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11 assassination spots you can visit

By Bija Knowles, for CNN
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Fri April 25, 2014
John Wilkes Booth entered the theater box (on left) where Abraham Lincoln was attending a performance of "Our American Cousin" and shot him in the back of the head. Ford's Theater is now a museum and education center, as well as a playhouse. John Wilkes Booth entered the theater box (on left) where Abraham Lincoln was attending a performance of "Our American Cousin" and shot him in the back of the head. Ford's Theater is now a museum and education center, as well as a playhouse.
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Ford's Theatre (Washington, D.C.)
Dealey Plaza (Dallas)
Canterbury Cathedral (Kent, UK)
Theatre of Pompey (Rome)
The Dakota (New York)
Lorraine Motel (Memphis, Tenn.)
Leon Trotsky Museum (Mexico City)
Birla House (New Delhi)
Audubon Ballroom (New York)
Sarajevo, Bosnia
Yusupov Palace (Russia)
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Theater of Pompey where Julius Caesar was killed is now meters below ground, roughly where Rome's Teatre Argentina now stands
  • A white "X" marks the spot in Dealey Plaza where John F. Kennedy was shot
  • Yoko Ono funded the memorial area inside Central Park called Strawberry Fields

(CNN) -- Death -- one of life's great unknowns, yet it comes to all of us.

This perhaps explains our fascination not just with death, but, in some cases, with the very places people have died.

So-called "dark tourism" has become a popular pastime in recent years, with tour agencies guiding travelers around catacombs in Paris, the killing fields of Cambodia and Chernobyl, among many others.

Such locales needn't have seen the demise of hundreds of people -- the loss of an individual cultural or political icon can be just as emotive.

These places and the events that occurred there, often combining death, fame and power, can become a final reminder of the movements or messages their victims represented.

We've picked out 11 assassinations that have echoed down the years, some from as far back as 2,000 years ago, that still evoke curiosity.

You can walk all these areas yourself, take guided tours or visit museums to learn more.

1. Julius Caesar, stabbed in the Theater of Pompey, Rome, 44 BC

The stabbing of Julius Caesar was a bloody, political killing that makes subsequent assassinations look dull in comparison.

It also set a precedent for conspiracy; up to 60 senators were involved in the plot to put an end to Caesar's one-man rule.

He suffered 23 stab wounds, though only one was fatal.

It took place in a senate room just off the porticoes of the Theater of Pompey -- not, as is often said, in the senate house in the Roman Forum.

The exact location is now buried several meters below ground.

According to local tour guide Stuart Harvey, it would have been roughly under the spot where Rome's Teatro Argentina now stands.

Just across the busy road is the archaeological attraction known as Area Sacra di Largo Argentina, which gives a good view of the Roman temples that still stand just meters from where Caesar was stabbed.

"The senators were so sure they were doing the right thing in murdering Julius Caesar -- they believed they were killing the dictator in order to preserve democracy -- that they carried out the killing themselves, calling themselves 'liberators,'" says Harvey.

It didn't turn out quite as they planned.

The republic came to an end within a year and 17 years later, Octavian (Augustus) became Rome's first emperor.

According to Suetonius's account, few of the conspirators lived more than three years after the assassination.

Rome Personal Tours; stuartharveyguide@yahoo.co.uk

MORE: 10 of the best Italian restaurants in Rome

Dealey Plaza: tours are available around the most infamous assassination spot of the 20th century.
Dealey Plaza: tours are available around the most infamous assassination spot of the 20th century.

2. John F. Kennedy, shot in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, November 22, 1963

By late 1963, President John Kennedy was preparing for the election the following year, in which he fully hoped to be re-elected.

As his motorcade drove through the open space of Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas, Lee Harvey Oswald is alleged to have taken aim from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository building.

The subsequent Warren Commission that investigated the assassination failed to establish a clear motive for the shooting, but it concluded that Oswald, a social "misfit" with possible anti-American sentiments, acted as a "lone gunman."

Conspiracy theories have abounded and many believe Oswald, who was himself shot dead two days after Kennedy's assassination by Texas nightclub manager Jack Ruby, didn't act alone or that he was framed.

Since 1989, the Dallas County Historical Foundation has run a museum on the sixth and seventh floors of the building, telling the story of JFK's life, his assassination and legacy.

Up to 350,000 visitors now come through the doors of The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza each year.

Gary Mack, the museum's curator, says that the museum was originally conceived as a place of remembrance, although most visitors today -- 25 years after it was first opened -- don't personally remember President Kennedy.

"As a history museum, we present the past and the Kennedy legacy," says Mack. "The facts don't change but the importance people place on them over time does."

November 2013 marked the 50th anniversary since the assassination but conspiracy theories still thrive.

"If it was an open and shut case, there wouldn't be the intrigue there is today -- a lot of people dedicate their whole lives to studying it," says Freda Dillard, owner of DFW Historical Tours in Dallas.

The plaza is relatively unchanged since that fateful day.

A white X marks the spot where the president was when the bullets struck.

To view the scene from Oswald's point of view, see the Dealey Plaza Cam, a webcam positioned in the exact location where the assassin is believed to have stood on that day.

The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, 411 Elm St., Dallas; +1 214 747 6660; in 2014 the museum is running a special program of events to celebrate its 25th year

DFW Historical Tours; +1 214 676 1510

3. Abraham Lincoln, shot in Ford's Theatre, Washington, D.C., April 14, 1865

Abraham Lincoln was famously opposed to slavery and its spread across the United States and its new territories.

He was also a theater-lover and is quoted as saying, "Some think I do wrong to go to the opera and to the theater; but it rests me. I love to be alone, and yet to be with people."

He was at Ford's Theatre with his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and two other guests, watching a stage performance of "Our American Cousin" when the actor John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate supporter who opposed the abolition of slavery, entered Lincoln's theater box and shot him in the back of the head.

Lincoln died the next morning.

Today, Ford's Theater is still in use as a playhouse, education center and museum.

"At Ford's, people can connect with the history of Lincoln but also with his humanity," says Ford's Theater director Paul R. Tetreault.

"We strive to bring history to life for the 700,000 visitors who walk through our doors annually. It's a fitting tribute to Lincoln's legacy and love of the arts -- especially theater."

Ford's Theatre, 511 Tenth St. NW, Washington, D.C.; +1 202 347 4833

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4. Mohandas K. Gandhi, shot in the grounds of Birla House, New Delhi, January 30, 1948

On his way to a daily prayer meeting, Mahatma Gandhi was shot by Nathuram Vinayak Godse, a Hindu extremist who opposed Gandhi's non-violent teachings, perceiving them to favor Muslims over Hindus.

Godse also believed Gandhi was responsible for the partition of India in August 1947, which had led to religious violence.

Gandhi's death in January 1948 sent shock waves across the world.

A report that evening in the New York Times said: "His death left all India stunned and bewildered as to the direction that this newly independent nation would take without its 'Mahatma.'"

At the time Gandhi was staying at the home of a friend, the Indian businessman G. D. Birla.

Birla House was subsequently bought by the government and renamed Gandhi Smriti -- a memorial and museum dedicated to the life and teachings of Gandhi.

It's open to visitors and holds cultural and social activities -- recent events include a film and literature festival, and conferences on disability and women's peace.

Gandhi Smriti, 5, Tees January Marg, New Delhi; +91 11 2301 2843

Chapman wrote in \
Chapman wrote in "The Catcher in the Rye": "This is my statement."

5. John Lennon, shot outside the Dakota, New York, December 8, 1980

As he returned from his recording studio late one December night, John Lennon was shot four times just inside the driveway of his home at the Dakota apartments on 72nd Street and Central Park West.

There's no memorial at the Dakota itself.

Yoko Ono still lives there.

But just inside Central Park there's a memorial area called Strawberry Fields, funded by Ono, which features a mosaic depicting the word "Imagine."

The Dakota is a major sight on New York tourist itineraries -- it's also the former home of Leonard Bernstein, Boris Karloff and Rudolph Nureyev and was used as the set for movies "Rosemary's Baby" and "Vanilla Sky."

"The Dakota was the city's first luxury apartment house -- prior to that wealthy people lived in mansions or townhouses, not -- the shame of it! -- with other people under the same roof!" says New York guide Mark Levy.

"When it was built in the 1870s it was so far uptown from the rest of developed New York that a critic said 'You might as well build it in the Dakotas' and the owner, having a sense of humor, named it the Dakota."

Mark David Chapman, who had mental health problems although he didn't in the end plead insanity in court, is currently serving a 20-year-to-life sentence for the murder of John Lennon.

He was a born-again Christian and felt angry about Lennon's comment (made in 1966) that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus."

He also resented Lennon's wealth, which he thought didn't fit with the messages and lyrics of Lennon's music ("imagine no possessions").

The Levy's Unique New York, 72nd St., Central Park West, New York; +1 877 692 5869

MORE: How to be a New York local: 11 tips for faking it

6. Martin Luther King Jr, shot at the Lorraine Motel, Memphis, Tennessee, April 4, 1968

The Nobel Peace Prize winner was shot as he stood on the balcony of his motel in Memphis, where he had gone to lead a march in support of striking city workers.

Just as with JFK's assassination four and a half years earlier, not everyone was convinced that James Earl Ray was the assassin, or that he acted alone.

Conspiracy theories took root that government agencies could have been involved.

The possible motive? Dr. King had posed a threat to the status quo and had also been an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War.

The Lorraine Motel was eventually turned, with funding from local people, into the National Civil Rights Museum.

Rooms 306 and 308 -- rooms King often stayed in -- were preserved, as was the motel's exterior.

"The museum exists because everyday people in Memphis, mostly black Americans, committed themselves and their dollars to help make the museum a reality," says Barbara Andrews, director of education and interpretation at the museum.

"Dr. King was assassinated here and for too many African Americans who paid the ultimate price for rights guaranteed in the Constitution but withheld because of race, there are too few markers or notations of their sacrifices to help move America to a more perfect union."

National Civil Rights Museum, 450 Mulberry St., Memphis, Tennessee; +1 901 521 9699

The Yusupov Palace still stands by the Moika today and includes a Rasputin exhibition.
The Yusupov Palace still stands by the Moika today and includes a Rasputin exhibition.

7. Grigory Rasputin, killed at the Yusupov Palace, St. Petersburg, December 1916

Months before they were hounded out by the 1917 revolution, Russia's already stressed nobles had another problem on their plate: Grigory Rasputin.

They feared Rasputin, a big-bearded bear of a man who claimed mystical healing powers, was exerting undue control over the Russian royal family and sought to bump him off one evening at the Yusupov Palace.

This proved no mean feat.

First poisoned cakes failed to fell him, then two bullets.

Eventually, he suffered a fatal shot and endured a brutal beating before his body was dumped in icy waters of the Moika, just to make sure.

The elegant yellow Yusupov Palace still stands by the Moika today and there are tours in English and Russian, as well as a Rasputin exhibition.

Alternatively, you can hear about "Russia's greatest love machine" via the classic '70s "Rasputin" disco track by Boney M.

Yusupov Palace, Naberezhnaya Reki Moyki 94, St. Petersburg; +7 812 314 9883 (by appointment)

8. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, shot in Sarajevo, Bosnia, June 28, 1914

At his trial, Gavrilo Princip described himself as a Yugoslav nationalist who wanted independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

He was standing outside a grocery store in a side street just off Sarajevo's Lateiner Bridge moments before Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria pulled up in a car.

"The side street is very small, so Princip was standing just a few meters from Ferdinand's open-top car," says Neno Novakovic, who runs Sarajevo Walking Tours.

"Of course the location is of great interest to visitors -- there is a plaque on the building where Princip stood -- but the sequence of events triggered by the assassination are what make it so significant."

The Museum of Sarajevo 1878-1918 now stands on the corner where events leading up to World War I began to escalate.

Princip, just 19 years old at the time, shot Ferdinand in the neck, and shot his wife Sophie in the stomach; both died as or soon after they were taken to the governor of Sarajevo's residence.

Sarajevo Walking Tours; info@sarajevowalkingtours.com

Museum of Sarajevo 1878-1918, Zelenih Beretki 1, Sarajevo; +387 33 533 288

MORE: How to watch a war crimes trial in The Hague

Malcolm X was killed by members of the Nation of Islam, an organization he was once part of.
Malcolm X was killed by members of the Nation of Islam, an organization he was once part of.

9. Malcolm X, shot in the Audubon Ballroom, New York, February 21, 1965

The Audubon Ballroom was a theater, ballroom and music hall in Upper Manhattan where Malcolm X's Organization of Afro-American Unity held weekly meetings in 1964-5.

It was at one of these meetings that he was shot and killed by members of the Nation of Islam, the organization advocating black supremacy, which Malcolm X had repudiated the year before his assassination, having been one of its most prominent members for more than a decade.

The convicted killers were Talmadge Hayer and two other men identified as Norman Butler and Thomas Johnson. However, the latter two maintained their innocence.

Although the ballroom was (controversially) converted into a biotechnology research center in 1992, its original facade has been preserved and the second floor now has a mural depicting the life of Malcolm X and is home to the Shabazz Center (Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little, was also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz).

"I think it's a very moving and effective space, which is inclusive to tourists and visitors," says tour guide Mark Levy.

The Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center, 3940 Broadway, New York; +1 212 568 1341

10. Thomas Becket, killed at Canterbury Cathedral, England, December 29, 1170

Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury during the reign of Henry II, had angered the king by excommunicating three of the most powerful clergymen in the land.

Enraged, Henry II is said to have muttered that he wished to get rid of Becket, who was once his close friend.

Four of the king's knights took him at his word and made their way to Canterbury Cathedral.

Becket was warned the knights were coming but he refused to bar the cathedral door, saying "the House of God shall be barred to no man."

According to Lis Hamlin, director and guide at Guided Walks in Canterbury, Becket was making his way up the stone steps in the northwest transept, now known as The Martyrdom, when the knights entered.

"Becket would not recognize the area today; it was reordered in the 1470s but the northwest buttress (containing a spiral staircase) still remains from the Romanesque building," says Hamlin.

"When Pope John Paul II came to Canterbury in May 1982 to pray in the Martyrdom with Archbishop Robert Runcie, he apparently commented that there was no reference to Thomas Becket.

"There is now a symbolic, modern (1986 by Giles Blomfield) Altar of the Sword's Point in the Martyrdom. This is a reference to the severing of Becket's 'crown' by Richard de Breton (one of the four knights) during which his sword broke on the flagstones; the broken sword point was placed by the monks on an altar."

Canterbury Guided Tours, Christ Church Gate, Canterbury, Kent; +44 1227 459 779; guided walks from £7($12) per adult, £6.50 ($11) per student, £5 ($9) per child under 12

Canterbury Cathedral, Cathedral House, 11 The Precincts, Canterbury, Kent; +44 1227 762862

MORE: Survival guide to the UK

Trotsky\'s former home opened as a museum on the 50th anniversary of the assassination.
Trotsky's former home opened as a museum on the 50th anniversary of the assassination.

11. Leon Trotsky, killed by icepick, Coyoacán, Mexico City, August 21, 1940

Exiled to Mexico after losing a political battle of wills with Stalin, Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky wound up with an ice pick in the back of his head.

The fortified compound in which Trotsky met his end was opened as a museum in 1990 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination.

At its center, the villa he shared with his wife has been preserved as it was during the bespectacled communist's residency -- his desk diary is still open at the day of his death.

The surrounding gardens include Trotsky's tomb, replete with hammer and sickle, while additional buildings are used to display photos from his life.

Museo Casa De Leon Trotsky, Rio Churubusco 410, Playa del Carmen, Mexico City; +52 55 5658 8732

Bija Knowles is a writer and journalist based in Rome, with experience in historical, social and cultural stories, particularly in Italy.

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