In my travels across the country, I enjoy visiting Presidential Libraries and Museums. There are 13 of these Libraries so far. The first was started with Herbert Hoover. These are fun places to visit. I enjoy history and focusing my travel to historical places. These Libraries let me go back and relive a small slice of our history. And, I usually learn things I didn’t know.
So far, I’ve visited six of the Presidential Libraries. The JFK Presidential Library is relatively near by, so on a recent jaunt into Boston to see a concert, my son and I decide to pay a visit.
The JFK Library is located in South Boston on the UMass Boston Campus at Columbia Point. If you live around Boston and are used to the crazy traffic, then getting there is no big deal. A subway ride on the Red Line and short bus ride will get you there. If you’re new to Boston and not familiar with aggressive drivers and the spider web roads, it can be nightmarish.
The biggest problem is traveling on I-93 south otherwise known as the Southeast Expressway. I-93 south to the UMass Boston exit is usually plugged with traffic pouring out of Boston. Most times during the day light hours, it’s a slow-moving parking lot.
Once you make it to the proper exit, then you get treated to one of Massachusetts famous trade mark road patterns – the dreaded rotary. Going into a busy Boston rotary and fighting your way over to the proper exit takes quick moves and nerves of steel. But if you endure I-93, get off at the right exit, survive a rotary, and find your way through the Umass Boston campus, you’ll make it to the JFK Presidential Library & Museum.
If you plan to drive, then take whatever your GPS tells you for drive time and add an extra 30 minutes for slow downs on I-93.
The JFK Library is located at a pretty spot. It’s on a college campus and it’s on the water overlooking Boston Harbor. There’s a large free parking lot and the outside grounds are very nice. The building is impressive to look at. Famous architect I.M. Pei was one of the designers. When get close and look at it, the building towers sky ward.
It makes you think that there’s a lot in there to see. But, it’s a little deceptive. A large part of the building is a huge atrium and the library was designed with lots of open space. The Library has a large entrance, a gift shop, small cafe, and theater on the first floor.
However, most of the museum and exhibits are on the ground floor. And while the building looks big, I thought the exhibits were small compared to some of the other Presidential Libraries that I’ve seen.
Here’s some of my observations and interesting things we learned and saw at the Library.
- There’s very little on JFK’s child hood or early years. There’s a display in the waiting area of theater that has a couple of placards on JFK’s early years.
- The only mention of JFK’s health are a couple of statements that he was a sickly child. Not mentioned in the Library, but health-wise, Kennedy was a train-wreck. He was diagnosed with colitis in his late teens. Back then (in 1934), the only treatment was steroids. The long-term steroid use most likely caused many of his other health issues like his back problems and Addison’s disease. He also took numerous medications for pain, anxiety, and allergies. Much like FDR, Kennedy’s health issues were well-kept from the press.
- In the theater waiting area, his WWII medals are on display (Navy Marine Corp Medal, and Purple Heart). Also, the coconut that he wrote his famous PT 109 distress message on is on display. Kennedy had the coconut as a desk ornament in the White House.
- JFK was the first President to really use the power of television to reach the population. Most of the display areas in the Library have video segments of speeches and news clips. As I watched some of these, it struck me that Kennedy’s speech writer, Ted Sorensen, was exceptionally good at what he did. And Kennedy was great a delivering those speeches.
- There are very few artifacts from Kennedy’s administration . There are some of the gifts that world leaders gave him and replicas of office furniture. Also, there are several pictures of state dinners with world leaders. Jackie was always the “Belle of the Ball” at these affairs.
- I was surprised to learn that Kennedy won the 1960 election against Nixon by only a margin of 120,000 votes out of 68,000,000 votes cast! He attained 303 electoral votes to Nixon’s 219.
- There’ a replica of Bobby Kennedy’s office when he was the AG (It seemed out-of-place and kind of odd). And, there’s a replica of the Resolute Desk. Apparently, Jackie found it in some obscure room in the White House and Kennedy agree to use it as his desk in the Oval Office. With the exception of Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and H.W. Bush, it’s been used in the Oval Office by every President since Kennedy.
- The center piece of the Kennedy Library is a replica of the White House West Corridor. There are side rooms off the corridor with various displays of events (e.g. the Cuban Missile Crisis, Mercury Space Flight) that happened during Kennedy’s term
- Kennedy’s death is not highlighted in the museum. There’s a black dark corridor you pass thru near the exit with a small TV on the wall playing a news reel about the shooting. But that’s it. I guess it’s meant to symbolize that the “light” that was Jack Kennedy went out in 1963. There’s no mention of Oswald, The Dallas Book Depository, Jack Ruby, or the Warren Commission report.
- I learned a few new things about Jackie Kennedy. At age 31, she was one of the youngest First Ladies. She was fluent in French, Spanish, and Italian. She won an Emmy Award for the Tour of the White House TV broadcast. The term “Camelot” was first used by Jackie to describe the Kennedy Administration.
Overall, it was a nice visit. Compared to some of the other Presidential Libraries that’s I’ve seen, the JFK Library was a disappointment. Kennedy’s term was short and as such his accomplishments were limited. Fortunately, Johnson went on to implement much of Kennedy’s agenda.
P.S. The parking lot at the Library and roads on the campus really can’t handle RV’s. For this trip, we took my car into Boston.