While working in Boston this summer, I made my first visit to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. This property is the nation’s official memorial to the 35th President of the United States located in the city that launched his political career.
The building itself is spectacular with views of the sea. Mrs. Kennedy selected the great architect I.M. Pei to design the building. As you enter the experience you feel like you are taking steps back in time to the early 1960’s.
Self-Guided Tour: JFK’s Childhood + Journalism Career
The self-guided tour starts with a 20-minute film on Kennedy’s early life including his time in the Navy during World War II. The film gives patrons a glimpse into the President’s childhood and how it shaped him. Kennedy states that the war changed his life and without those experiences he probably would not have entered politics.
A few interesting facts that I didn’t know was that the iconic couple both spent time as journalists. Kennedy moved to Chicago after the war and went to work at the Herald American newspaper. I was also surprised to learn that Jackie Kennedy was a photographer for a newspaper in Washington DC when they first met.
JFK’s Political Career
The museum tour follows a timeline progression through Kennedy’s political career starting in the Senate and then through the presidential race of 1960 on the campaign trail. There is a section to view videos of the election against Richard Nixon which includes their television debate and election night coverage.
The White House corridor features artifacts and gifts that the President and First Lady including the Pietà given to him by the Pope and many more items. A replica of the Oval Office is also setup to view.
Another learning experience for me took place in the Cuban Missile Crisis Theater where secretly recorded tapes from the White House told the story of how the crisis built over a short period of time. I was shocked to see how close the U.S. came to actual nuclear war with Russia as they built missile stockpiles of weapons on the island of Cuba just 90 miles off the coast of the United States.
It was fascinating to see how missed communications could have went awry and how Kennedy went about the decision-making process in a methodical way on how to act.
The Kennedy’s accomplished so much during his short time in office. He founded the Peace Corps, a volunteer program of service that still thrives today. There is a special area highlighting the overseas program with letters from program participants on how it changed their lives.
Jacqueline Kennedy is honored at the museum throughout the exhibits with photos and videos but she also has a special section dedicated to her philanthropy and work while serving as First Lady. I stopped and took note when I saw New Orleans native, Mahalia Jackson featured in a film about Jackie creating the National Cultural Center for the Arts that still supports the promotion of the arts today.
I also spent a lot of time in the exhibits showing Kennedy’s dedication to developing the American Space program that included a video of Alan Shepherd going into space for the first time.
JFK’s Assassination and Legacy
At the end of the tour, I got goose bumps walking into an area titled November 22, 1963 that was a bleak dark corridor leading to an area with video screens playing footage of Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas.
The museum tour ends with highlights of how President Kennedy’s work went on to inspire others and even laid the groundwork for many great accomplishments in American history including sending astronauts to the Moon and the Berlin Wall coming down years after his death.
The museum currently also had a special exhibit dedicated to the President’s Children who spent time in the White House. Mrs. Kennedy speaks in videos about how the American public was always interested in the children’s lives. Photos and artifacts line the exhibit to give patrons a look at their time in the White House as young children.
The Hemingway- Kennedy Collection
The Hemingway Kennedy Collection is housed on the first floor of the museum. Ernest Hemingway won the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature and is one of the most well-known authors in history. Hemingway tragically committed suicide in 1961 after sustaining injuries in an African plane crash that made it impossible for him to write.
On April 29, 2962, President and Mrs. Kennedy hosted a White House dinner for all the Nobel Prize Winners and Mary Hemingway represented her late husband. President Kennedy also made it possible for Mary to return to their home in Cuba to retrieve personal belongings and her late husband’s manuscripts.
When Mrs. Kennedy was planning her husband’s Presidential Library, Mary Hemingway offered her 90% of the writer’s manuscripts, 10,000 photographs and other artwork. A small portion of these artifacts can be seen on the ground floor of the museum and it is worth a stop for any Hemingway fan to see original notes and drawings from some of his most famous novels.
The museum is open Sunday to Thursday from 10 AM to 4:00 PM with the last entry at 2:30 PM. Admission to the museum is $18 for adults, $10 for youth and free for children 12 and under. Find out more about admission and tickets here.