Who of us hasn’t been at least a little bit obsessed with the Kennedy’s at one time or another?
America’s first family of the 1960s were a bit celebrity, a bit royalty, and now a lot legendary. The lure of Camelot runs deep.
If you’re fascinated by the Kennedy family, or just love American history, here are 5 places that you’ll want to visit…
JFK Presidential Library & Museum (Boston, MA)
You know I love a Presidential Library (I will go out of my way to visit one), so on my first trip to Boston, a visit to the JFK Library & Museum was definitely a must do for me.
The library is located just south of Boston on the campus of the University of Massachusetts Boston.
If you want the “official” story of JFK (his childhood, his war years, his family life, and his presidency), this is the preeminent place to come. The Kennedy family (including Jackie) were instrumental in acquiring funding and building the library and museum.
But now…if you know anything about the Kennedy’s, you know that so much of the lore and mystique about them is from all of the “unknowns.” Well don’t expect any of that here. Everything here is the official “party line.” And that’s ok.
If you’re visiting the library because you’re interested in the Kennedy’s, there’s a lot to learn and appreciate here. But I will say a word for those of you who visit ALL the Presidential Libraries (hi, me)…I’ve been to about half a dozen now (Roosevelt, HW Bush, LBJ, Lincoln, Eisenhower, and now Kennedy), and honestly…this was probably the least impressive.
For two reasons: 1) The quality of the museum exhibits feels pretty dated. I was surprised to find that some elements were more on the level of a small town local museum than the Smithsonian caliber that you usually find in Presidential Libraries. Not a deal breaker…there’s still a lot to learn here, but I thought it was noticeable.
2) There’s not a ton of insight on his life or presidency. Every single president has had at least some controversy in his term(s), and most museums offer commentary on both sides, but the “meat” in this museum felt a little light. There was very little mentioned about the Bay of Pigs or the Cuban Missile Crisis (like, shockingly little), and even the assassination was barely touched on. The museum is laid out chronologically and when you get to November 1963, you turn a corner and it’s a dark room with small TVs playing the coverage of the funeral and…that’s it.
Honestly, it left me scratching my head a little. I’m glad I visited as I’m on a mission to visit all of the Presidential Libraries, but I think there’s a reason this doesn’t rank as a top attraction in Boston.
Like I’ve said, I think so much of the draw of the Kennedy family is the legend, lore, drama, and controversy and this official museum isn’t really interested in touching on any of that.
Logistics: The museum is open 7 days a week from 10 AM to 5 PM (but they limit what you can see if you show up after 3:30 PM to just a small exhibit. The museum is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Years Day with shorter hours on Christmas Eve and New Years Eve. Admission is $18/adult, $12/seniors and college students, $10/youths 13-17 with $4 off for veterans. Free admission for kids under 12.
Find more info about visiting the JFK Presidential Library & Museum here.
Sixth Floor Museum (Dallas, TX)
Okay, if I was a little disappointed in the Presidential Library, I was BLOWN AWAY by the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas.
Seriously, I think the Sixth Floor Museum is a DO NOT MISS in Dallas. Whether you’re a local, whether you live in the region (Dallas is about 4 hours from where I live and I go there often), or whether you’re coming from across the country, the Sixth Floor Museum needs to be on your list.
On November 23, 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald fired shots from a sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository that killed President John F Kennedy as his motorcade passed below.
It was a major event of the 20th century, and the Sixth Floor Museum in downtown Dallas lays out a detailed timeline of the President’s activities the days before, minute by minute plays on the motorcade’s movements through downtown Dallas, and what happened during the days after.
Translation: If you’re obsessed with the Kennedy assassination and the endless conspiracy theories it’s spurned, you could spend hours here.
The events that took place in Dallas on November 22, 1963 had worldwide significance and this micro focused museum gives real insight into not just what happened, but how it affected society.
This isn’t a huge museum and it’s mostly reading and looking at photos (not a ton of objects on display). You’ll obviously want to see the window where Oswald fired the shots from and there’s a replica of the rifle he used on display (the original is in the National Archives).
The museum covers a bit about the Kennedy family and his Presidency plus what was going on in the world at the time but it’s mostly about the days right before and after his assassination. It follows the President and First Lady’s trip to Texas (they had been in Fort Worth prior to coming to Dallas) including a minute by minute detailed timeline of the motorcade through Dallas and what happened immediately after.
The museum follows through with the investigation and arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald and his murder by Jack Ruby. One of the most interesting parts of the museum (for me) was seeing the impact that JFK’s assassination had on people around the world.
Logistics: The Sixth Floor Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday (closed Monday and Tuesday) from 10AM-5PM. Admission is $18/adult and $14/youth (ages 6-18), children 5 and under are free. Plan to spend about an hour in the main part of the museum. And in the immediate area, you’ll want to see Dealey Plaza and the Grassy Knoll as well as the John F Kennedy Memorial. It won’t take much time, but there are a few plaques to read in different places.
Find more info about visiting the Sixth Floor Museum here.
JFK Hyannis Museum
The Kennedy’s have been inextricably linked with Cape Cod and their compound in Hyannis still draws looky-lous hoping to get a peak.
There’s a small museum in Hyannis that focuses on JFK, his personal life, and his family’s time spent on Cape Cod.
I didn’t have time to visit the museum on my first trip to the Cape (there was so much to pack in) and I’m not sure it’s a must do, but if you’re a big Kennedy fan, you’ll enjoy seeing all of the photographs and reading the anecdotes.
Logistics: Hours change seasonally so check ahead of time, but during the summer (June 1-August 31), the museum is open Monday through Saturday 10 AM to 5 PM. Admission is $14/adult, $12/senior, $8/youths and students, children under 5 are free.
Find out more about visiting the JFK Hyannis Museum here.
There’s also a small memorial near the water in Hyannis.
JFK Eternal Flame at Arlington National Cemetery (Arlington, VA)
JFK’s gravesite is one of the most visited spots at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington DC. The gravesite is home to the Eternal Flame that was placed temporarily on November 25, 1963 during Kennedy’s state funeral just three days after his assassination and then permanently in 1967.
At the time, Kennedy’s children (Arabella who was stillborn in 1956 and Patrick who was born in August 1963 and lived less than two days) were reinterred next to him.
The gravesite was expanded to include Robert F. Kennedy (1968), Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (1994), and Edward M. Kennedy (2009).
It might sound a little odd to visit a cemetery, but honestly I think a visit to Arlington National Cemetery is a must do when you’re visiting Washington DC. You’ll want to visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for the changing of the guard, and Arlington House (Robert E. Lee’s home) to learn why this spot was chosen for the new National Cemetery.
Find more information about visiting the Arlington National Cemetery here.
National Museum of American History (Washington DC)
Let’s wrap this list up on a lighter note with one of my FAVORITE things to see in Washington DC.
“The First Ladies” exhibit at the National Museum of American History (part of the Smithsonian) is one of my top recommendations in DC. The exhibit explores the unofficial role of the First Lady and how different First Ladies have contributed to presidential administrations.
The exhibit displays personal items from every single First Lady in US history and they have the inaugural ball gowns from every first lady since Mamie Eisenhower.
Jackie’s “off-white sleeveless gown of silk chiffon over peau d’ange” that she wore to the 1961 inaugural balls is on display. It was designed and made by Ethel Frankau of Bergdorf Custom Salon and coverage from the Washington Post declared that Mrs. Kennedy’s “career as a major fashion influence was beginning impressively.”
Logistics: Located on the National Mall in Washington DC, the museum is open every day except for Christmas from 10 AM to 5 PM. Admission is free and tickets are not required.
Find more information about visiting the National Museum of American History here.
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