Saturday, 1 March 2014

Lucy Daltroff explores the Kennedy family’s New England roots as the US marks the 50th anniversary of the murder in Dallas of its cherished 35th president

Lucy Daltroff outside Kennedy's Birthplace,  83 Beals Street, Boston. 

"You have to understand that in a way the Kennedys are our Royal family” explains Lily from Lexington, at the start of my journey to New England to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F Kennedy. During the next six days, as I toured Boston, Cape Cod and Rhode Island, nothing led me to disagree with her statement.

I began at 83 Beals Street, in the Boston suburb of Brookline, the birthplace of the future president. The house, which became a museum in 1967, is quite small,because in 1914 when JFK’s father Joseph bought it as his first marital home, he was president of a local bank and not yet a wealthy man. Jack, Rose and Joseph’s second child, arrived on 29 May 1917, and eventually there were three other siblings living with him there; the other five were born after 1920 when the family had moved into a bigger house nearby.

Peeping into the dining room, I noticed the table where the children were encouraged from an early age to debate the topical issues of the day. With two grandfathers, state senator P J Kennedy and Boston mayor John Fitzgerald, in public office, conversation about politics must have been endemic.Also interesting was the box file on John’s mother’s desk, with a card for each child with a record of all their illnesses. This was especially relevant for John, who was frequently ill and read adventure books to keep himself occupied.

 John returned to Massachusetts at the end of World War II,  a decorated war hero and decided to enter politics. He was elected to Congress in 1946 and the Senate in 1952 and became President on 8 November 1960. All the sites related to JFK’s political rise are covered along the Kennedy Trail in downtown Boston, along with the elegant Omni Parker Hotel, the longest continuously-operating hotel the US, where he proposed to Jackie. Also nearby is the stark Irish Famine Memorial,recalling the disaster of 1845, when a potato mould caused death, hunger and disease in Ireland.

The most fortunate of the population, about 1.5 million people, managed to flee to the USA, mostly to Boston, to start new lives. Among them were John Kennedy’s eight great-grandparents.

The John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is dedicated to the memory of the 35th president and is located on a 10-acre park overlooking on the one side of the building the very ocean that brought his great-grandfathers over from Ireland and on the other side the city that launched him to greatness. The complex was dedicated in 1979 by members of his family, including Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis and his children Caroline and John F Kennedy Jr. At 43, good looking ad charismatic, JFK was the youngest person and the first Roman Catholic to be elected president and the museum addresses the many major issues he faced during his time in office. They include the Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam war, Latin America and the spread of communism plus the civil rights movement, as well as the establishment of the US
space programme and the Peace Corps. Also included, of course, is Kennedy’s famous inaugural speech with the much-quoted line: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do
for your country.”

Some may regard the museum as slightly sycophantic as it fails to mention any of the character flaws that came to light after Kennedy’s death, but despite that it contains an interesting and valuable record of a determined and able man.
Part of the Hyannis Kennedy Legacy Trail 

 The Kennedy story continues in Cape Cod, where, in 1928, Kennedy’s parents Rose and Joe bought a summer home in Hyannis Port now known as the Kennedy Compound. It served as a getaway for the family and important events in their lives happened here. Visitors can follow another Kennedy pathway here, the 1.6-mile Kennedy Legacy Trail which explores the family’s
history in Hyannis by way of stops at 10 important sites including the JFK Museum, although the
best way of getting an overall view of the compound itself is by taking a boat trip.

The third stop on any serious Kennedy exploration has to be beautiful Rhode Island, a favoured haunt of the rich and famous, whose huge Newport mansions are well worth a visit. More importantly, the island is where Kennedy, then a young senator, married Jacqueline Bouvier in St Mary's Catholic Church in 1953. The wedding reception was held at the Bouvier family estate, Hammersmith Farm. I was lucky enough to
Helicopter view of Rhode Island
be able to take a helicopter ride and see the farm and the mansions from the air – an unforgettable experience to set the seal on my trip. Rhode Island was a place John and Jackie loved to visit; John especially enjoyed going out in the 12-metre yacht, Weatherly. There is a well known photo of him taken from the deck, waving from the shores of Hammersmith Farm to the crew of the US entry as they were heading out to take part in the America’s Cup races of 1962.

Useful Facts

Virgin Atlantic offers flights from London Heathrow to Boston from around £440 return, including taxes and charges. Details:
New England Tourism: or call 01825 76 36 33
Alamo offers car hire from £18 per day. Special deals include cover for a free additional
driver (worth up to £45 p/w) for early bookers. All rates are transparent and fully inclusive of zero-excess insurance and taxes.
USA Accommodation at the Omni Parker House in Boston starts at around £165 per night for a traditional room sleeping two people; special offers are also available.

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