DOINews: John F. Kennedy NHS: President Kennedy Remembered at Park Event

Last edited 09/05/2019

Wreaths and flowers surround the birthplace of President Kennedy, at the John F. Kennedy NHS.
John F. Kennedy National Historic Site offers a place for reflection on John F. Kennedy's life 50 years later. Photo by NPS.

More than a thousand visitors joined rangers and volunteers at the John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the National Day of Mourning last weekend. Events included a new ranger program using the principles of facilitated dialog to ask questions about loss and belonging, a special exhibit, and a memorial ceremony.

John F. Kennedy NHS has served over the years as a memorial focal point for the town of Brookline. Three days after the assassination, locals gathered together at the slain president's birthplace at 83 Beals Street. Some of the crowd came from a memorial service at nearby Temple Kehillath Israel; others had heard about the event planned in part by Brookline High School students.

The assembled heard words from local religious leaders, laid a wreath at the home, sang America and witnessed a 21 gun salute to the president. From that moment forward, the home took on special significance as a place to mourn the Kennedy family and remains so today.

The Kennedy's first home became part of the National Park Service in 1967, following significant work by the President's mother, Mrs. Joseph P. Kennedy, to return the home to its 1917 appearance, the year of the president's birth. While Mrs. Kennedy stated her intention was to share her family's early years and show how people lived in 1917, the memorial aspect has always been important.

This year's event seemed like an ideal time to reflect further on memorial aspects of the home with new programming that encouraged visitors to ask questions about their own experiences with loss and remembrance. The program used the principles of facilitated dialog and received very positive feedback.

Visitors toured the home on Friday through Sunday. After exploring the home where Kennedy spent his first years, they had the opportunity to learn more about how the country reacted to his death. Since 1999, the site has been collecting visitor's memories about Kennedy's assassination. A small sampling of these stories were on display, along with books for visitors to add their story to the collection.

At 2 p.m. on a frigid Sunday afternoon, more than 100 visitors gathered together just as they did in 1963 to remember President Kennedy. Rangers read proclamations from Lyndon Johnson and the Brookline Board of Selectmen declaring Nov. 25, 1963, a National Day of Mourning.

A highlight was a letter from Joe Kennedy III, grandson of Robert Kennedy and U.S. representative for this area. The program also included words from Father Clary of St. Mary's of the Assumption Church and Rabbi Hamilton of Temple Kehillath Israel. And as in 1963, the event concluded with a singing of “America” by Lena Schorge, a student at Edward Devotion School, the same one John F. Kennedy attended in Brookline.

The event brought together community members just as it did in 1963, and the park was pleased to offer a place for reflection on John F. Kennedy's life 50 years later.

By: Sara Patton, NPS

Nov. 26, 2013

This story appears in the Nov. 26 edition of InsideNPS.

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