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.
Many people know that The Henry Ford has in its collection the presidential limousine in which President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. This limousine is currently on display in Henry Ford Museum.
But our Kennedy-related collections encompass much more than this limousine. They include materials that relate to such topics as his presidential campaign, inauguration, vision for a New Frontier, media coverage of his assassination, and the public commemoration after his death.
While we already had many Kennedy-related collections, the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination gave us the unique opportunity to expand upon these collections. In keeping with our interest in highlighting innovation stories at The Henry Ford, this new collecting focused on President Kennedy as a social innovator—that is, the ways in which his impact radically altered the status quo in our society. Using this approach, we focused our recent collecting upon the following topics:
Kennedy’s unprecedented use of the medium of television to influence public opinion
The reinforcement of the Kennedy image in popular magazines
President Kennedy’s establishment of a Peace Corps
Kennedy’s stepping-up of America’s space program to eventually land a man on the moon
Here is a sampling of our collections relating to Kennedy’s presidency, his role as a social innovator, and his enduring legacy.
Using giveaways like this campaign bumper sticker, Democratic Senator John F. Kennedy launched an exhaustive campaign in 1960 against Republican opponent Vice-President Richard M. Nixon. Despite charges that he lacked experience and that his Catholic background would hurt him, Kennedy eventually won the very close 1960 election.
On January 20, 1961, John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s swearing-in as 35th President of the United States was followed by an official parade up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. As shown in this photograph, President Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline rode in a 1949 Lincoln that had served Presidents Truman and Eisenhower. The presidential limousine we generally associate with President Kennedy was not completed until June of that year.
From the outset of his presidential campaign, Senator Kennedy seemed to understand instinctively how to harness the power of the new medium of television to influence public opinion. The first televised debate between Senator Kennedy and Vice-President Nixon was considered a key turning point in the 1960 Presidential election. As President, Kennedy also held live televised press conferences, like the one shown on this souvenir card.
Americans were enchanted by the Kennedy family and they wanted to know more, always more. Photographs and feature articles of young President John F. Kennedy and his attractive family fostered a sense of intimacy between the Kennedys and the American public—and, of course, sold magazines. Life and Look magazines, the popular documenters of American life at the time, often featured behind-the-scenes photo-essays of President Kennedy and his family.
Kennedy viewed his vision for a Peace Corps as an opportunity for young Americans to spread hope and goodwill across the world while also serving as a new weapon against the Cold War. By 1964 this program—which had been established March 1, 1961—had received an all-time high of over 45,000 applications. In 1966, less than three years after President Kennedy’s tragic death, Look magazine commissioned Norman Rockwell to portray Kennedy’s Peace Corps legacy for the cover of its June 14, 1966 issue.
President John F. Kennedy’s vision to explore the "new frontier" of outer space was an overt Cold War strategy against the Soviet Union, which had launched the first man into outer space on April 12, 1961. Kennedy’s bold vision for a stepped-up space program—that would land a man on the moon before the decade was out—ignited the public’s imagination. Americans cheered every new achievement. This souvenir card shows President Kennedy awarding NASA's Distinguished Service Medal to the first U.S. astronaut, Alan Shepard, three days after his successful space flight on May 5, 1961.
From the moment of President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Texas, reporters struggled to make sense of exactly what happened and how events unfolded in ensuing moments, hours, and days. Our collection of teletype dispatches, newspapers, and magazines reflect how breaking news of this tragic event was reported and how it changed over time.
Stunned and disillusioned Americans embraced commemorative items relating to President Kennedy after his death. These items, including books, magazines, phonograph records, and this postage stamp, helped people mourn and enabled them to re-connect with their charismatic—and now deceased—leader. Commemorative items recalling the optimistic era when John F. Kennedy was President and Jacqueline Kennedy was First Lady are still popular today.
Check out these and many more of our Kennedy-related collections via the links below:
Donna R. Braden, Curator of Public Life, was in third grade when President Kennedy was assassinated. She would like to thank Cynthia Read Miller, Curator of Prints and Photographs, and Charles Sable, Curator of Decorative Arts, for their assistance in writing this blog post.
This selection of postcards represents a uniquely American blend of Hallowe'en traditions that by the early 1900s included the popular activity of sending and collecting these holiday-themed greeting cards.
The colonial American traditions of Hallowe'en centered on celebrations of the harvest, fortune-telling, and even matchmaking. Later immigrants brought new layers of customs and practices, including the jack-o-lantern that is perhaps today's best-known symbol of the American holiday. By the 1890s the growing print media publicized Hallowe'en from its pockets of regional variation across the country, making it a truly national affair. Over time, the holiday became a community observance of eerie fun for all ages.
Based on early 20th-century Hallowe'en celebrations, our annual Greenfield Village Hallowe'en is one of our most attended public events. Since 1981, we have often given guests attending this evening program a reproduction postcard as one of the treats. (This year's Hallowe'en postcard, pictured above, was designed by Ellen Clapsaddle in 1917.) As an amusing addition since 2010, we have created a photo opportunity vignette using an enlarged version of the postcard giveaway. Our Phoenixville Post Office also offers for sale and mailing a selection of Hallowe'en postcard repros from past years, starting in the autumn.
I have always found John Brown to be an intriguing historical figure. Recently I studied a print in The Henry Ford's collection made by the popular printmakers Currier & Ives in 1870 featuring John Brown. This print has helped me to understand the connection between John Brown's actions and the emotions from over 150 years ago surrounding the Civil War in the United States.
In the years prior to the Civil War, Southern slave-owners stubbornly defended the necessity of slavery while vocal abolitionists continued to oppose it. For many people—especially in the North—slavery was still an abstract concept. But by appealing to emotions, different people during this time made thousands of Americans suddenly have a point of view.
One was John Brown, a long-time anti-slavery activist who took matters into his own hands. On October 16, 1859, he tried to steal government weapons in Harper's Ferry, Va., convinced that Southern slaves would follow him in a revolt. But he was caught and hanged for treason. Northerners honored him because he was willing to die for a cause. But it gave Southerners one more reason to prepare for war.
Currier & Ives of New York City published this hand-colored lithograph in 1870 based on the painting by Louis Ransom made soon after John Brown's death in 1859. This original painting was displayed in P. T. Barnum's American Museum in New York City during the spring and summer of 1863, the same year that Currier & Ives published their first lithograph on this subject. The second version of the lithograph, shown here, was made later but sentiment about Civil War heroes sold well and this scene continued to appeal to American popular taste of the 1870s.
The text printed below this lithograph includes "Meeting a Slave Mother and her Child on the steps of Charlestown Jail on his way to Execution. Regarding them with a look of compassion Captain Brown stooped and kissed the Child then met his fate." This did not actually happen the day John Brown was executed on December 2, 1859. Brown was surrounded by troops and the public had no direct access to him. This story was first published in the New-York Tribune on December 5, 1859. Although it was later revealed as untrue, it became a popular legend about John Brown.
The poet John Greenleaf Whittier included this story in his poem, "Brown of Ossawatomie" printed on December 22, 1859; as did James Redpath in his biography, The Public Life of Capt. John Brown, published in January 1860. Redpath wrote about John Brown's walk from jail to the gallows in his book on page 397:
"As he stepped out of the door, a black woman, with a little child in her arms, stood near his way. The twain were of the despised race for whose emancipation and elevation to the dignity of children of God he was about to lay down his life. His thoughts at that moment none can know except as his acts interpret them. He stopped for a moment in his course, stooped over, and with the tenderness of one whose love is as broad as the brotherhood of man, kissed it affectionately."
John Brown was a hero to many abolitionists during the Civil War and this legend surrounding him helps to explain what he represented to them. The Currier & Ives print version made in 1870 of "John Brown, The Martyr," attests to the continuing importance of this legend in the era following the Civil War.
Cynthia Read Miller, Curator of Photographs and Prints, is continually fascinated with the museum’s over one million historical graphics.
This time of year I feel so nostalgic about activities surrounding Valentine's Day! I fondly recall making cards for my mother on construction paper by coloring with crayons. Many looked a lot like this one in the museum's collections.
I also have many happy memories of exchanging cards with my classmates in elementary school, especially cutouts featuring kids or animals.
Valentine, "Bank of True Love," circa 1852. Richard Marsh of 374 Pearl St., New York City printed this Valentine in the form of a promissory note. It shows a view of lovers seated in a garden at the top and Cupid on the right with the text, "State of Matrimony." ID THF99107 / 89.0.540.683.
Cutout Valentine, "Radio Me and I'll Radio You," circa 1920. A mechanical card with moving arms and heads shows a girl and a boy with radio sets sending messages to each other. It is signed on the back, "Llewellynne From Aunt Ida." ID THF99109 / 89.72.1
Three-Dimensional Valentine, "To Greet My Love," circa 1910. Card opens out completely to form a tissue bell. It is signed on the back, "From Dufur to Eva Lena." ID THF99115 / 90.234.19.
This year I searched our collections for more selections of valentines and found some surprises. I happened to find several which struck me as a quite unique. One is designed to look like a promissory note, picture above, from a bank in the 1850s. Another is a cutout card featuring kids playing with radio equipment in the 1920s - then the latest technology! The third example is a card that folds out to form an elaborate 3D tissue bell.
Photographic print, Girls' Club Valentine Dance and Ford Plant Engineering Party, Dearborn, Michigan, February 14, 1947. Joseph Farkas was the Ford Motor Company photographer. ID THF99127 / P.833.83934.2.
Cabinet photograph, Cyclist Eugene Valentine with Bicycle and Medals, 1887. It was photographed by J. Wood of 208 Bowery, New York City. Signed on the back "Yours truly, Eugene Valentine, Dec 29, 1887." ID THF206673 / 220.127.116.11
Then I came across this photo of a Valentine's Day Party. It is identified as a Girls' Club Valentine Dance, but they look like ladies and a gentleman to me. The room is decorated with crepe paper streamers and a large heart-shaped doorway. The sign above the doorway reads, "Kiss Me!"
My searches also came up with a man named Eugene Valentine. Once I saw this I realized that Valentine is indeed a last name, not just a romantic holiday. The name is from the Latin "Valentinus" based on "valere," meaning to be strong. In the British Isles, it has been recorded from medieval times as a first and then a last name with many different spellings, including Valentyn, Vallentine, and Valentine.
I also found a business named Valentine-Souvenir Company of New York City. There are several dozen postcards made by this company in our collections, but not one is a Valentine card. It turns out this company was formed from several later mergers of the founding company started by John Valentine of Dundee, Scotland, in 1825. The original Valentine Company made lithograph prints before starting to produce postcards in 1896. From 1914 to 1923 the Valentine-Souvenir Company of New York City printed postcards using the letterpress halftone color printing process.
Postcard - "Band Stand over Lagoon, Belle Isle, Detroit, Mich.," circa 1915, Valentine-Souvenir Co. ID THF99105 / 18.104.22.168
I think that any search for Valentine's Day cards needs to include heart shapes as a design motif. In addition to the cards, I expected to find jewelry, dishes and quilts to have heart motifs, but here's something unexpected: a forerunner of the bicycle made with heart shapes cut out of the wooden wheels.
Velocipede, Draisine, attributed to a German maker, circa 1818. German Baron Karl von Drais invented the Draisine in 1817. Operators of this human-powered vehicle sat astride the wooden rail and pushed off with their feet. This early velocipede or hobby horse can be said to be the first bicycle. THF108100 / 32.161.1
I have a long-standing fascination with large advertising posters. The collections of The Henry Ford include hundreds of these colorful graphics. As I study them I always wonder about their original purpose.
It starts in the nineteenth century when printers developed a lithograph method that produced brightly colored posters. Lithography, invented around 1798, is a process of printing from a flat surface with a greasy image holding the ink and a wet blank area resisting the ink. It originally produced a monochrome print of a dark image on light paper. In the 1840s printers experimented with using different ink colors and multiple printing surfaces to make chromatic images on one sheet of paper.
Manufacturers and companies quickly adopted the colorful new poster style to promote their goods and services. The posters were glued to building walls and fences, and hung in store displays where they readily attracted the attention of passersby. Companies hired printers who worked with artists to create designs to advertise the products.
This early poster's design, above, is in the style of American romantic landscape paintings of the time. Advertising the Buckeye brand of agricultural equipment manufactured by Aultman, Miller & Company of Akron, Ohio, it exemplifies an American ideal of the machine in the garden. The artist, F. Crow, made this image for the printer, White & Brayley of Buffalo, New York, about 1875. It probably hung in the office of a local equipment distributor where it offered visitors the pleasure of an appealing rural scene.
This next poster promotes sewing machines made by the Dauntless Manufacturing Company of Norwalk, Ohio, about 1885. The figure is Columbia, a feminine personification of the United States. A complex and detailed image, it surely captured observers' attention and deserved a pause for a long look.
This delightful image of four boys eating watermelon epitomizes a summer’s harvest. The attention-grabbing subject matter likely helped to sell the seeds grown by D.M. Ferry & Company of Detroit, Mich. Distributed nationally, the J. Ottmann Lithographing Company of New York, NY, printed the poster in 1898.
A complex scene including a seemingly ordinary dining table includes symbolic personalities to gain attention for this unusual food combination of wheat and celery. Columbia, appearing again, serves Uncle Sam and a robust young woman in this poster for Dr. Price’s healthy food products. The U.S. Lithograph Company of Cincinnati, Ohio and New York, NY, made this “Russell-Morgan Print” about 1900-1905.
Over a century ago, changes were taking place in America that made national selling of products advantageous, and manufacturers sought to capture attention with catchy brands and appealing images. Changes in milling of grain lengthened the shelf life so storekeepers far from the original mill were sure to have a good product to sell, and the extensive railroad system allowed rapid and consistent delivery.
The team of racing horses coming toward the viewer in the Ben-Hur poster certainly gives a sense of drama. It may be hard to connect the image to the wheat flour product, but the arresting image was meant to attract the attention of potential buyers walking along a town’s street. The Royal Milling Company of Minneapolis, Minn., and Great Falls, Mont., had this colorful poster printed in the early 1900s. At this time, Ben-Hur was a popular motif because the theatrical producers Klaw & Erlanger had made a play in 1899 based on the best-selling American novel written by Lew Wallace in 1880.
Like the Ben-Hur poster of the same era, this view of a Scotsman in his Highland kilt gives a sense of adventure and surely attracted the attention of potential buyers on foot. This colorful poster was printed in 1899 with the catchy slogan "Scotch Oats for Brain and Brawn." At this time, stories about the medieval Scottish fight for independence, like Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter, were popular in the United States.
This poster of the Wright brothers' Model B biplane has instant appeal. It happens to advertise the aerial entertainment services of the Patterson Aviators of Detroit in the 1910s. I am particularly struck by the fact that in less than ten years, entrepreneurs were using the fruit of Wilbur and Orville Wright's invention begun with their first successful flight in 1903. It grew from an impossible dream to a part of our everyday life. Daredevil fliers in the 1910s and 1920s, also called barnstormers, showed people the possibility of flight by creating high-risk, exciting spectacles soaring through the sky. Crowds flocked to numerous public events like circuses, county fairs, and air shows, eagerly shelling out their hard-earned money simply for the privilege of watching these high-flying acrobatics.
During the First World War, artists widely used an innovative advertising technique for posters that moved away from a factual depiction of a product’s material or event’s subject to an emphasis on appealing to the viewer’s emotions. On the surface, this poster promotes American citizens growing food in their home garden so the farmers’ produce could feed U.S. soldiers training and fighting the war in Europe. The emotional appeal is connecting the effort of home food gardening to patriotic sacrifices akin to those of the American Revolutionary War soldiers. The artist, William McKee, used the familiar motif from the painting The Spirit of ’76, made in 1876 by Archibald M. Willard for the Centennial of the American Revolution. The poster’s title, The Spirit of ’18, reinforced this popular patriotic theme. This poster was made for the U.S. Food Administration in 1918.
This poster advertises the R& L Time Payment Plan to buy a Ford Model T Tudor Coupe. The National Bond & Investment Company probably offered this payment plan, still a novel concept, through independent Ford dealerships. This double-sided poster was designed to hang in a window and be seen from indoors and outside. Although we do not know the printer for this poster created about 1925, the artist's signature prominently appears in the lower right corner: J.W. Pondelicek.
The artist of this poster, Bob Smith, combined modern and patriotic themes of this world’s fair held near the end of the Great Depression and at the beginning of the Second World War. Promoting the New York World’s Fair theme, "The World of Tomorrow," the Grand Opening on April 30, 1939, harkened back to the country’s beginnings by celebrating the 150th anniversary of George Washington's first presidential inauguration held in New York City in 1789. The beautiful young woman portrayed in front of the world fair’s modern Trylon and Perisphere buildings wears fashionable clothes in the American patriotic colors of red, white and blue.
These posters and many more are part of our museum's online collections. We also offer quality reproductions for a selection of posters on The Henry Ford ArteHouse and The Henry Ford SM/ART Editions. These posters, eye-catching time capsules of popular design, delight and instruct us today. What are your favorites?
Cynthia Read Miller, Curator of Photographs and Prints, is continually fascinated with the museum’s more than 1 million historical graphics.
Mother’s Day, a holiday devoted to honoring mothers, has its American origins in the years following the Civil War. To aid national healing in the wake of unprecedented personal loss, many women’s groups wanted to create a day focusing on peace and motherhood.
In 1914, a national campaign culminated in a federal proclamation officially designating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. To mark this now-official holiday, many people began writing letters to their mothers. Soon, giving gifts of flowers and sending greeting cards became popular.
These examples of Mother’s Day greeting cards from The Henry Ford’s collection provide a charming glimpse into these celebrations over the past century.
Making handmade cards is a perennial favorite activity of children, and a Mother’s Day card made by a son or daughter remains a special gift. A child whose parents were first generation Polish-Americans created this card in 1942. A first grader at a Polish Catholic school in South Bend, Indiana, he decorated his card with a crayon drawing and the inscription “Droga Mamo.” He also used stickers and trimmed the edges in a scalloped pattern with a red ribbon holding the pages together. The inside pages contain a printed poem in Polish.
This 1960 card in many ways represents the typical sentiments we associate with Mother’s Day - gratitude for our mother’s loving care that we’ve received. The card’s image of a silver basket with flowers recognizes that flowers are a traditional gift for this holiday.
Husbands used cards like this one to honor their wives on Mother’s Day. They could also use it when their children were too young to give their mother a special card. The delicate visual image of the mother and the card shaped like a fan are evocative of the early to mid-1920s popular style in America.
This card for “My Other Mother” was sent in 1921 to Susana C. Cole, a 71-year-old widow who was living in Akron, Ohio, with her only daughter and son-in-law. Who was the Salt Lake City, Utah, sender of this card, then? Perhaps it was her son-in-law on a business trip or another relative - or even a former student, since Susana was a retired schoolteacher.
Other mysterious elements from this same correspondence are the singed edges of both the card and envelope - evidence that this early airmail letter encountered a dramatic fate on the way to its recipient: The U.S. Post Office message stamped on the envelope states that the letter was recovered from an airplane crash in Rock Springs, Wyoming.
This Mother’s Day card from about 1980 is anything but traditional - it’s printed on a brown paper bag! Informal and humorous, its modern theme may reflect its likely “Gen-X” givers - or their mother’s up-to-date attitude. The bright pink color of the text reflects the vivid colors popular in the late 20th century.
Have you ever given or received a memorable Mother's Day card? Tell us about it in the comments below or on our Facebook page.
Cynthia R. Miller is former Curator of Photographs and Prints at The Henry Ford.
Since Thomas Edison’s birthday happened to be this past Saturday (February 11), it made me think of this first known portrait of him.
Even after 35 years of working with the museum’s photograph collections, this 3 x 2-3/4 inch daguerreotype still gives me goose bumps when I look at it. Made at the dawn of photographic technology, it serves as a powerful reminder of the unique connection between Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.
Because of Henry Ford's friendship with Edison, many objects, photographs and manuscripts became part of the museum's collections, including Edison's Menlo Park Laboratory.
This daguerreotype was a gift to us from Edison’s widow, Mina, probably in the 1930s. The depth of Henry Ford’s admiration for Thomas Edison was so great that he named his museum and village "Edison Institute" in honor of the inventor. The dedication ceremony occurred on October 21, 1929, to coincide with Light's Golden Jubilee, the 50th anniversary of Edison's invention of the electric incandescent light bulb.
I find it fascinating to view this photographic image of the famous inventor when he was just a child. Daguerreotypes, invented in 1839, became very popular in the United States from the 1840s through the mid 1850s. The process took about 20 seconds, and Edison, shown at age 4, had to sit completely still! His seriousness and look of concentration go beyond the need for stillness. It seems to me that he is thinking about how and why the camera is working as much as obeying the adult admonition not to move.
Cynthia Read Miller, former Curator of Photographs and Prints at The Henry Ford, is continually fascinated with the museum’s over one million historical graphics.