With the passage of the John F. Kennedy Centennial Commission Act in July 2016, the memory of JFK’s life will be remembered throughout the country in 2017. With the 100th anniversary of his birth being remembered by so many who were not alive during his presidency, shows the impact that JFK had on the United States. The memory of John F. Kennedy has not left the mind frame of the American people because of the countless amounts of books, movies, and documentaries about his life. Having been the first television president, JFK left his stamp on the country in which he sought a New Frontier for. It is the vision of the New Frontier, that has had the lasting impact of his life on so many Americans, and it was his death has continued the myth of “what could have been”.
During my two years of grad school, I had set up my thesis about the myth of JFK and how he controlled both image and myth about himself. It was after his death that others around him sought to carry on the legacy and thus Camelot was born. It was not born during the Kennedy years, as JFK would have preferred to be remembered more as a simple man. A man whose love of history was obvious, and he knew that the things he did in the office would be a reflection of his image in the years that followed. Having researched this assignment for a long period of time, the term Camelot became a symbol of the JFK years, and that came directly from his wife Jackie. It was Jackie that sent men such as Arthur Schlesinger Jr, and others to the Library of Congress to seek information about the funeral for President Abraham Lincoln. She wanted to replicate that funeral because she felt that her husband should be remembered as one of the greats.
Over time the image of JFK has remained intact even though in the years since his death, many allegations of affairs and bad health tried to reshape the image into something different. The image that JFK had built for himself during his run for Congress and the image his wife created in the aftermath of his death has had a stronghold on the American people. Last month I was lucky enough to visit Washington D.C on a research visit. During the first day of the trip, I went to Arlington Cemetery to pay my respects and to also get a feel of the visitors to the site. I noticed many different types of people that went to the gravesite, some old, some young, some from other countries, but all, with a deep respect of the fallen president. If you have never made a trip, I would highly recommend it because you get a feel of “what could have been”. Along with Jackie on the decision to pick a site, was Robert Kennedy and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. The breathtaking view of Washington D.C from the burial site, shows a viewpoint in which JFK is always overlooking the city and nation he had a future for.
It was during this trip that I was able to go to the Library of Congress to research my topic and use the books and online resources that is available there. Having never been, I was intimidated by the fact that I would be sitting in such a historical place. Once inside, I requested books that I had found online, and before you knew it, I was sitting at a desk among other historians and researchers. I have been following the life and death of JFK since I was 8 years old, and not until that moment sitting in that seat, did I ever feel so close to him. History was all around me and I was able to find the things I was looking for within those walls. For any lover of history, going to the Library of Congress should be on the bucket list of things to do.
With my thesis complete, my main goal for going to graduate school was to be able to write a book that represented everything that I have learned about JFK. His death has overshadowed many of the things in his life, as he has been remembered more in death then in life. By next year, I hope to be able to turn my thesis into my first book, and showcase how he was able to go from a young Jack Kennedy, to John F. Kennedy, then to the persona of JFK. All of which was created by the man himself, and left to those close to him to pass on to a new generation of Americans seeking hope. We have not had a president since him who has captivated the imagination of the country, and whose ideas would still resonate today. If you have visited either Arlington Cemetery, or even the JFK Library in Boston, share your visit with others below. The memory of his life and his death resides in those who choose to continue to share it with others. In the coming months I will be going back to looking into the details surrounding his death, but I will also be showcasing on this site the image and myth that he created.