BOSTON (Reuters) - Two days after President John F. Kennedy was slain on November 22, 1963, his young widow Jacqueline received a telegram from another widow, the wife of a Dallas policeman who had been assassin Lee Harvey Oswald’s other victim that day.
“May I add my sympathy to that of people all over the world,” reads the telegram, signed Mrs. J.D. Tippit, Dallas. “My personal loss in this great tragedy prepares me to sympathize more deeply with you.”
That yellowed scrap of paper is one of a small selection of relics from Kennedy’s assassination 50 years ago that the public will see for the first time Friday in an exhibit at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston.
The exhibit, the museum’s first to focus on Kennedy’s death, also features the saddle, with sword and boots pointed backward, that followed his casket in the funeral procession, and Jacqueline Kennedy’s notes about what music would be played during the ceremony.
“Some of the decisions that she made are what we remember as some of the signature events of the funeral, including the fact that the mourners walked from the White House to St. Matthew’s Cathedral,” said Stacey Bredhoff, the museum’s curator. “The Eternal Flame was her idea.”
Kennedy’s assassination by Oswald, who shot and killed Tippit when he stopped him for questioning shortly after the shots in Dealey Plaza that killed the United States’ 35th president, marked a turbulent era in American history,. It also saw civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and Kennedy’s brother Senator Robert Kennedy gunned down.
The exhibit is due to run through February 23.
“Our notion here is to focus on President Kennedy’s life and legacy,” said Thomas Putnam, the museum’s director. “This is a one-time exhibit for the 50th anniversary and it’s very much in keeping with President Kennedy’s own words ... ‘A man may die, nations may rise and fall but an idea lives on.’”
In addition to the objects and photos of Kennedy’s funeral, the exhibit features a running video depicting the events surrounding it. Those events include Kennedy’s veiled widow kneeling and kissing his flag-draped casket before it was carried out of the White House, the three-mile-long line of mourners who attempted to see his and young John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his father’s funeral procession.
The video reflects the central role that television played in Kennedy’s presidency. It shows the debates where the young, handsome candidate outshone rival Richard Nixon, who looked sweaty and wary, as well as the three days when many Americans stopped to watch live television coverage of his funeral arrangements. It was the first time so many Americans had been involved in mourning through the new medium of television.
“It reminds people who were alive at that time who sat in their television family rooms and watched it together. But I think it also captures it for new generations who didn’t live through it,” Putnam said. “Television kind of defined his presidency but it also played a pivotal role in how the nation mourned him.”
Reporting by Scott Malone; editing by Andrew Hay