home to someone and in the blink of an eye her entire life changed.”

Paine says she and Marina, who is now remarried, have talked in the past.   Paine knew a little Russian and was a translator for young Marina, who was from Russia and spoke little English in November of 1963.    Irving officials did not approach Marina about the museum home out of respect for her privacy.

The public can tour the home beginning Wednesday, November 6. But only 12 people at a time can attend and they will be bused in from a Visitors Center at the main Irving Library.  Tickets are $12 each and must be purchased through the Irving Library or online through a special city website.

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