Review: The JFK Presidential Library and Museum

”I really don’t know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think it’s because in addition to the fact that the sea changes, and the light changes, and ships change, it’s because we all came from the sea. And it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have, in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea – whether it is to sail or to watch it – we are going back from whence we came.” -JFK

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, the nation’s official memorial to the late president, is located on the waterfront facing Boston at the UMASS Campus. Not exactly the place I pictured it should be, especially as President Kennedy went to school at Harvard University. However, the city was concerned about traffic in the Cambridge area and the First Lady wanted to honor her husband near the sea that he loved so dearly. And so the library went up in a towering structure of stone and windows, designed by the famed architect I.M. Pei, and built using private donations from all over the world.

The museum begins with a fifteen minute film narrated by JFK in his youth and ends as he is running for president at the 1960 Democratic Convention. Exhibits at the museum wind through the JFK years – from the Campaign Trail to the Cuban Missile Crisis – ending with his death on November 22, 1963. The rooms hold documents and mementos administered by the National Archives, including gifts by heads of state to the President and First Lady. The museum also features rooms dedicated to the First Lady, including her achievements in historic preservation and advocacy for the arts.

Documents range from newspaper clippings and photocopied speeches to other smaller items that are really quite fascinating. For example, in the room the explores the Campaign Trail there is a memo from Arthur Schlesinger, a friend of the President and a former Harvard professor, who writes to Bobby Kennedy that he believes that people need to “stop referring to JFK as ‘Jack’ because it makes him sound too young.” At the end of the memo, Mr. Schlesinger advises the same for “Bobby” and tells him to start calling himself Robert! Also of interest are notes that JFK wrote to himself on the backs of speeches as he gauged the crowds’ reactions. In all, the more personal items are worthy of an extra look – humanizing the figures that seem larger than life.

The Library includes more than 8.4 million pages of the personal, congressional, and presidential papers of JFK. It also houses the papers of RFK and the entire Ernest Hemingway Collection. However, I felt that the items on display for the public are a bit “JFK Lite.” Not too much new information, definitely nothing scandalous – more of a feel-good display of a different era in politics and life. On the other hand, the Library did a great job in re-creating the few years that JFK was in office and the effects that shook up societies around the world: The Space Program, The Establishment of the Peace Corps, and one of the nation’s closest presidential elections in history.

Two drawbacks in this quick adventure are the expense ($8 with a student ID) and the location. I would recommend driving, as the subway drops you off at UMASS and you have to catch a shuttle bus to the Library.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library
Columbia Point
Boston, Massachusetts 02125
Phone: (617) 514-1600

Adult: $10.00
Student with ID: $8.00
12 and under Free

Museum Hours:
9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and
New Year’s Day

April 19, 2005
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