Day 6b – Remembering A Leader Past

For the events of Wednesday, June 3, 2009

10:00 AM
– I had to go back to the Convention Center to pick up a poster that I hung up Monday. They had to take it down for me, as you have to leave it up until end of day (i.e. 6:30 PM) and the booth closed at 4:00. I didn’t want to have to go back just for that, so I picked it up Tuesday morning from the Center and put it in a carrying tube to take home, and then forgot it at the booth. I was told it would be put behind the booth with a note saying not to touch it.

I was going to pick it up this morning – they said in the exhibitor information that nothing would be taken apart until noon Wednesday, so you had until then to remove your stuff. Got there just now, and the tube was gone, though the rest of the booth is still here! I cannot figure that out. I went all over the place just to find out from security, registration, poster management, etc. where it was – it was just gone. How someone could even find it behind the booth is beyond me. Anyway, one less thing to take back, but too bad. These things always just sit in tubes forever after a Congress – usually never hung more than once. We can always get a reprint if we need to.

10:30 AM – went back to the hotel, dropped off my ID badge for the Congress, got some sunscreen on, grabbed my touring book, and went to Arlington Station on the Green Line to take the subway. I have to go to Park Street Station (2 stops away), then change to the Red Line and go to JFK / UMass stop to go to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library today – my major plan for the day.

The Green Line is, as was said before, very much like the LRT in most smaller cities like Calgary or Edmonton (see picture right, click for larger). It runs along on tracks and is powered by electric lines above, just like electric buses in most cities. It squeals and squeaks along like fingers on a blackboard, and you can’t stand up in the train because it jerks around like a bucking bull trying to get rid of you. There is two level seating – like a split level house. Very awkward and uncomfortable system, and terrible for handicap accessibilty (most trains aren’t at all).

However, thankfully a very short ride, as I get off two stops after getting on. For people commuting end to end, however, you’d practically get car sickness from the silly thing. I’d take the bus instead – and it is really hot, steamy and smelly in most stations. I don’t know where the steam comes from, but it literally blows in on you as you come down into the stations, and comes out of the manholes in the streets across the city too. It’s nasty stuff – it smells like a dirty shower at the Y (shivers). They have massive fans blowing on you when you come down the stairs, because there’s zero airconditioning in the stations. Give me Skytrain anytime. It also doesn’t come as often as Skytrain either – surprising in a city this size.

At Park Street Station, I changed to the Red Line, and that was a very very different experience. This was what I imagined a real subway system should be – 8-car trains that were wider, longer and in some cases much older than the Green Line, but went much much faster. We travelled to my destination in just a few minutes (about 5 stops away straight south of Park Street).

11:40 AM
– arrival at JFK / UMass station. UMass is the Univeristy of Massachusetts, and the campus in Boston is one of 5 that make up the larger University – much like UBC Okanagan and the main campus. There’s about 12,000 students at this campus, all housed in what seems to be about 4 massive (and relatively new) buildings – all built since I was born. In comparison, Harvard University, which is just a few miles away from here, is celebrating its celebrated its 375th Anniversary in 2 years!

A large, free shuttle bus (the #2) comes every 20 minutes from 8-5 daily, and drops students off at UMass 5 minutes from the subway, and 7 minutes later we were at the JFK Library. I have to admit that architecturally, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the exterior. It was actually kind of ugly I thought, but I was excited to be there – never seen a Presidential Library before, and JFK’s would certainly be probably the most interesting in the modern age (other than Roosevelt’s I would think).

However, the inside was a different story. I didn’t know what to expect, but wouldn’t have been disappointed no matter what I thought. It was absolutely amazing. At the time Kennedy was elected, the country had just had 8 years of Republican rule. Everyone was concerned that their reputation around the world was severely tarnished by a war that had been very difficult to win (Korea). Americans were very concerned about worldwide terrorism (in the face of Russian nukes). Then comes along a young, charming, good-looking, likeable, well-spoken, suave couple with little kids, who moved into the White House and the whole world fell in the love with them. Months after taking office, the new ‘rock star’ President Kennedy went to Berlin and attracted a crowd of 250,000.

Sound familiar? Is history really repeating itself? It’s interesting how many Obama books, videos, CDs, etc. you could buy at the Kennedy library. The Kennedy familiy and library clearly sees the similarities too, and embrace them. Watching the 2-night NBC special of the Obama White House, they do bring up Kennedy similarities a few times. I pray, for America’s sake, that they don’t see a repeat of the ugly end to the Kennedy presidency. The replacement in 1963 was a really old guy with seemingly bad judgement – again, sound familiar? God help our planet if Joe Biden were ever made president by default.

They had an interesting introductory video about Kennedy, up to the time he ran for President. It told things I didn’t know about him before – such as the fact he travelled across Europe in 1939 (his dad was Ambassador to Britain) just months before the war, and he got to see Hitler speak in person. He thought the guy was insane. He also went to Russia and saw first hand what the people went through there, and commented after that it was the most depressing country on earth, and they would never defeat America in that condition.

Then the war came, and he volunteered in 1941 – just months before Pearl Harbor. He served in the war against Japan, and his PT boat was sunk. We’ve all heard that before, but I didn’t know that he drifted for hours off the shore of several islands, trying to pick one they thought wouldn’t have Japanese military on it. They ended up paddling through shark-infested waters for 4 miles to find friendly land, and then had to live 6 days on nothing but coconuts until they were found. Kennedy had to have surgery after the war to fix injuries he had sustained during that period, and he had related back problems that bothered him the rest of his life.

After the video was over, you exited down some stairs to the main exhibit area. Now this was really fantastic. You walked into a room that looked like a campaign rally for Kennedy, with posters, etc. up everywhere. Cool idea. Next room had election night, with Walter Cronkite’s actual news desk when he announced Kennedy won – with all the numbers of votes from every state behind the desk (see picture right, click for larger). Very well done, and it was all original stuff from that night.

Then there was the inaugural address room, with the podium he spoke from, and all kinds of invitations, etc. His inaugural hat and Jackie’s gown, etc. all on display. Then the best part of all.

You walked into a complete reenactment of the entire first floor of the White House (see picture left, click for larger), all smaller rooms than original. I was impressed, having actually been there on a tour on my birthday years ago. Some of the White House furniture from the Kennedy presidency, paintings, artwork, etc. were all on display as if you were walking through the actual building, with the long main hallways that connects the Blue Room, Red Room, etc. together. Every room in the Library’s White House was a theme related to his presidency – the space program, his travels around the world, the First Lady’s work, her clothes, his debates and speeches, etc. In every room they had some artifacts from the time, and in the hallways, they highlighted gifts that they received from heads of state from around the world. My favorite was the priceless silver and gold sculpture of the “Lion of Judah” that Haile Selassie, the emperor of Ethiopia, gave to the family (see picture right, click for larger).

They had a piece of the moon (see picture right, click for larger) and the first space suit in the space exploration section – very cool. As most people know, Kennedy pushed in 1960 for a man to be on the moon by the end of the decade, and sure enough, in 1969, it happened. Of course, he had been already dead 6 years, but had inspired Americans to make it happen. The current President now wants us to go to Mars – is that just as possible?

The coolest room was the complete rebuild of the Oval Office (see picture right, click for larger), including all the original furniture. That’s the cool thing about Presidential Libraries, I guess – they don’t do replicas. It included the desk that had a little door that opened up at the bottom, seen in the famous picture of the 2-year old JFK Jr. peeking through while dad worked above.

The last exhibit is, of course, the assassination. It’s just a room with black walls and the date, and videos planning of the actual footage of the funeral from that day. No shots of the shooting, etc. Just the Cronkite interruption of broadcasting to announce the President was dead, and the famous shot of little JFK Jr. saluting his father’s horse-drawn casket as it went by. The way they did it, it didn’t look like a video – it looked like a black & white live broadcast, which was really sobering. You then exited out to a small exhibit about the other two brothers, and the assassination of his brother Bobby after running for President in 1968. It had a lot about Ted Kennedy too that I thought was probably unnecessary.

You could then go to the gift shop, which had a LOT of Kennedy stuff that I thought was overboard. I did pick up a few souvenirs and then hit the Cafe, which had really good food. They had a different menu for every day of the week – all of Kennedy’s favorite foods. I picked a chili cheese dog (with shredded mozza cheese and really good chili), and a double cheese pizza, which was almost too much to eat. It was really good and really cheap, and I was stuffed when it was done. Honestly, if he ate this kind of stuff all the time, I’m surprised he didn’t die long before 1963!

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