They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and when you have a whole exhibit of them, the whole room speaks. At the Newseum in Washington D.C., there are two exhibits that display the family life and tragic death of our 35th president, John F. Kennedy. The two exhibits (and a Newseum-produced film) that are on display through January 5, 2014 are “Creating Camelot,” “Three Shots Were Fired,” and “A Thousand Days” a film made by the Newseum showing original footage and interviews, examining Kennedy’s presidency and family life in the White House. This November will mark the 50th Anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination, and what better way to pay tribute to this important event than an exhibition documenting this tragic time in American history through the news media provided at the time.
The first exhibit, “Creating Camelot” is an exhibition of the photographs taken by President John F. Kennedy’s own personal photographer, Jacques Lowe. There were mixtures of photographs and contact sheets that have survived over the years. It has been said that Lowe had kept most of his photographs in the World Trade Center; a place where he thought these photos would be safe. Unfortunately after 9/11, the photographs were destroyed, and all that was left of his work were the photographs and contact sheets that were held on to by Lowe’s family, and the Kennedy family, along with print media covers. The idea to name this exhibit “Creating Camelot” was an interesting choice. In the exhibit, it states that the reason for the name was that Jacqueline Kennedy felt that her husband’s presidency was a lot like the show “Camelot.” She felt that there would be great presidents after him, but there could only be one “King Arthur” for the United States, and that was President Kennedy. The photographs were arranged in chronological order starting with Lowe’s first photographs of Kennedy while he was in the Senate in 1958. It was thought that Lowe really caught the side of this American family that most politicians and Presidents didn’t show. He felt that Kennedy was more relaxed whenever his daughter, Caroline Kennedy, would sit and take pictures with him. Lowe was able to catch the President Kennedy as a family man, and not as just a leader making difficult decisions for his country.
These photographs made Kennedy look like he was on the same level as his citizens, and not above the rest. One wall is even dedicated to the rise in celebrity of Jacqueline Kennedy. Because of Lowe’s pictures, she became an iconic idol for women around the country. What intrigued reporters and fans of Mrs. Kennedy was that she was a very private person, and the more she turned down interviews and photo opportunities, the more people wanted to know her story. She felt in her mind that her duty was to be a wife and mother first before acting as a politician. The set-up of the exhibition really flowed, and two highlights of this particular exhibition are Lowe’s actual camera and camera strap with his name embroidered in the strap, along with his record book of all the photographs taken of the Kennedys, and one famous photograph of President Kennedy on the lawn while his wife and daughter are walking away. The photograph shows the movement of Jackie and her daughter, while President Kennedy is standing still and staring up towards the camera with a smile on his face.
The exhibit “Three Shots Were Fired” is very unique to the tragic death of President John F. Kennedy. This exhibition makes a point to show how much of an impact the news media made from the time President Kennedy was shot, until his funeral. President Kennedy was shot on November 22, 1963. All of the major news channels, CBS, NBC, and ABC all made a point to have full round-the-clock coverage until after President Kennedy’s funeral. The exhibit starts with Jackie Kennedy’s itinerary for when she was in Dallas with the President. Then, you walk into a room that provides the viewer with the technology that had been used for print media during this time. A video plays in this section, showing the confusion that the media was going through at the time President Kennedy was shot. Reporters didn’t want to confirm anything, but everyone was getting mixed messages about who was shot, who was dead, and who was in critical condition. In the larger room that holds most of this exhibition, the Newseum presents artifacts from President Kennedy’s assassination, even some that have never been shown to the public until now. One major artifact that has its own display case is of Abraham Zapruder’s 8mm movie camera. This camera was the only eyewitness that had captured the entire assassination on film in real time. The artifacts that have not been shown to the public until now are items that belonged to Lee Harvey Oswald, President Kennedy’s assassin. These items include the long-sleeve shirt that he was wearing when he was arrested after the assassination, the jacket that police believe he had discarded at a gas station after shooting Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit, the blanket that he had used to hide the incriminating rifle in a family friend’s garage near Dallas, and the wallet that Oswald was carrying at the time of his arrest and its contents. All of these specific artifacts, along with many others, are on loan to the Newseum through the National Archives for this specific exhibit. The rest of the exhibition room shows a timeline of what had happened in the media from the time of President Kennedy’s death, until his widely-watch funeral procession on November 25, 1963. Another video is previewed in this exhibition, showing Walter Cronkite’s famous news report that President Kennedy had died, Oswald’s death on live T.V. by Jack Ruby, and the impact of how important television became as a media outlet after the coverage of President Kennedy’s assassination. Radio and print news were the only sources that people had relied on, and when the television was invented, people were skeptical of its reliability until the coverage of the assassination.
Because this important event happened almost 30 years before I was born, this particular exhibition made such a bigger impact on me, than it might have for someone who had witnessed this event in person. The pictures and the prints and video were so moving, that going through the exhibit truly made me emotional. I will never know what it was like to live through The Kennedy Administration, but I do know how much of an impact President Kennedy made on the lives of so many Americans during his term. This is also what makes this exhibition so successful. It is meant to show how much news media impacts a nation, and this particular event made more than just an impact on a nation, but the entire world. Without the media’s full coverage, Americans would not have been able to mourn for President Kennedy’s death in the way that they were able to. The fact that there was full coverage on his funeral allowed Americans to view and feel a part of the procession. They were able to give their last farewells in the comfort of their homes, and still feel like they were in Washington D.C. like so many others.
I would recommend this exhibit to anyone and everyone, not matter what age you are. It truly is an important piece of American history that should be seen and understood, and what better way to understand than through the events media outlets at the time. Again, the exhibition will be up until January 5, 2014, so make sure that you get a chance to see it before most of these photographs and artifacts are brought back to the National Archives for safe keeping.
The Newseum’s mission states: “The mission of the Newseum is to champion the five freedoms of the First Amendment through education, information and entertainment. One of the top attractions in Washington, D.C., the Newseum’s 250,000-square-foot news museum offers visitors a state-of-the-art experience that blends news history with up-to-the-second technology and hands-on exhibits. The Newseum is a 501(c)(3) public charity funded, in part, by the Freedom Forum. The First Amendment Center at the Newseum and in Nashville and the Diversity Institute serve as forums for the study and exploration of the First Amendment.”
About the National Archives: The National Archives and Records Administration is an independent Federal agency that preserves and shares with the public records and trace the story of our nation, government, and the American people. From the Declaration of Independence to accounts of ordinary Americans, the holdings of the National Archives directly touch the lives of millions of people. The National Archives carries out its mission through a nationwide network of archives, records centers, and Presidential Libraries, and online at archives.gov. National Archives holdings include the JFK Assassination Records Collection that consists of more than five million pages of assassination-related records, photographs, motion pictures, sound recordings and artifacts (approximately 2,000 cubic feet of records).
Sponsorship for “Creating Camelot” was provided by Nikon, and “Three Shots Were Fired” was provided by CBS, and Altria Group. Special thanks to Jonathan Thompson, the Newseum’s Media Relations Manager for taking the time to show me the two exhibits.
WHEN: On display now through January 5, 2014
555 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington D.C., 20001
The exhibition is included with the General Admissions Ticket price:
Adults (19-64): $21.95 + tax
Seniors (65+): $17.95 + tax
Youth (7-18): $12.95 + tax
Children (6 and younger): Free Admission
*Prices are subject to change without notice
Please click here to purchase tickets. Or you may purchase tickets at the information desk in the front lobby.