John Fitzgerald Kennedy 35th President, 1961-1963
Birthplace, Brookline, Massachusetts
John Fitzgerald Kennedy would be the first president to begin his life in the 20th century. Both parents were from wealthy Boston families long active in politics. Joseph Kennedy, John’s father, had made a large fortune in the stock market, entertainment, and other businesses, managing to take his money out of the stock market just before the crash of 1929. His mother, Rose, was the daughter of a former Boston mayor. “Jack” and his eight siblings enjoyed a privileged childhood of elite private schools, sailboats, servants and summer homes in the 1930s. Childhood classmates remember a reed-thin, often sickly child who was an indifferent student in many subjects, except for history. President Franklin Roosevelt named his father, Joseph, to the key post of ambassador to Great Britain in 1938. The elder Kennedy was unsympathetic to British preparedness policies and was not well received in London. That year, Jack inherited one million dollars from his family, but his ambition remained strong. While in England with his father, he wrote his senior essay for Harvard on England’s lack of readiness for the Second World War. It was published and was well received by critics, becoming a bestseller under the title Why England Slept.
John F. Kennedy National Historic Site preserves and interprets the birthplace in 1917 and boyhood home of the 35th President of the United States. The modest frame house at 83 Beals Street, Brookline, was also the first home shared by the president’s father and mother, Joseph P. and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, and represents the social and political beginnings of one of the world’s most prominent families. Shortly after President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, his family repurchased the birthplace and restored it as a memorial to him under the close supervision of Rose Kennedy. John F. Kennedy National Historic Site was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1965 and established as an area of the National Park Service in 1969. The restored nine-room presidential birthplace includes a collection of household furnishings, photographs, and significant mementos personally collected and arranged by the president’s mother. Many pieces in the museum collection are original to the 1914-1921 period, and reflect the lifestyle, various pursuits and interests of the Kennedy family. A taped narrative produced by Rose Kennedy in her own words provides a unique and evocative addition to the ranger-guided tour.
Boyhood Home, Brookline, Massachusetts
In 1921, Joseph and Rose Kennedy moved the family to this larger home at the corner of Abbottsford and Naples Roads in Brookline. Three more of the Kennedy children were born here: Eunice, Patricia and Robert. This house is a three-story shingled frame house that has a wraparound porch with columns and dentils and two brick chimneys. While living here, Joseph Kennedy started to build the family fortune. While living here, John and his older brother, Joseph Jr., first attended The Edward Devotion School, a public school, and then the Lower Noble and Greenough School, which later became the Dexter School, a private, non-sectarian school. In 1927, the Kennedys moved from this house to the Riverdale section of the Bronx in New York City. Today, this house is privately owned.
Home, Washington, DC
In 1946, John F. Kennedy, not quite 30 years old, rented this home in Washington, DC and lived here while he began a three-term stint in the House of Representatives. The three-story row house had a patio garden. He rented the house for $300 a month. At the same time, his official residence was a Beacon Hill apartment in Boston’s Eleventh Congressional District. In 1952, Kennedy beat out Republican incumbent Henry Cabot Lodge for a seat in the U.S. Senate. Today, this house is a private residence.
Home, Washington, DC
In 1957, Senator and Mrs. John F. Kennedy purchased this home at 3307 N Street, NW in Washington, DC for $78,000. It had a double drawing room and a rear garden. The home was renovated for an additional $20,000 and then sold for $105,000.
Library & Museum, University of Massachusetts, Boston, Massachusetts
The John F. Kennedy Library and Museum is dedicated to the memory of our nation’s thirty-fifth president and to all those who through the art of politics seek a new and better world. The Library is located on Columbia Point in Boston, Massachusetts, overlooking Boston’s harbor and skyline, in the Dorchester section of Boston, where President Kennedy’s mother lived as a girl and attended school. The library was dedicated on October 20, 1979 by President Jimmy Carter. Over 36 million people contributed to the Library’s construction. Approximately 200,000 visitors and schoolchildren visit the Library and Museum annually, as well as 1,600 research visits and 40,000 participants in community events and educational programs.
The building is one of Boston’s most dramatic architectural statements and includes a 135,000 square foot library/archive with 9-story white, pre-cast concrete tower building, a glass-enclosed pavilion, an 18,000 square foot museum with two 230-seat orientation theaters, and a 20,000 square foot Stephen E. Smith Center (dedicated in 1991) adjoining Library used for education programs and conferences.
The site is a 9.5-acre park landscaped with pine trees, shrubs and wild roses reminiscent of the landscape of Cape Cod familiar to President Kennedy. It includes Kennedy’s 26′ sloop Victura cradled on the lawn and oriented toward the entrance to Boston Harbor, coincidentally known as President Roads. The John T. Fallon State Pier, located adjacent to grounds, is used by harbor cruise boats to bring visitors to the Library.
Gravesite, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia
In late November 1963, the Kennedys journeyed to Dallas to settle divisions in the Texas Democratic Party. While riding in an open convertible through the city, gunshots were fired at the presidential motorcade. One struck the president in the head, fatally wounding him, another wounded Texas Governor John Connally. Kennedy was rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital where he died at 1:00 in the afternoon.
On November 24, 1963 hundreds of thousands of people filed pass Kennedy’s coffin in the rotunda of the capitol. The next day, he was buried in a state funeral at Arlington Cemetery. Representatives from ninety-two nations attended the services and an estimated one million people lined the streets of Washington, D.C., to observe the funeral procession.
For many Americans, the murder of John F. Kennedy would remain burned in their memory as one of the most wrenching single events of the century. To many, the country would never seem quite as moral, hopeful or functional again. The subsequent death of his brother Robert during the presidential elections of 1968, and the death of his son John Jr. in a plane crash in 1999, would bring all of these emotions flooding back again.
John F. Kennedy made his first formal visit to Arlington National Cemetery on Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1961, to place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. At the conclusion of the ceremony President Kennedy spoke to more than 5,000 people gathered in the Memorial Amphitheater. Eleven days prior to Kennedy’s assassination he returned to Arlington for the 1963 Armistice Day services. This time he did not address the crowd in the amphitheater.
At the time of his death, many believed that Kennedy would be buried in Brookline, Mass. The Associated Press on Nov. 22, 1963, prematurely announced, “President Kennedy’s body will lie in state at the White House tomorrow. There’s nothing definite yet on the funeral, but it’s understood it will be in Boston.” The New York Times announced later that day, “The president was expected to be buried at the Kennedy family plot in Holyhood Cemetery, near Brookline, Mass. He is a native of Boston.”
Kennedy’s brother-in-law and director of the Peace Corps, Sargent Shriver, arrived at the White House to make tentative arrangements for Kennedy’s funeral. However, nothing was definite until the wishes of Jacqueline Kennedy, the president’s widow, were known. Her wishes were stated simply, “He belongs to the people.” Shriver prepared for all possibilities and had even contacted Jack Metzler Sr., superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery. Metzler informed Shriver that ample space was available in Arlington and that the cemetery would be ready to handle the funeral.
The first formal statement from Mrs. Kennedy concerning the burial was to model her husband’s funeral after ceremonies rendered for Abraham Lincoln. The research on President Lincoln’s funeral was done by Professor James Robertson, the executive director of the U.S. Civil War Centennial Commission. He contacted David Mearns, the director of the Library of Congress. The two men went to the government repository where the lights were inoperative because they were connected to a timer switch and would only operate during the time the Library was scheduled to be open. Using flashlights they found copies of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated and Harper’s Weekly which depicted the 1865 funeral in graphic detail. Using this information, the East Room of the White House was transformed to fit the description of the funeral almost a century earlier.
Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara felt that President Kennedy should be interred on federal property so that his grave would be accessible to the American people. McNamara contacted Metzler and wished to see potential burial plots for the president at ANC. Three plots were shown: one near the mast of the USS Maine, one at Dewey Circle, and the third on the slope below Arlington House (Custis-Lee mansion). The president’s brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, found the “Maine” location inappropriate and the “Dewey” location inaccessible; however, he believed that the slope below Arlington House was ideal. The final decision was Mrs. Kennedy’s. After arriving and viewing the gravesite below Arlington House, she nodded her approval.
McNamara and Robert F. Kennedy returned to Arlington to supervise the surveying of the area. The two men walked up the hill to Arlington House. While they were there, Park Service employee Paul Fugua recounted how on March 3 President Kennedy and Charlie Bartlett had made an impromptu Sunday visit to the Custis-Lee mansion. He went on to recall that after touring the house the president remarked that the view of Washington, D.C., was so magnificent that he could stay forever – a statement which seemed to confirm their selection of the grave site.
Mrs. Kennedy had expressed a desire to mark the president’s grave with an eternal flame similar to that of the French Unknown Soldier in Paris. The Washington Gas Company was contacted and a propane-fed torch was selected, as it could be safely lit during the funeral the following day.
On Nov. 25, 1963, at 3 p.m., the state funeral of President Kennedy began. Earlier that day, cemetery employees at Arlington, along with personnel from the Military District of Washington, conducted 23 funerals. All were conducted with appropriate dignity and military honors. Among the mourners at Kennedy’s grave site were President Charles de Gaulle of France, Chancellor Ludwig Erhard of the Federal Republic of Germany, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and Prince Philip of the United Kingdom. Overhead, 50 Navy and Air Force jets flew past the gravesite followed by the president’s plane, Air Force One, which dipped its wing in final tribute.
A contingent of the Irish Guard stood opposite the grave, and the Archbishop of Boston, Richard Cardinal Cushing, performed a Roman Catholic committal service. The body bearers folded the interment flag, and Metzler presented it to Mrs. Kennedy. She and Robert Kennedy then used a torch to light the eternal flame.
On Dec. 4, 1963, the two deceased Kennedy children were reburied in Arlington, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy from Brookline – who had predeceased JFK by 15 weeks – and an unnamed stillborn daughter from Newport, R.I. The initial plot was 20 feet by 30 feet and was surrounded by a white picket fence. During the first year often more than 3,000 people an hour visited the Kennedy gravesite, and on weekends an estimated 50,000 people visited. Three years after Kennedy’s death, more than 16 million people had come to visit the Kennedy plot.
Because of the large crowds, cemetery officials and members of the Kennedy family decided that a more suitable site should be constructed. The architectural firm of John Warnecke and Associates was tasked to design and build the grave area. Construction began in 1965 and was completed July 20, 1967. During the period of construction, President Kennedy and his two deceased children were quietly re-interred to the permanent grave, and Archbishop Cushing formally blessed the new site in a private service, which was attended by Mrs. Kennedy, Senators Robert and Edward Kennedy and President Lyndon Johnson.
The grave area is paved with irregular stones of Cape Cod granite, which were quarried around 1817 near the site of the president’s home and selected by members of his family. Clover, and later, sedum were planted in the crevices to give the appearance of stones lying naturally in a Massachusetts field.
Lighted by Mrs. Kennedy during the funeral, the Eternal Flame burns from the center of a five-foot circular flat-granite stone at the head of the grave. The burner is a specially designed apparatus created by the Institute of Gas Technology of Chicago. A constantly flashing electric spark near the tip of the nozzle relights the gas should the flame be extinguished by rain, wind or accident. The fuel is natural gas and is mixed with a controlled quantity of air to achieve the color and shape of the flame.
The entire site, a total of 3.2 acres, was set aside by the secretary of the Army, with the approval of the secretary of defense, to honor the memory of the president. The land has been retained for the nation as a whole and has not been deeded to the Kennedy family. The steep hillside has never been considered suitable for graves or a general burial location.
The Kennedy family paid actual costs in the immediate grave area. The government was responsible for the improvements in the surrounding area that provided for the accommodation of the visiting public. Funds in the amount of $1,770,000 were included for this purpose in Fiscal Year 1965′s Public Works Appropriation. In addition, $71,026 went to Ammann and Whitney, Structural Engineers, New York, N.Y. The Aberthaw Construction Company, Boston, Mass., carried out the work under the supervision of the U.S. Army District Engineering, Norfolk, Va.
On May 23, 1994, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis was buried next to President Kennedy. The gravesite was completed with addition of her grave marker Oct. 6, 1994.
Museum, Hyannis, Massachusetts
Located downtown in the old Town Hall Building on Main St., this museum consists of photographs and oral histories dedicated to the times that Kennedy spent in the area with his family and friends. A 7-minute videotape reflects on the “Summer White House” and place of refuge for the 35th President.
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