JFK's last summer on the Cape: exhibit tells story of president's final months in the sun

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by CBS News

CBS

Posted on June 21, 2013 at 12:21 PM

NEW YORK -- The Cape Cod, Mass., town of Hyannis Port is where the Kennedy family has vacationed for generations. Now, 50 years later, a museum there is showing an exhibit from the summer of 1963 -- just months before President John F. Kennedy's assassination.

Kennedy loved being on the water and when the summer came he couldn't wait to set sail on the Nantucket Sound. It's where he spent much of his final summer, surrounded by friends and family at the Kennedy compound.

The Kennedys: Camelot in pictures

A sprawling clapboard house in Hyannis Port was the summer home of Ambassador Joseph F. Kennedy, his wife Rose, and their nine children.

Wendy Northcross, president of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, recalled of the 35th president and his famous family, "They were our neighbors. They were just the Kennedys up the street."

Following Kennedy's presidential victory speech in Hyannis, the family's summer hideaway was put on the national map. Historian Douglas Brinkley said, "The Kennedys exploded on the scene and Hyannis Port became a place that everybody wanted to see. The political pros knew to start promoting this compound. And we are getting all these personal shots of a president on the beach, on a boat, with his kids, playing touch football. It was the beginning of packaging a president of allowing your personal life to be part of a narrative."

Fifty years after his death, the "narrative" from June, July, and August of 1963 is especially poignant. JFK's last summer on the Cape is the subject of the show that that shows both joy, and sorrow.

In early August, Jackie Kennedy gave birth to a son, who died three days later. The family came to the compound in Hyannis to heal. Less than a month later, Kennedy gave a seminal interview to CBS News' Walter Cronkite on the lawn of the compound.

Brinkley said, "Cronkite got Kennedy to talk about that he probably wasn't going to get as committed to Vietnam with our troops. Anybody who says that Vietnam was Lyndon Johnson's war and not Kennedy's war goes back to this Cronkite interview."

Kennedy said during that interview, "In the final analysis, it's their war. They're the ones who have to win it or lose it."

It was also the last time Kennedy would see his father Joe, who had suffered a stroke two years earlier.

CBS News' Bill Plante remarked of Joe Kennedy, "Of course at that time he was incapacitated."

Rob Sennott, former publisher of The Barnstable Patriot, added, "Which led a few weeks later to what I think is one of the most evocative photos in the exhibit and that is the president leaning over on the deck of the compound house and kissing his father on the forehead, and that was the last time the two saw one another, and I'm certain that the president was thinking, 'We'll lose him soon,' when, in fact, the reverse happened."

Kennedy's death, Brinkley noted, was grieved by everyone in America, but, "One could say the people of Cape Cod maybe grieved more. They had known John Kennedy for years. He had come and gone. They remembered him when he was a little boy."

It's still a vivid memory in the place that moved him so deeply, as he put it in his own words:

"To know again the power of the sea and the master who rules over it and all of us.'"

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