Yesterday I visited the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston. A bright, dry and unseasonably warm day in Boston, it was a good time to visit. The building is in a beautiful setting by the water south of Boston, next to the University of Massachusetts. The exhibits are typical for a presidential library, following the candidate through the early years, the campaign and through his thousand days in office.
The designers did a good job transporting me to the late fifties. One of the exhibits displayed lots of artifacts of the times, just about 50 years ago now, including transistor radios, record players , magazines, kitchen furniture and the like. I particularly took note of the huge, suitcase-sized television cameras, state-of-the-art then, in the rooms set up like the famous televised debates between Nixon and Kennedy.
Many exhibits were dominated by a screen playing one or another speech of Kennedy or a documentary. There were sections dedicated to Jackie’s life, her wardrobe, her efforts to restore the White House, and her various initiatives. There was a replica of the part of the Oval Office with the president’s desk. I could have spent many hours reading all the displays and listening to all the videos – and I may well come back another time.
I saw a lot of original documents written by Jackie or JFK himself, some of them doodles on yellow pads while sitting in meetings during the Cuban Missile Crisis or other events. Seeing their original handwriting done during periods we all know about as world history now gave me a chill at times. The crafting of JFK’s inaugural speech, with various drafts, is posted, along with a couple of pages of the book he read it from – before there were Teleprompters.
There is some focus on the space program, of course, showing JFK’s speech when he motivated the nation to go to the moon. Of course, he himself never experienced the results of his vision. But there is now a moon rock in the library on exhibit, brought back by Apollo 15.
We have all heard his famous quote “Ich bin ein Berliner” that he gave in a speech in Berlin. One of the exhibit shows the 5 x 7 index card where he wrote, in his own handwriting, the phonetic sentence “Ish bin ein Bearleener” so he would be able to recite it during his speech.
Kennedy saw the Berlin Wall built. Nobody at the time knew how long it would last, but it seemed forever. It would take 30 more years before it came down. There is a full section, about four feet wide and full height, of the Berlin Wall at the library, installed in the mid 1990ies.
During World War II, JFK was a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. At one point they were shipwrecked and he and ten other men were lost on a remote island. He wrote a message on a coconut that he gave to a native to deliver it to an American base. Eventually they were rescued. This coconut is displayed at the library.
Visiting the JFK Library was a trip through history, providing a glimpse into an intriguing family and a look at a captivating and charismatic personality.