Yesterday was October 24, 2013, the 51st Anniversary of the naval quarantine of Cuba ordered by President John F. Kennedy, which went into effect during the missile crisis in 1962. Coincidentally, I made yet another visit to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. This time it was to attend another event. The event that was being hosted was a forum made in collaboration with “The American Experience”, a history documentary series produced by PBS (In fact, film clips would be shown from the upcoming American Experience film documentary: JFK, airing on November 11 and 12 of this year), and “The Atlantic”, an American magazine commentating on cultural and political issues based in Boston, Massachusetts. The contributors of this would be mostly historians and scholars. They were Timothy Naftali (a Canadian-American historian and former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum), Nicholas Lemann (a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism), Thomas Mallon (a professor of English at George Washington University, a critic, essayist, and novelist having written seven non-fiction and eight fictional books dealing with historical events), Andrew Young (a politician, diplomat, activist, pastor from Georgia, and was a friend and ally of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), and Robert Dallek (a former Professor of History at Boston University and currently a historian having written eighteen books, all specializing on American presidents of the twentieth century). All of these collective minds would be discussing the legacy of President Kennedy.
Like most events of this genre of history, I had looked forward to this for some time and like the previous event I had gone to at the JFK Library, I had registered for the event online. It was significant to me because this was the first forum that was held there since the government reopened on October 16 of this year. On October 1st, a government shutdown took place and because of it places like JFK Library has been closed and all the upcoming forums had either been canceled or changed. I was not happy about it since I had been planning this trip for some time. When I learned that they were hosting “A Conversation with Malala Yousafzai”, the 15-year-old girl shot by the Taliban last October because of her advocacy for children’s education on the campus of Boston College, right next to the presidential library, there was still a glimmer of hope left. Then on the 16th, the government reopened and everything went on as scheduled. I had the plan mapped out for months. I was checking and rechecking train schedules, directions on google maps, weather forecast, and calling the library periodically to make sure the event was still on. Since the government shutdown, I wasn't sure if the event was still being held so that's why I called periodically. I called Jennifer to see if she could lend the use of her camera once again. Some time before that, I asked her to register on online for the event so that we could attend together. She had to work that day at a school so we planned to meet in the evening when the event started at 6:00 p.m.
Anyways, this was how the day started. I had woken up unexpectedly at 7:57 in the morning. I had slept reasonably well I think. I turned on my laptop and rechecked the time of the train arrival into Framingham that would take me to Boston. The scheduled time was 9:11 in the morning. With some spare time, I decided to shave, shower, have breakfast and get dressed. As I had done before, I quickly got dressed in a black suit and a white dress shirt. I had thought about wearing my patriotic tie depicting small portraits of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and John F. Kennedy on an American flag, but decided against it so I wore a different tie. I dressed in layers underneath so that I would not be freezing as I would walk to the train station. After having done so, I checked my wallet (which had enough money), recently charged cellphone, keys to my one room apartment and entry. I also had a book-bag, in which I placed some winter gloves and a unique hybrid scarf and hood to protect my neck and ears, although I would not need it until the return journey. In addition, I brought my hardcover copy of “An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917–1963” with me primarily because I wanted Robert Dallek to sign it. This would make him the second historian who would sign a historical-biographical book I owned since John Stauffer, who signed my copy of "Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln", when he visited the Framingham Public Library on March 19, 2009.
I was out the door by 8:35am and had arrived on foot at the train station at 9:08 am, just three minutes ahead of schedule. As I was walking to the place where I would get onboard, a young man asked me if I knew if this same train would get to Wellesley. I told that there was a map of the commuter posted nearby and led him to it. On the way, I asked him if was going to the Massbay Community College Campus there. He said he was. Soon we got deep into conversation over our interests. His name is Uluc, but he told me his name was Uge (Think of the word "huge" and take away the letter "h" and that's how it sounds). He had come from Turkey to study in the United States to become a filmmaker. Apparently, he had completed his studies overseas, but the cameras used over in Turkey where different than that of ours so he basically had to take the same classes only it had to be done in this country. Soon the train arrived as scheduled. We boarded and Uluc and I sat together, still continuing our conversation. He showed me his pictures on his phone and then I let him send me a friend request through facebook. When he left, I started reading the first chapter of Professor Dallek's biography of the 35th President of the United States.
The train arrived at South Station a few minutes before 10:00. I had less trouble trying to make sense of paying the $2.50 fare through the use of the machine, but thankfully a staff member came to assist me. By accident I paid five dollars instead and I thought myself an idiot for doing so, but it was too late. Although I felt that I had wasted my money, I wasn't about to ask for it back. Anyways, I paid my fare and went onto the red line. A red line train soon arrived and I was well on my way or so I thought. When I got on a sat down in an empty seat, a few minutes passed before I realized I was headed in the wrong direction, north to Alewife. At the very next stop (Downtown Crossing), I crossed over to the other side, having to pay another $2.50 through the same five dollar ticket I purchased. So my money really wasn't wasted after all. Another train for the red line arrived, before I knew it I was at the JFK/UMass station. At the bus stop nearby, there was a bus packed with students on their way to the campus of UMass Boston. I thought to wait for a bus heading directly to the presidential library, but I didn't want to wait. Besides, I thought, if the presidential library is right next to the campus, then I could walk from the campus to my destination. So I boarded with the students headed for the campus. On the way, I saw the students there talking about their classes and assignment, while I stood there envying them. I had forgotten how much I had missed being a college student, full of promise and hope for the future. Anyways, the bus stopped at the front of the campus center and I started to walk, but I soon realized that it would take alot longer than I had thought. As another bus came to stop at the campus center, I ran back to catch up with it. There were two bus I think were headed to the presidential library and when I reached the first bus nearest to me, the driver (possibly Hispanic) suggested that I go on the bus in front of us, which was parked rather crookedly and blocked space for the other buses. The other driver was not there, but he had soon returned and let me go with him. He told me he would drive me to the parking lot entrance and drop me off there. I was fine with that so off we went. I was dropped at the parking lot and made my way to the entrance of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.
As I was walking to the entrance, I saw another bus already parked where a group of sixty girls, aged 14-18, all dressed in green sweaters had also arrived. As I entered the building, they entered as well. I soon discovered that these students were from an academy called the Channing School on Highgate Hill in Highgate, North London, England. It is a Unitarian private school founded on the principles of William Ellery Channing, the father of Unitarianism. The girls were all members of a choir and were planning to perform at the pavilion at 1:30 that afternoon. I paid $12.00 for admission to the museum, although I did not receive a map or brochure, we all walked in to the theater where a seventeen minute introductory video would be shown. In a a brief introduction, by the lead staff member I suppose, we were warned not to touch the glass at the pavilion because it was fragile and it was meant to support the weight of the building not people. Apparently, they had to repair some damage done recently. Anyways, he made the introduction and the video was shown. I had not seen the film in nine years. It depicted the life of President Kennedy, told in his own words about his early life, experiences, with the use of vintage footage leading up to the Democratic National Convention of 1960.
After the film ended, we made our way to the exhibits. We stepped into a recreation of the 1960 Democratic National Convention, in which a video of Senator John F. Kennedy accepting his party’s nomination is played on a continuous loop. Then we walked into a recreation of the main streets of America, in which are 1960s campaign commercials, songs, and excerpts of candidates Kennedy and Nixon delivering their speeches are shown along with a recreation of a Kennedy Campaign office filled with campaign paraphernalia. There was also reproduction of the television studio where the first debate between the candidates took place in Chicago, Illinois with the actual television camera and audio control used in that studio were on display. Next, we stepped into a recreation of Inauguration Day, January 20, 1961. That day was when Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts was inaugurated as the 35th President of the United States. It was on that day that he gave the immortal words, which have become a part of the American canon: "And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."
After viewing a large display of the presidential seal, I stepped into what looked like the interior of the White House. There was a recreation of the briefing room, with footage of President Kennedy's press conferences and speech in Berlin. I saw the handwritten notecard In which he used phonetically to help him pronounce the foreign words, "Ich bin ein berliner" to encourage the people of Germany. Then there was a temporary display of the Freedom 7 Space Capsule, on loan from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC through December 2015. Also on display was a large painting called "Portrait of President John F. Kennedy" by Elaine de Kooning, commissioned on behalf of the Truman Library to reflect the freedom of the "New Frontier" in 1962. There was a special exhibit called "In Her Voice: Jacqueline Kennedy, The White House Years" in which in March of 1964, five months after the death of President Kennedy, his widow Jacqueline recorded a series of interviews with historian and family friend Arthur Schlesinger about her time in the White House. There were quotes which she gave in the interview that were posted throughout the exhibit, this one really stood out: "It was really the happiest time of my life. It was when we were the closest-- I didn't realize the physical closeness of having his office . . . in the same building and seeing him so many times a day". There was a replica of the wedding dress that was worn on her wedding day, unfortunately the original would not be on display because it was too fragile. I had actually seen the original on display when I had first visited the museum ten years before.
Next was a recreation of the office of Attorney General, who everyone knew at the time was the President's younger brother: Robert Francis Kennedy. On top of a desk and encased in glass, were documents and personal items of Robert Kennedy, including a pair of glasses, pens and pencils, his original telephone, bookends, and drawings taped on the wall from his young children. Then came The Oval Office exhibit with a replica the HMS Resolute desk which President Kennedy and now used by recent presidents. The desk was bare of items to show what the oval office might have been like when President Kennedy gave televised addresses. I kept trying to imagine the president seated at the desk, looking into the camera, speaking words to either warn or inspire the country. Above each side of the desk were two television screens showing footage of civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama, the enrollment of the first black students at the University of Alabama, President Kennedy’s June 1963 address to the nation on civil rights, as well as footage of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivering his “I Have a Dream Speech” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. As the footage was playing, I couldn't help but remember when I last visited the library two months before when I attended a forum regarding "The 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom" and "A Conversation with John Lewis."
It was at this point I decided to use the bathroom, so I went through the exiting doors of reproduction of the Attorney General's office. After having used it, I entered into a hallway, of which I didn't know where it would lead. My curiousity got the better of me and I soon found myself at the "To the Brink: JFK and the Cuban Missile Crisis" special exhibit on display until December 1, 2013. I walked inside the exhibit and was greeted by a screen of President Kennedy's evening address of October 22, 1962, in which he stated: "It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union." There were about five or six stations of secret White House recording of the Cabinet meetings, now declassified. There was a moment I remember from one station when it showed a conversation between Air Force chief of staff General Curtis LeMay and JFK, who had utter contempt for each other. At one point Lemay remarked,"You're in a pretty bad fix, Mr. President. "What did you say," the president asked. "You're in a pretty bad fix," Lemay responded. Without missing a beat, President Kennedy replied, "You're in there with me." That part was also recreated in a scene from the 2000 film "Thirteen Days" which is about President Kennedy's handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Like the film, the exhibit showed the tense mood of that period. There was a perception that young people might not live long, the missiles might be fired, and war seemed inevitable. Of course, we know that the crisis was solved, we how it ended, but they didn't. They weren't sure of the outcome.
After visiting the exhibit, I saw that it was a few minutes after 1:30 in the afternoon, and the students from I walked to the Museum Pavilion, where Channing School choir were already assembled and singing. I quietly made my way to a seat to view them as they sang. It was heavenly to listen to. I wish that I had recorded the singing on my phone. They sang two hymns, which I sadly cannot identify. After the songs were sung by the students, I helped in leading out the applause. One of the chaperones then chatted with me for a bit, telling me the choir was sining later that evening at a special concert at the Arlington Street Church, located at 351 Boylston Street in Boston, about five miles north of the Kennedy Library. As she invited me, I hinted that I would come when deep down I knew I couldn't. After all, I had intended to attend the panel discussion later that evening. If I could be at two places at once I would possibly have gone to enjoy both events at the same time. Unfortunately, this is not humanly possible. Anyways, after we chatted for a while, I excused myself and returned to the museum to finish my exploration of the days of President Kennedy in the White House.
I walked back through the doors leading back to the reproduction of the Attorney General's office, past the oval office replica, and viewed the exhibits dedicated to the First Lady, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. On display was the red day suit worn by her when she visited the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Ottawa, Canada on May 16, 1961. I remembered seeing a golden Emmy statue for the television special she hosted showcasing her efforts in restoring the White House. Next came the Kennedy Family exhibit, which touched on the Kennedy's dynamic relatives. Of the artifacts on display, I strongly recalled Kathleen Kennedy's Red Cross uniform jacket and the Coconut Shell Paperweight, which the President had displayed on his desk in the Oval Office. I vividly recalled images of the paperweight being used in the film "Thirteen Days". I then went into a darkened room where the words “November 22, 1963” was highlighted. In it were several screens showcasing the moment when Walter Cronkite, the former CBS newscaster, announce on the air that the president had died. I then walked through an area where the legacy of President Kennedy was highlighted through videos of different speeches and remarks by President Lyndon B. Johnson, Robert F. Kennedy, Edward M. Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy and so on. Just before the entrance to the Pavilion stood a section of the Berlin Wall, which according to the website is 12 ft. height x 4 ft. width x 7 in. deep. I kept thinking when I had seen it of the people of Germany who had been separated from loved ones for 28 years because of this. It took the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush to finally remove the wall of needless separation and reunite families that had been torn apart for almost two decades. Both presidents have individual sections of the Berlin Wall housed at their own presidential libraries. If only President Kennedy had lived to see that day, I wonder what he would have thought.
I walked through the Pavilion and up the stairs to the JFK Cafe where I had my lunch. After that, I decided to go to the museum again. Yes, I know it's strange to do that, but hear me out. I had some spare time (about three hours) until the forum would begin so I needed to occupy my mind. I didn't know what else to do. I walked to the theater where they showed the introductory video. After I was seated, a staff member came up to me and asked me if I knew that I was watching the same film I had seen earlier that day. I said yes and immediately thought I shouldn't have gone there at all. He was probably wondering why on earth would I watch this film again. I can't say I blame him because no normal person would do that. Anyway, we watched the film again and went into the museum. This time I decided on joining a group led by a tour guide and to my surprise I learned more about the times of Kennedy's presidency than I had known before. Whenever there was a question that the tour guide could not answer, I spoke up, not abruptly, but politely, and gave some anecdotes. After that, I went to the JFK Cafe again and drank grape juice.
From the time the museum closed at 5:00pm until the forum commenced at 6:00, I cannot recall. I did go to the library store to buy some souvenirs. I bought a miniature flashlight and a magnet depicting the historic meeting of when young Bill Clinton met President Kennedy on July 24, 1963. I called Jennifer to see when we could meet. I believed that she arrived just before 6:00. Meanwhile Robert Dallek, the historian I had hoped for a photo op with, had finally arrived at the library. They had placed a table just outside of Smith Center (the auditorium where the event was to be held) where Dr. Dallek would be seated as he would be signing autographs. I went to an aide and asked if it was possible for a photo op. She didn't think it was. I didn't challenge her, but merely acquiesced. As I stood in line, I noticed other people holding hardcover copies of “An Unfinished Life” as well as Dallek's newly released book: “Camelot's Court: Inside the Kennedy White House”. A few days before, I had seen a hardcover copy of “Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961-1973” at the Framingham Public Library for $2.00. I should have bought it before it disappeared (which it did) so that Dr. Dallek would have signed it as well. Ahead of me was a gentleman who told Dr. Dallek that he had traveled from Ireland just to meet to him and after a few minutes, my turn came. “Hello Professor Dallek,” I said as I placed my book on the table. “Hi,” he replied and then asked, “and who am I making this out to?” “Manny,” I replied as I spelled out my name, “M-A-N-N-Y”. He inscribed only five words: “Manny, Best Wishes. Robert Dallek.” I thanked him and made my way back to Smith Hall.
Jennifer had already arrived by this point and felt that I could take the picture with Dr. Dallek using her camera after the conclusion of the forum. As we waited for the forum to begin Jennifer and I soon were in deep conversation. She commented the glasses depicted on the JFK Poster looked similar to a movie poster promoting “The Way Way Back.” She even showed me the image on her phone. As we spoke, I saw the distinguished panelist making their way to the stage. I immediately recognized Andrew Young, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations and friend of Dr. King. I had remembered seeing him in two other documentary films produced by the American Experience: “LBJ” and “Citizen King”. I had also hoped to get a photo op with him as well. He would be the third person that I would meet that knew Dr. King personally. Thomas J. Putnam, the Director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, stepped onto the stage to introduce James Bennet, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic and Susan Bellows, series producer at American Experience, who shared a few words of welcome before the start of the program. It was followed by a trailer for the American Experience film "JFK extended preview", and then Linda Wertheimer led the discussion.
I am not able to recall all that was said during the discussion and I did not take notes. However, a video of the program is available on Youtube, simply titled "The Legacy of JFK" and is also on the C-Span website as well. Three film clips from the upcoming documentary were shown to us, never before seen by the public. Before the third clip was shown, Ms. Wertheimer asked Dr. Dallek if he had a plane to catch. He said that he did, but before he would go he wanted to touch on Vietnam. As he did so, I asked Jennifer for her camera and he waited for him to take his leave. Ms. Wertheimer introduced the final clip, depicting the Cuban Missile Crisis and then she said in reference to Dr. Dallek, “And Bob can quietly slip away. Thank you so much.” There came an applause as the lights were turned off. This was my signal to temporarily leave the room. Outside Smith Hall, Dr. Dallek was going to leave. Someone else stopped him and asked for a autograph, which Dallek obliged. There was a photographer named Stephen Baumbach, who had a professional camera with him. I motioned for him if he could take the picture of myself with Dr. Dallek. His reply was to motion with his camera, which indicated that he would take the picture with his own camera. I was satisfied because his picture would come out much better. My turn came and I asked Dr. Dallek if I could he a picture with him shaking hands. “Sure,” he said and I then took his hand and motioned for Mr. Baumbach to take the picture. When he did take the picture, I then thanked Dr. Dallek and then he went on his way, I presume to Washington D.C. I went over to Mr. Baumbach and then I said, “You have made my day. Thank you so much.” and then I returned to Smith Hall to enjoy the rest of the program.
When the program ended, I along with Jennifer made our way to the stage where Andrew Young was walking down the stairs from the podium. I went up to Ambassador Young and asked for a photo op, which he obliged. After that, I decided to have a picture taken next to the poster promoting the film. After this, we went to the library store and I bought another rectangular magnet of a red, white, and blue banner with the images of Kennedy and Johnson, with the heading: “Leadership for the 60s.” Jennifer commented that she hated Johnson. I replied that if were not for Johnson, we would not be able to enjoy the privileges that we had today and that he helped more poor people than anybody in history, and his legacy still touches the poor of today. Also, he did pass the the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and did more for civil rights than any other president since Abraham Lincoln. Johnson may have been flawed and the prestige of his presidency may have been diminished by our involvement with Vietnam, but I thought that he had done much good for this country in his domestic policies and I, a minority, am reaping the blessings which had begun with the promises of the Great Society. Anyways, we soon left and while she drove me me to South Station, which was eight minutes away, took us much longer to get there and her GPS was not much help. Next time, I would print out directions so this would never happen again. We arrived just before the train's departure for Framingham and before I knew it I was on my way home. I sat in one of the seats reading the second chapter of Dr. Dallek's book and reflecting on the day's events.
I am determined that in the following month that I will return to the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the President Kennedy's death. I was also looking forward the seeing the documentary, which would be an addition to the sixteen critically acclaimed Presidential biographies produced by the American Experience. I kept thinking about John F. Kennedy's life, his struggles, his challenges, and his legacy, which I will touch upon in my next journal entry. For now I will conclude this journal entry with a quote and I suppose that you can expect that the quote will be from President Kennedy's own words. I thought about the quote from the ending scene from "Thirteen Days", in which an excerpt of an archived recording of the real JFK was used in which he gave in his Commencement Address at American University, June 10, 1963, “What kind of peace do we seek? I'm talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living. Not merely peace in our time but peace for all time. Our problems are manmade - therefore, they can be solved by man. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.”
- Current Location:United States, Massachusetts, Boston
- Current Mood: contemplative