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JFK Presidential Library and Museum July 21, 2009

Posted by flashbuzzer in History.
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I recently visited the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. The library and museum commemorate the life and legacy of our nation’s 35th President, John F. Kennedy.

Here are ten nuggets that I gleaned from my time at the museum.

1. Kennedy actually had a scholarly bent and was an ardent student of history, which spurred him to craft his Pulitzer Prize-winning work Profiles in Courage. I got the impression that had it not been for his brother Joe’s death during World War II, Kennedy would have either a) stayed out of politics or b) set his sights on a “non-Presidential” position.

2. Kennedy wanted to be Adlai Stevenson’s running mate for the 1956 presidential election, but he lost out to Estes Kefauver. This setback only served to further his quest for the Presidency. On a related note, I had never heard of Kefauver before my trip to the museum, so I need to plug some holes in my knowledge of 20th Century American history.

3. Much like Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election, Kennedy’s sharp performances in his three debates with Richard Nixon help to allay any potential fears about his ability to lead the nation. I was disappointed that the “Kennedy-Nixon Debate” exhibit made no mention of Nixon’s five o’clock shadow, though.

4. Kennedy’s famed inaugural address went through numerous iterations before the final version was delivered on January 20, 1961. Biblical passages, including Romans 12:12 and Isaiah 58:6 appear in one of the greatest speeches in modern history.

5. The Alliance for Progress was established between the U.S. and Latin America during Kennedy’s administration, which was an obvious attempt to combat Fidel Castro’s regional objectives. This was just one of the many initiatives that could have been more successful had Kennedy been able to serve out his first term (and a second term was a real possibility at the time).

6. Kennedy was the first president to hold live press conferences. This was a groundbreaking development, as his predecessors had always been able to edit the transcripts of their press conferences before approving them for public release.

7. The First Lady was the epitome of classiness and style. I was able to watch part of her famous CBS television special where she led viewers on a tour of the White House. During the special, she calmly described her efforts to infuse the Red Room and the Green Room with a sense of history; for example, she placed various tables and chairs from the Monroe presidency in their original locations in these rooms.

8. The White House became a welcoming environment for the arts due to the influence of the First Lady. Several poets and musicians dined at the White House and edified the other guests with well-crafted after-dinner performances. I was able to read a thank-you letter from the noted violinist Isaac Stern to the President and the First Lady after he visited the White House.

9. I had read about Kennedy’s heroism during the PT-109 incident, but browsing that exhibit helped to refresh my memory. In particular, Kennedy was wounded in the collision with the Japanese warship that sunk the PT-109, but he ignored the pain and swam with a belt between his teeth to shore while assisting an injured comrade. He then wandered about before finding two Solomon Island natives, which eventually led to the rescue of his crew.

10. One of the enduring legacies of the Kennedy administration was increased awareness and funding for people suffering from mental retardation. This was a personal battle for Kennedy, as his sister Rosemary was mentally retarded. Large, overcrowded state-run mental institutions were closed as a result of this initiative, and smaller, community-oriented institutions became more prevalent.

The museum is fairly easy to tour, and it took me slightly under four hours to go through all of the exhibits; since I usually attempt to absorb as much information as possible during my museum visits, more casual visitors would probably need about 90 minutes to browse all of the exhibits. Also, its location is a fitting tribute to Kennedy’s life-long love of the seas, as it is surrounded by the Boston Harbor. In addition, I found the short documentary of the Cuban Missile Crisis to be quite delightful, as it captured the (worldwide) fear and tension that were rampant during those fateful days in October 1962.

In terms of drawbacks, the museum is apparently difficult to visit in the winter months; its glass walls do not provide adequate insulation to repel the harsh winds blowing off the Boston Harbor.

Overall I enjoyed my time at the museum and I learned a lot, which was the main purpose of my trip.

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