In the half-century since the assassination of the 35th president, John Kennedy has taken on an almost mythic aura. His presidential library helps put him and his legacy in context—with the expected dash of hero worship, but in evenhanded fashion overall. The museum, in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, is easy to reach from downtown by T or car. Touring the galleries is usually a self-guided experience, but check ahead to see whether docent-led tours are available during your visit.
The JFK Library, designed by I. M. Pei and opened in 1979, offers visitors an immersive experience that incorporates video, audio, photos, souvenirs, artifacts, memorabilia, documents, and more. It could be overwhelming, but the curators work to help visitors put the exhibits in perspective. Temporary displays that focus on particular people and topics—the inaugural address, folk art, the president’s mother—make good use of the library’s collections. Subjects of the permanent exhibits include the Oval Office (with a replica of the room), First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Before entering the galleries, visitors view a 17-minute film edited to create the illusion that Kennedy himself is narrating an account of his early life. In the next-to-last gallery, news reports of the assassination and its aftermath playing in a loop—Walter Cronkite chokes me up every time. The exhibits end in a huge glass-walled chamber overlooking Dorchester Bay and the Boston skyline.