Ruth Paine House Museum title

The Ruth Paine House: Where JFK’s assassin spent his last free night

A cynical Ruth Hyde Paine might say, “No good deed goes unpunished.” The actual Paine said she would welcome Marina Oswald into her home again. “Would I open my home again to a woman I like, … who needed friendship and a place to live? Yes.

However, “if I had not invited Marina to stay with me and that Lee killed the President anyway, wouldn’t the ‘if onlys’ have been much worse?” The night before Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK), Oswald visited his wife, Marina. She lived with Paine at 2515 W. Fifth St. in Irving, Texas (PDF).

The small white ranch house in a quiet Irving neighborhood is now a museum. When you enter the Ruth Paine House Museum, you return to 1963.

Visit Irving hosted me, but all opinions are my own.

Lee and Marina Oswald
Lee and Marina Oswald at their departure from the Soviet Union. (National Archives)

Lee Harvey Oswald’s unusual visit

Oswald’s visit was unusual. He usually spent the weekend with his wife and children, but he had come on a Thursday night.

Because Oswald did not drive, he needed to live on a bus line. He lived in a tiny apartment in Dallas’s Oak Cliff neighborhood while his wife and daughter lived with Paine.

Oswald was polite and always asked Paine’s permission before he came. However, he had not asked permission to visit on that Thursday night. 

Why had Oswald broken his usual routine? The Dallas Times-Herald had published the presidential motorcade route map that afternoon. Perhaps Oswald had seen the map and decided to make the President a target of opportunity the next day.

He had already tried to murder retired Maj. Gen. Edwin Walker. Shooting JFK was his next chance to bid for everlasting infamy.

Oswald’s co-worker at the Texas Schoolbook Depository, Buell Frazier, lived near Paine. Oswald usually rode with Frazier to visit his family on the weekends.

On that Thursday, he said he needed curtain rods for his apartment. The “curtain rods” were his rifle, hidden in Paine’s garage.

That night at the Paine House, Oswald played under an oak tree with June, his nearly 2-year-old daughter.

After dinner, Paine washed the dishes. When she finished, she entered the garage where the light was burning. She wondered at that because she was sure she had turned it off.

In the privacy of their bedroom, Oswald promised Marina a new washing machine if she would not leave him. At 12:30 a.m., Marina noticed that her husband was still awake. JFK had landed in Fort Worth an hour before.

Oswald arose at 6:30 a.m. He abandoned his wedding ring and left $170 for Marina when he left for work. On his way out, he dropped a dirty plastic cup into the sink.

He walked out of the door with a long package wrapped in brown paper and went to work. That package concealed a rifle that Oswald had stashed in Paine’s garage. At 12:30 p.m. CST, Oswald shot the President from the depository’s sixth-floor window.

The day afterward, he was dead, shot by Jack Ruby at Dallas police headquarters.

Related: Walk with Abraham Lincoln on the Kansas Lincoln Trail.

Holograms at the Ruth Paine House Museum
Actors portraying Ruth Hyde Paine and Marina Oswald at the Ruth Paine House Museum

Return to 1963 at the Ruth Paine House Museum

Irving was booming in the early 1960s. Michael was an engineer at Bell Helicopter. Their daughter Lynn arrived in 1959.

With their son Christopher coming in 1961, the couple needed a house. So they moved into a small ranch-style home in Irving’s Western Hills development on May 30, 1960, as the home’s third owners. 

When the City of Irving bought the Ruth Paine House in 2009, most of it remained original. The City removed the items that did not fit the Paines’ timeframe and returned the house to its original appearance. Paine’s photographs helped to document the place, including the living room curtains. 

Vintage toys at the Ruth Paine House Museum
A collection of vintage toys is ready for play in the Ruth Paine House Museum’s living room.

The house faces south, with the bedrooms facing east and the garage and dining area on the west. In the bedrooms, holograms portray the home’s residents.

Actors portray the Paines and the Oswalds using their words. Their ethereal holograms give the rooms a ghostly presence. Interpretive panels also explain the residents’ lives.

The home’s bathroom, kitchen, and living room are in the center. The vintage television plays 1963 assassination coverage, the same footage the residents would have watched on November 22, 1963. The stereo holds period hits, and the speaker belonged to the Paines.

The couch is a replica. Paine sat on a similar couch for many interviews. 

The bathroom is Mamie pink, and the kitchen cabinets are knotty pine. The house has a washing machine, but the backyard clothesline is the only dryer. A vintage telephone, camera, and recipe cards are homey touches.

On the garage floor, a folded blanket signifies Oswald’s rifle’s departure ahead of the President’s demise.

The museum opened on the assassination’s 50th anniversary, November 22, 2013.

How to visit the Ruth Paine House Museum

Museum guests must purchase online tickets in advance. In addition, all guests must remain on Paine House property and with the tour group to protect the neighbors’ privacy. 

Related: Vice-President Lyndon Baines Johnson was two cars behind JFK in Dallas. Visit his Texas Hill Country ranch.

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Ruth and Lynn Paine
Ruth and Lynn Paine in the Paine House living room

How Ruth Paine and Marina Oswald connected

Ruth and her husband Michael had separated in September 1962, and he was living elsewhere. However, they both enjoyed singing and still attended social events together.

Paine was interested in learning Russian, and one of her friends, Everett Glover, knew of her interest. Glover invited the Oswalds and the Paines to a dinner party. Unfortunately, Michael was ill, so he did not attend.

Ruth talked little to Marina because she had to tend to her baby. Even so, the women exchanged addresses and met at a park a few weeks later.

How the Oswalds met

Oswald had defected to the Soviet Union in 1959. While there, he met Marina Nikolayevna Prusakova in Minsk. Six weeks later, they married.

The Oswalds returned home in 1962, citing the lack of good-paying jobs. The couple and their baby June moved into his brother Robert’s home on Davenport Street in Fort Worth.

Marina was delighted with American conveniences, but she was lonely. Oswald did not want his wife to learn English; few people knew Russian. Therefore, she had no one to talk with.

When Ruth met the Oswalds on February 22, 1963, they lived in Dallas. Soon the women became friends.

Marina said she was pregnant but did not want others to know. Her husband wanted her to return to Russia, but Marina refused to go. 

Marina moves into the Ruth Paine House

When Oswald lost his job, he went to New Orleans to look for work. Ruth offered to house Marina and her daughter June until Oswald could support them. Then she would bring them to New Orleans. Oswald found a new job in Louisiana, and Paine kept her promise. However, Marina hated life in New Orleans, and Paine rescued her again. 

When their car crossed into Texas, Marina shouted for joy. When they arrived in Irving, Michael helped them place their luggage in the garage, including a long parcel wrapped in a blanket.

Oswald returned to Texas 10 days later and rented his boarding house room. Then, in mid-October, Linnie Randle, Frazier’s sister, told Paine about a seasonal job opening at the schoolbook depository. Paine encouraged Oswald to apply.

At about the same time, the Oswalds welcomed their daughter Rachel and celebrated Oswald’s new job.

Oswald leaves the Ruth Paine House for the final time

Paine was still asleep when Oswald left on November 22, 1963. She thought nothing of it. Later, she and Marina watched television coverage of JFK’s Dallas visit. They saw the Presidential motorcade passing the schoolbook depository where Oswald worked, and then they witnessed the fatal shots. The women lit a candle in the President’s memory.

The police arrived that afternoon while one of the women was hanging laundry on the clothesline. They announced that Oswald was in custody. 

Initially, the police had held Oswald as a suspect in Officer J.D. Tippet’s murder. They didn’t connect him to JFK until later. Even though the police lacked a warrant, Paine allowed them to look at the Oswalds’ belongings in the garage. The officers asked if Oswald had owned a firearm. Paine said she had no gun in the house, but Marina said she had seen the barrel peeking out from its blanket wrappings. Paine was a devout member of the Society of Friends (known as Quakers). She would never have accepted a rifle in her garage and was shocked when Marina said that Lee had stashed his weapon there. The officers found the blanket empty on the floor.

Neither the Paines’ nor the Oswalds’ lives would be the same.

The police returned the next day to continue searching the Paine house. 

Ruby shoots Oswald
Lee Harvey Oswald, accused JFK assassin, grimaces as Dallas night club owner Jack Ruby, foreground, shoots at him from point blank range in a corridor of Dallas police headquarters, November 24, 1963, as Detective Jim A. Leavelle reacts. (AP Photo/Dallas Times-Herald, Bob Jackson)

Oswald’s murder and strange afterlife

Two days after JFK’s murder, Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner, murdered Oswald during his transfer to another facility. Rachel later said that she and the Kennedy children are the only ones who have had to watch their father’s murder repeatedly.

The next day, the Miller Funeral Home buried Oswald in Shannon Rose Hill Memorial Park, Fort Worth. Reporters were the largest group attending the funeral, and they became his pallbearers. The funeral director struggled to find a minister willing to officiate. Marina and the girls attended, along with Oswald’s mother, Marguerite, and his brother.

Vandals stole Oswald’s gravestone four years after his death, and his mother replaced it with a simple stone engraved “Oswald.” When police recovered the stone, Marguerite kept it in her crawl space instead of restoring it to his grave. An electrician discovered it in the crawl space after the Card family bought the house. Then a step-family member sold it to a museum in Illinois. Finally, the Card family brought it back to Texas and stored it in an undisclosed location. 

British writer Michael Eddowes believed that the man buried as Oswald was a Soviet agent sent to kill JFK. He was so persistent that officials exhumed Oswald’s body in 1981. However, Oswald’s early medical and dental records matched the corpse, discrediting the theory. 

Water had decayed Oswald’s casket, and the funeral home provided a replacement. The company said they would destroy the casket, but instead, they tried to auction it. Robert sued and won.

Oswald holding a rifle
Marina took this picture of her husband holding his rifle and Communist newspapers in their backyard. (National Archives)

Book found at Paine House ties Oswald to attempted murder 

The assassination ended Paine’s and Marina’s friendship. Paine regretted this collateral damage but understood Marina’s desire for distance from the worst time of her life.

Ballistics evidence also connected Oswald and his rifle to Walker’s attempted murder. Oswald had shot at Walker on April 10, 1963, through an open window and barely missed him. The Oswalds were living at 214 W. Neely St. at the time. Oswald insisted that Marina take his picture, holding his rifle and Communist newspapers in the duplex’s backyard.

After JFK’s assassination, Marina had left a Russian publication, “The Book of Useful Advice,” at Paine’s home. Paine asked the police to give her the book. The police searched it and discovered a note from Oswald tucked next to p. 704. He had advised Marina what to do if police arrested him for Walker’s murder. Paine denied ever seeing the note.

The Paines and Marina after the investigation

The Warren Commission investigating the assassination subpoenaed Paine. They questioned her for days about every minute detail of her experience with the Oswald family.

Eventually, the commission cleared Paine of any knowledge of Oswald’s actions. However, she also endured the local police, FBI, and Orleans (La.) Parish’s questioning. Every person in her address book, including her husband, also took an invasive investigation.

The Paines ended their separation and stayed married for seven more years. After 1966, they left the Ruth Paine House for a larger home in Irving.

They divorced in 1970. After the divorce, Ruth and the children moved to Philadelphia, where she became a Quaker school principal. Paine now lives in a California retirement community.

The commission also questioned Marina. At first, Marina and the girls stayed with Marguerite, but that became a disaster. Marina and others accused Marguerite of being money-hungry. As a result, Marina cut off contact with her mother-in-law.

Afterward, the First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor brought Marina to the University of Michigan’s English Language Institute, where she graduated. She later returned to Texas and married Kenneth Porter. 

The Ruth Paine House Museum before city ownership

Even today, the JFK assassination attracts curious visitors to the Ruth Paine House. The Paines sold the house in 1966.

The subsequent owners still endured people clogging the street, trampling the lawn, and peering into the windows. Finally, the City bought the home for $175,000, and the Irving Archives and Museum manages it.

Wrestle with Ruth Paine’s choices

Return to 1963 and grapple with the choices Ruth Paine made. Would you regret sheltering a friend if you knew the consequences would be adverse?

While deciding what you would have done, savor a Frito pie and a shake at Big State Fountain Grill. Big State is over 100 years old and serves delicious traditional diner food.

Related: Celebrate the Texas spirit at The Mustangs of Las Colinas.

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