As someone deeply passionate about museums and a devoted admirer of President Kennedy, my anticipation reached its peak when I finally had the opportunity to explore the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, Massachusetts.
This museum is impeccably curated and stands out as a must-visit attraction in the Boston area.
In this detailed article, I’ll provide you with comprehensive insights into the experience of visiting the JFK Presidential Library and Museum.
Additionally, I’ll offer a glimpse into some of the standout exhibits, ensuring you don’t overlook the most captivating aspects of this historical treasure.
Where is the JFK Presidential Library and Museum?
The Museum is located in Dorchester, Massachusetts, which is just about 20 min south of downtown Boston.
Depending on the traffic, you can purchase tickets when you arrive, or you can also reserve them online, which I would recommend, because they do have timed entry.
And that means that you may not always have tickets available.
They have free parking on site for museum guests, and it’s a pretty good size parking lot that they have located just next door to the University of Massachusetts Boston.
Also right across from the library is the Edward Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, although I was told that this is not open to all members of the public and catered to groups such as school groups on field trips, so I’m not sure if you will be able to visit that facility as well.
How to best explore the JFK Library and Museum
Upon arriving at the museum and snagging your tickets, I highly recommend making a beeline for Theater One to catch the intro video – it sets the stage for your entire museum experience.
While you wait for the film to kick off, there are some exhibits in the waiting area to keep you occupied. They give you a good picture of young Kennedy and the different events that shaped his younger life.
One absolute must-see exhibit is the special coconut inscribed with Kennedy’s wartime message. During World War Two, Kennedy’s boat, the PT-109, collided with a Japanese destroyer, causing a massive explosion and taking the life of a couple of his fellow sailors.
After drifting and swimming to an island, Kennedy inscribed a message on a coconut, handing it to natives who relayed it to the Allies, ultimately bringing help. The coconut later became a paperweight on Kennedy’s Oval Office desk – one of the most intriguing presidential artifacts, in my opinion.
After delving into exhibits on Kennedy’s early life, hop into the theater for a deeper dive into JFK’s journey. The video concludes just as he kicks off his 1960 presidential campaign, setting the stage for the first exhibit hall dedicated to this pivotal period.
Transport yourself back to the 1960s and experience what life was like on the campaign trail with Kennedy and his supporters.
Original artifacts, like the actual audio control and television camera used by CBS affiliate WBBM-TV for the first televised Presidential debate against Nixon, add an extra layer of authenticity.
The inauguration exhibit lets you listen to Kennedy’s iconic inauguration speech, a cornerstone of presidential addresses with one of the most famous lines of all time: “My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”
Follow this up with a stroll through a stunning hallway that practically transports you into the opulent corridors of the White House.
Don’t skip the Space Program Room. Kennedy’s commitment to advancing the space program is on full display, including a one-eighth scale model of the Gemini capsule he received in 1962.
The Cuban Missile Crisis Theater is a standout – every 20 minutes, they screen a 14-minute film called “To the Brink,” providing an intense look at the U.S.-Soviet nuclear standoff.
The recordings from JFK’s office add a gripping dimension and you realize how much pressure JFK was under to make a military strike that could have set off a disastrous chain of events.
Bobby Kennedy fans will be delighted to step into the Attorney General’s office, modeled after Robert’s Justice Department space. Learn about his role and peruse interesting artifacts that would have been found in his office 60 years ago like his glasses.
One thing that I thought was interesting is that Robert Kennedy served on the USS Joseph P Kennedy Jr. in 1946, which was a 2,200 ton destroyer, which was named in honor of his oldest brother, who died during World War Two.
The Oval Office reproduction, complete with a Resolute Desk replica, is a major highlight of this museum.
Check out intriguing artifacts like bookends with USS Constitution cannons and Scrimshaw bookends. The cannons are especially intriguing because they are said to be functional, capable of firing small cannonballs.
The Resolute Desk in the Oval Office is part of a trio crafted from the wood of the Resolute. The second resides in England, and the third is at the Whaling Museum in New Bedford, Massachusetts, just about an hour south of this location. If you have any interest in the whaling history of the region, I strongly recommend paying a visit to that museum.
Jacqueline Kennedy’s enthusiasts will enjoy the First Lady Gallery, showcasing her early life and achievements, including her restoration efforts of the White House and her Emmy award.
Next door, delve into JFK’s human side, his love for golf, and the unique items commissioned for his Oval Office.
The museum lightly touches on Kennedy’s tragic death, leaving space for other venues like the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas to go into all of the necessary details.
The final gallery explores JFK’s legacy, including his contributions to the space program and the Peace Corps. Don’t miss the large piece of the Berlin Wall before exiting into the grand lobby, adorned with a colossal American flag.
The lobby is a breathtaking space, with plenty of natural light coming in and perhaps planes flying overhead.
In this lobby we encountered a special exhibit commemorating JFK’s assassination. It showcased intriguing items like the sword on the riderless horse during his funeral procession and different messages received by Jacqueline Kennedy following the assassination.
To cap off, we checked out the Service and Sacrifice gallery which delves into JFK’s wartime role, along with other notable servicemen and women.
The letter from Joseph Kennedy Jr. to his parents in 1944, just before his secret mission, is particularly poignant. It’s a heartbreaking glimpse into the countless similar stories of men lost in battle.
Take a moment to explore the Ernest Hemingway Gallery, and if hunger strikes, the JFK Cafe offers a decent selection, ranging from pizza slices and french fries to hot dogs and muffins.
The gift shop is a treasure trove of presidential goodies. After visiting, I did some research and found replicas of the Resolute Desk available for those aiming to bring a touch of presidential flair to their home office.
In general, this museum really nails it.
I was seriously blown away by the captivating artifacts they had on display for us to check out.
The storytelling and how the museum unfolds are also on point.
If you’ve got even a hint of interest in President Kennedy, I’d say you absolutely gotta make a stop here.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC. Read my bio.