Remembering President Kennedy
When tragic death strikes a president, memorials help us to understand and cope with such an unthinkable event.
As an elementary schoolgirl, I vividly recall hearing the news of President Kennedy's death and the shock of seeing my parents cry. I also recall my surprise that my dad turned on the television set for the entire long weekend. But I only cried while watching the funeral coverage, when I realized that Caroline and John-John Kennedy had lost their dad.
The memorial that helped me deal with this personal feeling of sadness was the illustrated children's book that I later found in my school library, Six White Horses. A poem written by an Ann Arbor, Michigan, teenage girl and illustrated by a local artist, it is from the viewpoint of John-John during President Kennedy's funeral. As a child, this memorial book connected me to a child directly touched by this tragedy.
This children's book is part of a gift to the museum from the estate of Dr. and Mrs. Martin A. Glynn and their daughter, Kathleen Glynn Seymour, of materials related to President Kennedy — his life, accomplishments, and legacy. The Glynns, a second-generation Irish-American Catholic family, felt a deep affinity for President Kennedy and his family.
They gathered and carefully preserved dozens of memorials surrounding President Kennedy's life and death. Kathy Glynn, then a high school student, gave her hard-earned savings to the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library in honor of the president. She received a thank-you card from Jacqueline Kennedy and carefully kept the card and the envelope. In addition to feeling many strong emotions about receiving this card, she recalls being astonished that the U.S. Postal Service accepted Mrs. Kennedy's engraved signature in place of a postage stamp. These small pieces of paper held much personal meaning for Kathy.
Kathy's dad, Marty, a long-time dentist, subscribed to many newspapers and magazines for his office waiting room and his home. Reading the many accounts of the President's assassination, the orderly succession of Lyndon Johnson to the presidency and the lengthy investigation probably helped him come to grips with this tragedy.
Kathy's mother, Georgia, preserved these ephemeral publications, rereading many of the articles. Her children also reread the articles and were drawn to the colorful magazine photographs. She judiciously allowed a few clippings for school projects of a baseball player and an astronaut, but not of President Kennedy. In addition to these magazines and newspapers, she kept mementos including a memorial card from services held the day of the president's funeral, a book of quotations and photos and a color memorial portrait. She had also saved some magazines from the President's inauguration in 1961. She may have gathered and kept these items to help her remember both the happy and the sad memories about President Kennedy.
Leslie Seymour Mio, granddaughter of Marty and Georgia and daughter of Kathy, aided us in acquiring this material to honor the memory of President Kennedy. She told us, "I think my grandparents connected to the Kennedys not only because they were Irish and Catholic, but also because my grandfather was a World War II veteran, they had young children, and had suffered the loss of a baby. I think they saw themselves in the most powerful couple in the world and they felt proud."
The materials preserved by the Glynn family are only a handful of what was available to Americans during Kennedy's presidency and during this national tragedy. I have had the privilege of being part of The Henry Ford's curatorial team to research and acquire objects in remembrance of President John F. Kennedy. It has not been an easy task to set aside personal emotions while selecting these Kennedy-related items. I believe the team has succeeded in taking a longer view of history and making strategic choices for our object collections. Our selections help to convey President Kennedy's legacy as an American leader and the national mourning following his untimely death, and to place our presidential limousine within the context of the President's time.
At this moment of remembrance, my emotions run much deeper than what I felt 50 years ago as a child. In 1963, I witnessed my parents' shock but only felt personal sadness when viewing the Kennedy children on television. Today, I am fully aware of the magnitude of the tragedy and the huge impact it has had on our national history. For my present emotional and intellectual understanding, I am truly thankful.
By Cynthia Read Miller, Curator of Photographs and Prints. Cynthia was 11 years old when President Kennedy was assassinated. She would like to thank Donna R. Braden, Curator of Public Life, Charles Sable, Curator of Decorative Arts, and Leslie S. Mio, Assistant Registrar, for their assistance in writing this blog post.
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