Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The John F. Kennedy Library and Museum . . .

Today, everyone is talking politics and healthcare.  When I started this blog, I made a decision to stay away from political discussions of any kind.  Be thankful for this - I am a political junkie and could go on for hours about any issue!  I've made a compromise and am today writing about something political that is still a travel destination - a Presidential Library!

There are currently thirteen Presidential Libraries in the United States which are part of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); there are seven other libraries that have been built for former presidents, but they are not sanctioned by the NARA.  The libraries were organized to house and protect the important documents generated by the presidential administrations.  Over the years, many important papers had been lost, sold or destroyed (either accidently or deliberately) and their historical value has been lost.  In the 1940s, Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted to find a way to preserve the papers that had accumulated during his years in office.  His solution was to turn these documents over to the National Archives.  In 1955, President Truman decided he wanted to build a library to preserve his papers, and worked with Congress to pass the Presidential Libraries Act.  These libraries are built with private funds, of which some are provided by the President for whom the library will be named; no Federal funding is used in building the Presidential Libraries. 

The John F. Kennedy Library is located in the Boston, Massachusetts neighborhood of Dorchester. President Kennedy had scouted sites for his library and museum in the weeks before his untimely death in 1963.  His first choice was a site in Cambridge, Massachusetts near Harvard University, facing the Charles River.  Although the residents of Cambridge welcomed the idea of the library in the early years of its planning, as time went on they realized it would become a large attraction for many tourists, and their enthusiasm cooled.  In 1975, it was decided that Cambridge would not be the site for the future Kennedy Library and Museum, and the current site in Dorchester, near the campus of the University of Massachusetts/Boston was chosen.

The building, which was completed in 1979, was designed by world-renowned architect, I.M. Pei.  It is a modern design with a large 115 foot glass pavilion, offices, archives, museum exhibits and two theaters.

A visit to the Library begins with a short film that overviews President Kennedy's life including his childhood, his service in World War II, his political life his tragic death in Dallas.  Exhibit areas include the Democratic National Convention of 1960 (my personal favorite - the carpet looks as if a victory celebration has just taken place - pieces of confetti are woven into the pile of the rug), the Oval Office, and a section dedicated to Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy, including some of  the fashions that made her famous.  There are also many artifacts from his White House years, gifts he and Mrs. Kennedy received from foreign dignitaries, letters, photographs and furniture. 
The large flag that hangs in the pavilion

Upon completion of viewing the exhibits, stroll into the pavilion and be surrounded by views of Boston Harbor.  In the pavillion there is a replica of the "Profiles in Courage" award, which is bestowed annually by the Library to a person who demonstrates great courage and conviction in the political arena.
 The replica of The Profile in Courage award in the pavilion

During the summer months, President Kennedy's sailboat, the Victura, is on display outside the pavilion.

The Library also hosts the Kennedy Library Forums, a series programs which focus on different historical and political topics.  These forums are open to the public and have featured such noted speakers as Michael Beschloss, Doris Kearns Goodwin, David McCullough and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.   

If you are visiting Boston area, or live here and have never been, visit the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum.  It is a must see for anyone who is interested history and politics, and has plenty of interactive exhibits that make it interesting for both adults and children.  Visit their website, which has complete information about visiting the Library and the details of the many programs it offers.

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