JFK Museum Puts Artifacts on View

By Mikaela Lefrak
BU News Service

The clip-clop of hooves mingles with the creaking of wheels and muffled drum beats on a cold, late November day in 1963.   A horse-drawn caisson bearing a flag-covered coffin rolls down Pennsylvania Avenue.  A riderless, jet-black horse follows closely behind.  On its back rests an empty saddle, black boots facing backwards in the stirrups.

Since the state funeral of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 25, 1963, the sounds and images from those days have become part of the nation’s collective memory. Today, Nov. 22, 2013, the 50th anniversary of the president’s assassination, the public will be able to see many of the objects from the three days following that fateful day for the first time on display at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.

“Our notion here is to focus on President Kennedy’s life and legacy,” says Kennedy Library and Museum Director Thomas Putman on why the artifacts have never been displayed before.  “But now, the time is right,” he followed.

The one-room exhibit features only about a dozen objects and iconic images.  “We wanted them to be of a certain scale, that really reflects the monumentality and ceremonial nature of the final tribute to the president,” says Museum Curator Stacey Bredhoff.

At the center of the exhibit are two relics, as Bredhoff called them: the flag that covered President Kennedy’s casket, and the saddle and boots carried by the caparisoned horse Black Jack.  The flag accompanied with the fallen president from the time his body left Bethesda Naval Hospital in Virginia on November 23, the day after his assassination, until he was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery two days later.  It was folded and presented to the President’s widow, Jacqueline Kennedy.

Accompanying the objects and photographs is a sixteen-minute montage of video recordings from the public viewing of the President’s casket at the capitol, the procession to St. Mathews Cathedral, and the burial ceremony at Arlington Cemetery.

“This was one of the first events that the whole nation really participated in, in real time,” Bredhoff says, a reference to the widely-watched live television coverage of the funeral.

The curators have set up remembrance books at both the museum and online for visitors to record personal memories of President Kennedy and the events surrounding his death.  They also hoped reach a wider audience than those who were alive back in 1963.

“We hope it also reminds people of what President Kennedy stood for, so that young people, after experiencing not only this exhibit but the museum, will consider what they can do to give back to their country,” says Putnam.

Putnam recalls the president’s own words.  “A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on.”

The exhibit, “A Nation Remembers,” runs through February 23, 2014.

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