Unlike any recent president, John F. Kennedy did not live to preside over the building of his own memorial. Often, however, it was on his mind, if only vaguely. As gifts came to the president, he often handed them to Dave Powers, his longtime friend and associate through all his campaigns. "This," Kennedy would tell Powers, "... would look great in our museum."
Today, 76-year-old Dave Powers, who co-authored the best seller "Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye" and was riding in a car behind the president's that fateful day in Dallas, is curator of the John F. Kennedy Museum. It and its library, off Interstates 93 and 90 in Boston, are among America's most revered and visited Quick Stops.The style, wit and grace (and, many visitors say, the spirit) of John F. Kennedy live here.
Here, too, are the memorabilia of the man and his presidency: his desk in the Oval Office, just as he left it for the trip to Dallas; the rocking chair that eased his ailing back; a model of the PT boat he skippered in the South Pacific whose sinking, by the Japanese, forced Kennedy and his crew to swim to a nearby atoll; the Underwood typewriter on which he wrote his two books, "Profiles in Courage" and the lesser-known "Why England Slept"; and, on the library's lawn, his 26-foot sloop "Victura," which JFK loved to sail off Cape Cod, where he spent his summers.
Funded by more than 30 million admirers from around the world, and dedicated before 10,000 invited guests on Oct. 20, 1979, the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library and Museum form a geometric masterpiece: a white, nine-story precast tower and its contiguous glass-enclosed pavilion. The 9.5-acre site on Columbia Point looks out upon Boston Harbor, its offshore islands and the Atlantic - the sea Jack Kennedy loved - and has a commanding view of Boston's skyline. During dedication ceremonies, the library and museum were given to the United States government. It is the eighth presidential library currently operated by the National Archives under the presidential library system established by Congress in 1955.
The John F. Kennedy Library is a vast storehouse of documents from the Kennedy years. Here scholars can research through 300 million pages of documents, which include not only the president's papers and those of his staff, but those involving national security and foreign affairs during the Kennedy administration, and even personal notes scribbled by JFK. Also in the library's collection are more than 35,000 volumes, 150,000 still photographs, 6.5 million feet of motion picture film and more than 7,000 sound recordings, including oral histories of the Kennedy years.
Your museum visit begins in one of two 250-seat theaters where a 30-minute film, "John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963," orients you to the life and times of the 35th president.
Eight exhibit areas, ranged around a central room that replicates the Oval Office with its presidential desk, trace Jack Kennedy's formative years, his congressional career, the highlights of his presidential years (including such crises as the Bay of Pigs debacle and the Cuban missile showdown, and such triumphs as the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and establishment of the Peace Corps) and his dealings with the press.
A Personal Interest exhibit documents the cultural and social life in the White House under the Kennedys. Another - Day in the Life of the President - captures, through slides, a typical JFK workday: Sept. 25, 1962. There is also a room and a film that capture some of the milestones in the life of Robert F. Kennedy, the president's brother, closest strategist and attorney general.
Along the way you can hear Rose Kennedy's recorded recollections of her son's boyhood, and the president's recorded telephone conversations from the Oval Office with some of the most influential political figures of his day, as he sought support for the controversial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
But where the essence of JFK, the man and president, shines brightest is in The President and the Press exhibit. Its nine minutes of filmed excerpts from JFK's 64 televised press conferences capture his personal charm and wit.
For those who admired John Kennedy and his era, the Kennedy Library and Museum is more than merely a Quick Stop in Boston. Like the title of the William Manchester book, it is "One Brief Shining Moment." And rarely a dry-eyed one. The memorial, although impeccably restrained, is nonetheless larger than life.
The John F. Kennedy museum is open daily except Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year's, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Age 16 and over, $3.50; seniors, $2; under 16, free. Parking is free.
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GETTING THERE. From the north: Leave I-93 in downtown Boston at Exit 14 (Morrissey Boulevard). Follow Morrissey Boulevard and the signs the short distance to the University of Massachusetts and the JFK Library and Museum.
From the south: Leave I-93 in downtown Boston at Exit 15 (Morrissey Boulevard). Follow Morrissey and the signs to the JFK Library and Museum.
FOR MORE INFORMATION. For a brochure, write the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, Columbia Point, Boston, Mass. 02125. Or phone (617) 929-4523; for a recorded message, phone (617) 929-4567.