JFK: Inspiring a new generation
There are few U.S. presidents as beloved as the man who served as the 35th president: John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy.
In fact, according to a Presidential Historians Survey released last month by C-SPAN, only seven other presidents rank higher than Kennedy in terms of effectiveness in presidential leadership.
Born in 1917, the world is celebrating the centennial birthday of the man who died too soon, famously assassinated in 1963 at only 46 years old. Locally, his face and rare and cherished memorabilia will grace the walls of the Oregon Historical Society from March 25 through Nov. 12, as the society unveils a 6,000-square-foot exhibition celebrating the life of the youngest president ever elected.
Aptly called "High Hopes: The Journey of John F. Kennedy," the exhibition is titled after Frank Sinatra's song of the same name used during Kennedy's 1960 presidential campaign.
The exhibit will begin by showing visitors information about the assassination, according to historical society Executive Director Kerry Tymchuk.
"Everybody, unfortunately, knows how the Kennedy story ends, so we get that out of the way, and then we're not focused on that," Tymchuk says. "We're focused on his life, his legacy." The exhibit, he says, will focus on things Kennedy did while in the White House, accomplishments in the Peace Corps, the Space Race, "putting America on the path that led man to the moon, the civil rights era, and other issues like that."
Tymchuk also says it's the largest centennial exhibit outside of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.
More than 150 artifacts and manuscripts largely come from the Mark Family Collection, a family the society has worked with four previous times for exhibitions.
The main collector of the artifacts is Pete Mark, a prominent real estate businessman and philanthropist who Tymchuk says has "acquired really one of the finest private collections in the country.
"He's got just amazing things. He has one of those famous Kennedy rockers," Tymchuk says.
Indeed, one of the highlights of the exhibit is a North Carolina rocking chair, which Kennedy liked to use because he suffered a back injury following his service in World War II.
Other highlights from the collection include letters from JFK to Rose Kennedy, his mother; a dress worn by Jackie Kennedy, his wife; a CBS news camera that filmed the transfer of Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and Oswald's murder; a White House hotline phone; a mahogany Oval Office coffee table; and a watercolor painting by JFK supplied by the Shapell Manuscript Collection.
The exhibit also features plenty of materials from the Oregon Historical Society's own collection and from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
"Kennedy made nine visits here (in Oregon) in 1959 and 1960 when he was campaigning for presidency. The Oregon primary used to be a big deal back in the day," Tymchuk says.
One featured item is a photo from a visit to Marycrest High School, a Catholic high school in Portland that closed in 1973. Kennedy, a Catholic, was the last president of that faith to serve as president.
Renate, a local design firm in Portland, took a unique approach to constructing the exhibition. Using a pop-up book as inspiration, the group worked with 3-D photographs.
"It's going to sort of have these pop-out moments within the photographs, so it's almost like you're walking through a memory," says Anne Bernard, principal at Renate. "I don't think anyone has tried this. The OHS (Oregon Historical Society) has been challenging us in the field of exhibition design."
She says they have recreated newspapers from around Oregon that highlight the day after the election and also the inauguration.
Bernard says the exhibit, which they started planning back in 2015, is broken up into 12 different sections, including a segment on the Cold War. Spanning 1917-1963, the exhibit is considered a phenomenal time within photography, using early black and white photographs and eventually moving into color and television.
"Those mediums really started to define memories," Bernard says. There are plenty of interactive sights and sounds — and games, too, including a role-playing game for kids and adults where participants have to make tough decisions to get out of a world crisis.
Despite many young Portlanders having been born after Kennedy's assassination, organizers believe Kennedy is as relevant as ever.
"I think his messages are so relevant today. ... In terms of timing it's really a moment where our relationship with the rest of the world is critical," Bernard says. "The hope, really, is to let people who didn't live through (JFK's presidency) understand it better and be hopeful ... and to really be inspired by what he and Jackie brought to the White House and also their ambitions for the country."
If you go
What: "High Hopes," a centennial exhibition of the life of John F. Kennedy, the 35th U.S. president
When: March 25-Nov. 12
Where: Oregon Historical Society, 1200 S.W. Park Ave.
Cost: Free to all Multnomah County residents