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John F. Kennedy: The Exhibition

Items trace a president's life

The exhibit will contain more than 600 items, capturing all aspects of his life: from marriage and family to politics and power.


© St. Petersburg Times, published November 11, 1999

A campaign poster from the 1960 election captures the young candidate, an image that helped him win the closest presidential election in the 20th century.

Visitors to "John F. Kennedy: The Exhibition" will see a thoughtful, tasteful tribute to the 35th president of the United States as well as some insight into John Kennedy, the man.

From the minute they step onto the porch of a model of Kennedy's childhood home in Massachusetts to the moving farewell to the commander in chief, they will relive American history at one of its most exciting times.

In all, nearly 600 objects will be displayed.

Subjects covered in the exhibition include Kennedy's World War II experiences on PT-109, his political career, his election to the presidency and the Cuban missile crisis.

In addition to these more public times of Kennedy's life, the exhibition offers a rare glimpse of special moments in the private life of the Kennedy family: a gold Omega wristwatch, inscribed with "President of the United States from his friend Grant"; his baptismal ring; the wedding invitation for Jacqueline Lee Bouvier to the Honorable John Fitzgerald Kennedy; JFK's rocking chair; and the flags that flew on Kennedy's limousine during his visit to Tampa on Nov. 18, 1963, and in Dallas four days later.

About 500 items come from the estate of Evelyn N. Lincoln, Kennedy's longtime secretary, through Robert L. White of Maryland. She willed the items to White, who started collecting Kennedy memorabilia as a youngster and who became friends with Mrs. Lincoln.

In a replica of the Oval Office, visitors will see keepsakes that Kennedy kept on his desk. Photographs of him with Caroline and John Jr. show that he thoroughly enjoyed his role as father. There are also many pictures of the family with their pets. At times, the Kennedys had as many as six dogs living with them in the White House.

This rocker sat in Evelyn Lincoln’s office, a gift from President Kennedy, who preferred rocking chairs to aid his injured back.
[Photo: Robin Donina Serne]
While the majority of the items on display are from the White collection, some are from other sources.

Those include the 751/4-inch model of Air Force One that once held a place of honor in the White House. It is on loan from the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum in Austin, Texas. The model -- showing the kind of plane Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Richard Nixon used -- has a plexiglass-covered cutaway to show the interior. The podium Kennedy used when he spoke to the Florida State Chamber of Commerce in Tampa is from Rent-All-City, Tampa, which provided the podium for the event in 1963.

Some photographs are from White House photographer Cecil Stoughton and military photographer Bill North (on loan from his son Frank of Tampa). And the presidential china is from the collection of Set Momjam of Huntington Valley, Pa.

The exhibit came together through the efforts of St. Petersburg Junior College president Carl Kuttler, who had seen a report about White's Kennedy collection on NBC's Dateline in early 1998. White told the Dateline reporter that if he could find a place to display the collection, he would move it out of his mother's basement.

"The Dateline segment is what I heard, and it gave me an idea. I thought the community deserves something like that," Kuttler said.

Kuttler presented his ideas to the officials of the Florida International Museum, who were looking for a new exhibit. After extensive negotiations with White, the museum secured the collection. Work began on the exhibit display in December 1998.

When it closes in May 2000, the exhibition will be re-defined and most of the 500 items from White will form the basis of the museum's permanent collection, which will be on display starting in 2001. Under the terms of the November 1998 agreement with White, he will lease his collection to the museum for 31 years. The museum can buy the collection from White at any time for $5-million.

The architectural firm of Criswell, Blizzard & Blouin created the floorplan for the exhibition. Their objective: to make visitors feel as if they have traveled back in time to relive the life of John F. Kennedy.

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