Blog

search for me

A Visit to the JFK Presidential Library and Museum

As the vice-president, you probably expect to be invited to White House dinners honoring international visitors. Yet on the suggested guest list for the Kennedys’ 1962 dinner for André Malraux, the French Minister of Cultural Affairs, the First Lady had to pencil in the “LB Johnsons.” Perhaps whoever assembled the list took the Johnsons’ presence as a given?

 
 

We visited the JFK Museum and Library at the end of May, our second presidential library (LBJ was our first). The Malraux dinner guest list draft and the seating chart were two of my favorite exhibits. Under the “Theater” section, the guests are deemed “not avant garde enough.” At least two guests have “Who is he?” written next to their names. Because we have an amazing tool that Mrs. Kennedy did not, we can find out quickly who Justin O’Brien was. Google turns up a Columbia French professor who translated the Nobel prize-winning French author André Gide and wrote his biography. He seems like a good candidate for a state dinner, especially if they were looking for more French-speakers to attend, as the notes suggest.

I would look at a whole book of notes on guest lists for state dinners. 

It’s always interesting to see the gifts presented to the President and First Lady by other leaders. When was the last time you got a gold and diamond purse as a gift? Morocco’s King Hassan gave this one to Mrs. Kennedy. The president of Pakistan gave her a horse. 

 
 

The LBJ museum collection is more expansive, but JFK’s presidential term was so much shorter. Happily, there was no animatronic JFK. There was, however, a video of the president playing with a goat.  

So that’s two presidential libraries down, and 11 to go. Have you visited any? Which was your favorite? 

Update to the Boston To Do List

Our time in Boston is quickly coming to an end, which means I have very little time left to get through this list. I keep thinking of more things I want to do, but I’ve accepted that this list will go unfinished. 

Here’s what I’ve accomplished from the original list.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum -

Look at this courtyard. This alone is worth the visit. In fact, I spent most of my time here and in the ground floor rooms around it. My favorite thing besides the courtyard was the Spanish cloister. The hall is lined with 2000 painted tiles that Gardner’s artist friend, Dodge Macknight, brought her from Mexico. Gardner installed the tiles herself.

Peabody Museum - I visited on a whim one afternoon and learned about Harvard’s Native American history. The college’s 1650 founding charter states it will educate "English & Indian Youth of this Country in knowledge: and godliness.” The first brick building on campus was the Harvard Indian College. Only five or six names of Native American students who attended the college are certain; only Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck graduated, and he died of tuberculosis a year later. His classmate, Joel Iacoomes, was to be valedictorian that year, but died before graduation. In 2011, Harvard awarded him a posthumous degree. 

 Sonic Arboretum

Sonic Arboretum

Institute of Contemporary Art - we went on the last day of the “When the Stars Began to Fall: Imagination and the American South” and the “Sonic Arboretum” exhibits. I went for the Stars exhibit, but I loved the Arboretum, which was a room full of these horn speakers playing an Andrew Bird composition. Also fun: the hallway overlooking the harbor and the living room-sized elevator. 

Whale-watching - I audited a marine biology class this semester, and as the year-end field trip, we went whale-watching. Last semester, I went on a field trip to a chocolate factory, and now, whale-watching. Field trips are really cool at Harvard. 

We saw one Sei whale. Apparently they are a rare sight.

Christian Science Plaza - I still have some exploring to do here, but we did go on the Mapparium tour. It’s only about 15 minutes long, but it’s really bizarre and wonderful. The tour takes you into the three-story, stained glass globe of the world as it was in 1935. There’s a light show, which means various parts of the globe light up as you hear “welcome” in different languages. This sounds cheesy, and it is a little bit, but it’s still presented in a way that made me a little teary-eyed.

Great Molasses Flood plaque in Puopolo Park - I almost gave up on this when we went to look for it. It’s described as “easy to miss.” That is true. If you’re looking for this plaque, it’s in the low, stone wall near the entrance of the park, in between Puopolo and Langone Parks. If you’re looking at the bocce pits with your back to the street, it’s on the right. 

So that’s about six things out of twenty on the list.

But I've also done things that weren’t on the list, like biking to Walden Pond and swimming in it again, even though it was breath-takingly cold; ringing the bells in the Lowell House bell tower (“houses” are where the students live, but you would never call these accommodations “dorms”); handling Ansel Adams prints in one of the libraries; and spending an hour in a Harvard art museum study room with my favorite images, Andre Kertesz’s “Chez Mondrian.” And then there are new things I’ve learned about that should go on the list, like visiting Spot Pond in the Middlesex Fells Reservation, or the Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, or taking a ferry to one of the Harbor Islands. 

We have visitors this weekend, which usually means more sight-seeing… and maybe tackling a few more of these “To-Dos.” For those with Boston experience, I welcome any suggestions on the one thing we have to do before we leave. 

The Boston To Do List

I work better with deadlines and best when the deadline is near. We are now into the second part of the Nieman year, and while it’s too soon to say the end is near, it’s getting nearer. To make sure I see more of Boston while we live here, I’ve put together my Boston To Do List. Most of the destinations came from paging through Maria T. Olia’s “Little Black Book of Boston."

Museums (there are many)

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum - When we moved, this was a top recommendation. I’ve saved museums for winter... so now.

 Chihuly at the MFA

Chihuly at the MFA

Peabody Museum - I walked by this museum nearly every day last semester, but I have yet to visit it.

Harvard Semitic Museum - ditto

Museum of African American History 

Institute of Contemporary Art 

Gordon Parks exhibition at the MFA - I’ve been to the MFA twice. At $25, it’s pricy, but your ticket is good for a second visit in the next 10 days. It’s free after 4 pm on Wednesdays and stays open until 9:45.

JFK Presidential Library and Museum - After visiting the LBJ library last year, we would now like to visit every presidential library. Their main exhibition halls are under renovation until mid-March, so I’ll wait until spring.

Robert Klein Gallery 

Paul Revere House 

Ship-related Activities (and actual ships)

Boston Tea Party ship and museum 

USS Constitution

Whale watching - after the seasickness on the boat to Provincetown, I’m concerned about how this will go. I figure I’ll take some Dramamine and ask someone to wake me up if there are whales. 

Libraries and churches

Boston Public Library -  It’s supposedly beautiful and I see there’s an exhibition on maps from imaginary literary landscapes opening today. 

Trinity Church and Old South Church - these are both at Copley Square by the library and were recommended in the guide book, so I figure I’ll just pop in and take a look. 

Christian Science Plaza, Mother Church, and the Mary Baker Eddy Library - the plaza looks lovely (maybe better in spring and summer), the church has one of the largest pipe organs in the world (13290 pipes), and there's a three-story stained glass globe (there’s a Groupon for it right now)

Boston athenaeum and skin book - Thanks to recent visitors, I’ve learned that the Boston athenaeum has a book about the highwayman James Allen, which is bound in his own skin (officially titled "Narrative of the life of James Allen : alias George Walton, alias Jonas Pierce, alias James H. York, alias Burley Grove, the highwayman : being his death-bed confession, to the warden of the Massachusetts State Prison”). This is weird and horrifying and I want to see it.

Things Outside

Mount Auburn Cemetery - I’ve been twice already, but it’s a huge, lovely garden cemetery. I want to see it in all seasons. 

Great Molasses Flood plaque in Puopolo Park - the now-defunct Louisville theater group Le Petomane taught me about the Great Molasses Flood, but I didn’t realize it took place in Boston until the guide book told me about the plaque. If you’ve never heard of the Great Molasses Flood, check out this recent Boston Globe story 

The Bunker Hill Monument - We’ve walked around the grounds at night, but I’d love to see the view from the top. You can climb the monument’s 294 steps for free. 

Fairsted (Frederick Law Olmsted’s home & office) - Because he is responsible for Cherokee Park in Louisville, I love Olmsted, without knowing much about the man or his life. Now I can visit his home and learn more. 

Back Bay Fens - Another Olmsted project. It’s looking a little rough at the moment, so I’ll wait until spring for this one, as well. 

And finally, I would like to visit the Massachusetts State House, but I didn’t have a category for it. There is a wooden cod suspended from the ceiling in the House of Representatives, symbolizing the importance of the fishing industry. It is called the Sacred Cod. I must see this sacred fish. 

Have I overlooked one of your favorite Boston-area destinations? Tell me about it! 

New England Adventures

Friday marks two months of Northeast living, and I’m long overdue for an update. 

During our first few weeks here, we had visitors, which meant lots of exploration (plus, everything was new, so it at all felt like exploring). Some highlights: 

The Boston Common and Public Garden

We visited the park on our first Saturday in Boston, mainly so I could see the Make Way for Ducklings statue. I could only get these three at the end, because the rest of the ducks were covered in children. I get it — I loved this book growing up and have started buying it as a gift for all the new babies in my life. 

We went back the next Saturday to read in the grass. We ended up people-watching: four weddings, one quinceñera, and one squirrel biting a tourist who spent 10 minutes trying to feed it. 

The Ether Dome

In October 1846, William T.G. Morton performed the first public surgery with ether in what is now called the Ether Dome in Massachusetts General Hospital. The hospital holds meetings in the space, but if it's open, you can take the elevator to the fourth floor (right for Ether Dome, left for Diabetes) and look around. There’s a small museum behind the amphitheater, and there’s a mummy inside the amphitheater. 

 His name is Padihershef.

His name is Padihershef.

If you wanted to take a themed walk, you could then go to the Public Garden, where they’ve built a monument to ether as well.

Walden Pond

Our trip to Walden Pond marked my most physical day in years. We biked roundtrip (40 miles, on the Minuteman Trail, through Lexington and Concord, past a pumpkin patch, the Louisa May Alcott Orchard house, and a biker taking selfies in front of huge sunflowers), and then I swam across the pond and back. Also — that’s a lake, not a pond.

It was cloudy the day we went, so I have only gloomy photos that don’t show the clear Walden waters. For a better idea, check out this collection from the Boston Globe

Provincetown

We took a fast ferry from Boston to Provincetown, and I learned that rough waters make me seasick. After some coffee and lunch, I felt better.

 Leaving Boston on a clear day, headed for nausea.

Leaving Boston on a clear day, headed for nausea.

We rented bikes and biked to Race Point Beach in perfect weather. Because the first ferry captain announced that they expected worse waters on the way back to Boston, we bought Dramamine for the ride home. I think the ocean was calmer, but I slept the whole return trip. Then we ate hot chicken

 Race Point Beach, Provincetown

Race Point Beach, Provincetown

In between these adventures, we spend our time in class, reading and writing at home, attending presentations hosted by the Nieman Foundation (and the Fellows), and trying noodle restaurants. I won’t lie. This is an amazing experience. I should be reminding myself that I am incredibly lucky every day; I’m averaging a few times a week. But I’ve developed a routine and find myself straying less frequently from the path connecting our apartment to campus. We have more visitors coming a few weeks — that should help us see something new.