A Perspective on the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
Located on Columbia Point in Boston, Massachusetts, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum stands in recognition of the 35th President of the United States. As one of thirteen Presidential Libraries managed and maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration, this site is visited by millions each year whether for research or enjoyment offering a unique experience to everyone who enters. On November 5, 2016 a group of students from Merrimack College had the opportunity to tour the JFK Library and Museum, getting the chance to step into the life of the President in the early 1960s. With exhibits highlighting the Democratic National Convention, the subsequent campaign, the administration’s foreign policy, and much more, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is worth the trip.
As the youngest elected President, John F. Kennedy stepped into office in the midst of Civil Rights turmoil and escalation of the Cold War. He was sworn into office on January 20, 1961 when he famously stated, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Domestically Kennedy was forced to deal with Civil Rights issues, on which he did not decisively act until 1963 when he proposed a bill to congress proposing equality for all citizens. Additionally, his presidency was greatly shaped by the nation’s relationship with the Soviet Union as seen in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. This competitive relationship also contributed to America’s development of a space exploration program. Kennedy’s administration saw feats such as the first American in space as well as the first American manned orbital mission. Though his term was cut short by tragedy, it did not lack dynamism and intrigue.
The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum aims to inform guests about the life and achievements of the president. Upon entering, visitors are greeted with a sense of awe seeing a large balcony which overlooks a grand open room surrounded by views of the ocean. Beginning the tour, the first room contains information about JFK’s early life, including pictures of him and his large family when he was young. One section depicts his heroics in the Navy during World War II when Kennedy’s PT boat was struck and sunk by a Japanese destroyer. This exhibit also discusses his college life at Harvard, including scholastic accolades and his thesis which eventually became his first book, Why England Slept. After going through this room, visitors are encouraged to enter a theater where they can watch a short film about John F. Kennedy’s life which shows visuals accompanied by his own narration of impactful events. The film even had a few comedic elements to it, covering his life up to his election in 1960. When the film came to an end, the next part of the museum continued the story of the second youngest president to be in office.
One of the most important exhibits highlights and brings to life the 1960 Democratic National Convention and campaign trail. Going through the Campaign Trail Exhibit was especially interesting as it had dozens of artifacts including seats from the Democratic National Convention, campaign buttons, signs, and an old television that showed a campaign advertisement. The museum even has a room designed to look like Kennedy’s campaign headquarters. It introduced songs and slogans one might have heard in 1960 as well as Kennedy’s appeal to create a “New Frontier” in space. Often considered the first election in which television played a pivotal role in the outcome, this exhibit provides footage from the first debate between Nixon and Kennedy. After going through this section of the museum, one experiences the triumph of John F. Kennedy in his ascension to the presidency.
While in office President Kennedy faced opposition in a world characterized by the influences of the Cold War smoldering between the United States and the Soviet Union. In an effort to help guests understand this intricate dynamic, the library provides a map of the world with text box descriptions of the state of foreign affairs in particular locations during the JFK’s presidency. From there, one delves into the Space Race, a cornerstone of the Kennedy administration as the nation strove to best the Soviet Union. Currently on loan from the Smithsonian, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum displays the Mercury Freedom 7 which was responsible for putting the first American in space during the administration. Though the museum provides an overview of the global accomplishments of the U.S. during Kennedy’s presidency, it lacks in recognizing some of the shortcomings within the foreign policy of Kennedy’s administration.
Of course the library cannot fail to acknowledge the abrupt end to John F. Kennedy’s presidency. After walking through the life of the president, seeing the Oval Office, and watching news reports, visitors are guided into a dark room. The black walls have the date “November 22, 1963” on them. The only things in the hallway were a half-a-dozen small TV screens which show the same clip simultaneously. Each monitor displayed a news report announcing the assassination of the President. It is over almost as quickly as it began, and while it is not something pleasant to address it could have been covered better by the museum. Instead, visitors are quickly ushered into examples of John F. Kennedy’s legacy around the world.
By exploring the legacy of the President, visitors are encouraged to see the larger picture of both the person and his actions. The final room has several stories of windows overlooking the Boston Harbor, with important quotes from JFK written on the walls, and a large American flag hanging from the ceiling. The room provides time for contemplation and perspective. As a memorial, the site remains as a testament to a global and domestic figure who has firmly secured his place in history. Overall the trip to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum was an excellent way to learn about the inspiring thirty-fifth President of the United States of America. For more information on this site, please go to: https://www.jfklibrary.org