Despite having died 50 years ago, John F Kennedy is still one of the world’s most renowned political figures. Famous, of course, for being the youngest president elected into office, furthering the space race, aiding the Civil Rights Movement, his role in the Cuban Missile Crisis and his illicit relationship with Marilyn Monroe.
But after just three years as US leader, he was murdered in Dallas on November 22 1963. This month, a series of TV programmes will recount the achievements of the 35th president of the United States and attempt to resolve unanswered questions about his death. But it is his birthplace – the sleepy state of Massachusetts – where we can learn more. It has become a shrine to his achievements. Follow our tour of JFK land, the home of quaint sweet shops, green forests and Gatsby-esque playboy homes…
John F Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum, Boston
This 4,370 square-metre library, dedicated to JFK, boasts a giant 115ft glass pavilion with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Boston Harbour. It holds 8.4 million of the late president’s papers, as well as exhibits recalling one of the closest elections in history, videos of moon landings, and the assassination video on a continuous loop. It’s possible to spend hours in this fascinating spot, reading memorabilia, watching historic footage and listening to Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday Mr President”.
The Kennedy family home
JFK grew up in Brookline, as one of nine children. His mother returned to the house and restored it to its former appearance, as it would have looked when young John was growing up. Visitors can see the kitchen where the family cooked Boston beans and piccalilli each Saturday night and the living room in which Kennedy senior would read the newspaper and detective stories in his red arm chair. The house is now a National Park site. Find it at 83 Beals St in Brookline, Boston, www.nps.gov/jofi.
On the State House Lawn, visitors will find a life-sized monument of JFK designed by sculptor Isabel McIlvain. In the courtyard he stands on a plinth, in a suit and tie, with his hair styled in his famous side parting. Fittingly, both of JFK’s grandfathers served here in the 19th century.
Omni Parker House Hotel
Kennedy announced his candidacy for Congress in the hotel’s press room, he proposed to Jacqueline Bouvier here and then held his bachelor party at the hotel before he got married. The hotel is still fully open for business and serves a mean Martini. Pop in, ask about the legacy of its famous guest and then relax in the Whisky Bar.
Union Oyster House
Kennedy loved visiting this place, which is now Boston’s oldest restaurant. Booth 18 is where the ex-president sat and would enjoy a bowl of traditional clam chowder. Identified by the swinging “Kennedy Booth” sign above it, the simple wooden table has a framed circular memorial plaque next to an American flag. Vistors can sit here and imagine what the late leader could have deliberated on while tucking into his food.
Hyannis Port, Massachusetts
South of Boston, the Kennedy family had a holiday home in Cape Cod, which is now known as the Kennedy Compound. Although the compound is hidden from public view, those who want to get a glimpse of the decadent lifestyle that the Kennedys led can take a boat trip or the ferry across to the islands. Across the waters of the Nantucket Sound, you’ll spot a big white house, look to the left and you’ll see a Dutch colonial property with a wrap around porch – the original summer home of Joseph and Rose Kennedy. Interestingly, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger owns a house in the area too.
Old City Hall
JFK’s grandfather Honey Fitz (John F Fitzgerald) became Mayor of Boston in 1905 until 1907, and again from 1909-1913. No doubt he inspired JFK to choose his line of work.