A Time For Greatness by
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(207 Stories)

Prompted By Memorabilia

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Original campaign button, 1960

I was raised by a proud FDR Democrat, so it was only natural that I would become a liberal Democrat myself. Even at a young age, before I entirely understood politics, I was a Kennedy fan and supporter. (The title was his campaign slogan.)

In elementary school, we came home for lunch. I remember watching JFK deliver his inaugural address on our black and white TV. I scarfed down a sandwich, leaning attentively against the arm of the couch in our den. I felt the import of the event. Though we didn’t subscribe, my mother bought the week’s Life magazine from a magazine rack. That, along with my original JFK campaign button in the Featured photo, became the beginning, and most important artifacts in my Kennedy memorabilia collection.

Original Life magazine

Text of inaugural address

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We all watched Jackie lead a tour of the White House as she restored it to its former glory. I greatly admired her style, intelligence and dignity, as I wrote in Jackie.

The events of November, 1963 were devastating for me. Coming at a time of personal and family upheaval, they amplified the grief I felt. My mother was too depressed to let me mourn along with the nation through the televised coverage, so I had no outlet. As soon as I could, I began my collection of Kennedy books, some about the assassination, but many biographies as well. I have dozens now, in two houses, covering many bookshelves. This is a very small sample. I even have a copy of the Warren Commission.

I clipped newspaper articles, filling boxes with them. I bought magazines with Kennedys on the cover.

I received a letter “from” John Jr., inviting me to become a member of the JFK Library in Boston. How could I say no to John-John?

Gallery in the JFK Library

Of course I joined and have been a member in good standing for decades, visiting when they have outstanding exhibits, like Jackie’s wedding gown and other artifacts from their wedding (the gown is now too fragile to be displayed), the famous display of her clothing from the White House years (the rose-colored suit and outfit she wore to the inauguration are on permanent display). I also went to pay my respects the day after Jackie and Ted died. To mark special occasions, the Library sends memorabilia too.

I have first edition Kennedy half dollars, now somewhat tarnished.

After Jackie passed away, her children staged a huge auction of her jewelry, art, objects, books, “stuff” in 1996. It was a Kennedy collector’s dream. I got the auction catalogue and bid on several items: copies of the White House Guide Book, some costume jewelry, tidbits. I bid well above the estimated value, but demand to own a bit of Jackie was wild. I didn’t come close to winning anything, but still have the catalogue, bid sheet, and lots of news stories about the auction of the century.

John, Jr. launched a political, human-interest, pop-culture magazine named George (after our first president). It had Cindy Crawford dressed as George Washington on the first cover. It was never a huge success and petered out after his tragic, early death. I was on Martha’s Vineyard at the time of the plane crash. Friends and relatives called to see if I would travel to the other end of the island to watch the search and rescue process in person. I did not, but was on the Vineyard ferry, arriving back on the mainland at the exact moment the three bodies came off the USS Briscoe, met by hearses at the dock right next to me. I had my young son in my car with me. He had to witness his mother, crushed by what I was witnessing. I howled with grief, as my car was stopped at the mouth of the ferry so the caskets of John, his wife and her sister could come to shore. It was devastating to watch.

Caroline continued the good work her mother did, as an author, and head of the Kennedy Foundation. Among other books, she put together an anthology of her mother’s favorite poems and held a book signing at the JFK Library. I bought two copies, one for myself, one for our niece, and stood on line for hours. By the time Caroline emerged from her Board meeting, it was announced she would only sign one copy per person. I gave my signed copy to my young niece, but enjoy my own copy from time to time. Caroline was gracious to all, though she was tired at the end of a long day. We had a brief conversation as she signed the book.

I continue to follow what goes on at the Kennedy Library, occasionally attend shows and lectures. My dues supports their work. I received this certificate long ago in recognition of my continued support of the Kennedy legacy.

I was a small child when the Camelot myth came into being. I now understand how it was molded and how imperfect these people were. Yet, for all the flaws, the women were strong, smart, accomplished and dignified. The men were by no means perfect, but they seemed to learn from their mistakes and grow in their policy decisions and as human beings. They tried to make this country and the world a better place. These are values and goals that I can still admire.

 

Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.


Tags: JFK, Kennedy family
Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. John Shutkin says:

    What an honorable and high-minded subject for a memorabilia collection, Betsy! (In contrast with certain ego-driven ones that I might be a little too familiar with.) I know many of us share your views of the Kennedys, flaws and all, but you have really followed up in so many different and interest ways with the family. And your vignette about the Vineyard ferry experience was heartbreaking.

    That you would illustrate your story with numerous fascinating examples of your collection was a foregone conclusion. You are Retro’s finest photo-memorabilist. But thank you for sharing them with us.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks, John. Of course it helps that I live close to Boston, so can utilize the Kennedy Library. Yesterday was JFK’s birthday. A few years after the assassination, the family bought the house in Brookline where he was born, as people congregated there and it was a private home at the time (now it is run by the Parks Department). I’ve gone a number of times, but just happened to take my kids on his birthday (it was not deliberate). It was free that day and they did something special (can’t remember what), but again, my kids saw me moved to tears.

  2. Betsy, dear, I loved reading about your Kennedy collection. What a marvelous collection it is, too — much more sophisticated, not to mention historic, than some of my collections, which vary from refrigerator magnets to movies on DVD.

    I was particularly moved by your story of seeing the caskets of JFK, Jr, his wife, and her sister being taken off the boat as you were in your car getting off the MV ferry. What a moment for you. Amazing and so sad.

    I remember admiring some of your Kennedy collection in your house near Boston. I also remember how you took me to see the Kennedy Library when I visited you. I was fascinated not just by the library itself, but by your encyclopedic knowledge of the Kennedys and of the library’s collections.

    I also appreciate how well written this post is. You write beautifully, and I look forward to your posts every week. Wouldn’t miss them! Thank you for all of them! This one is particularly memorable.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you so much, dear Steve. It was a pleasure to share my love of “everything Kennedy” with you when I took you to the JFK Library, so long ago now. I’m glad you enjoy my writing, as I enjoy it when we share long emails and you bring me up-to-date on your life, old friend. I can’t wait to read your memoir!

  3. Betsy, the tears started flowing in your opening paragraph. Amazing how visceral the feelings still are. I, too, love all things Kennedy and, although I’m not a collector, am in awe of your collection, and the depth of personal experience contained in your collecting it, and writing about it. Thank you SO much for sharing it with us!

    Do you still collect? I inherited the original Life Magazine and Saturday Evening Post from 1963 with JFK on the cover and would be thrilled to send them to you. If so, shoot me an email.

    Did you read “What Remains” a memoir by Carole Radziwill? Heartbreaking, but I loved it.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Yes, the feelings remain strong, Barb. I DO still collect (just clipped her obit when Lee died last year). And “What Remains” is down in my Vineyard house. A good read (I recommended it Steve Pieters, who commented early in the day).

      WOW, can’t believe you have those original magazines (I WILL EMAIL YOU!). They were long-gone from the news stand for non-subscribers, so not in my personal collection. I used to look at the Life Magazine at a cousin’s all the time.

  4. Marian says:

    What an amazing archive, Betsy, and how consistent your involvement with the Kennedy’s is. Being in the Boston area probably helped. Of course we all know that frozen moment in our lives when JFK was shot. At first I didn’t realize why my fifth-grade teacher was crying, and they sent us home for the rest of the day. I so admire all the Kennedy’s dedication to public service, whatever their flaws might have been.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Yes, that moment is frozen in time for all of us, Marian. As I mention, my interest began earlier, but I never got over Nov 22, 1963. And yes, the whole family is admirable, tho I’m not happy that young Joe III (my Congressman) is trying to oust our current Senator, just because. He is a fine Congressman, but he needs to wait.

  5. Suzy says:

    Betsy, this is wonderful and amazing! I have always been interested in the Kennedys, but never thought to collect anything about them. Of course I remember vividly all the events you describe, from the 1960 campaign to the present. And I love looking at all your photos. As John says, you are a great photo-memorabilist (not sure if that’s a word, but it should be).

    I am especially impressed that you bid on several items in the auction of Jackie’s estate – and still have your bid sheet! Too bad you weren’t the high bidder on any of them, even bidding way over estimated value. And your description of the MV ferry incident, howling with grief as you saw them bring the bodies to shore, brought tears to my eyes too. How nice that you got to have a brief conversation with Caroline at her book signing. (I have to admit that when my son Ben became friends with her daughter, Rose Schlossberg, in college, I had a groupie-like desire to meet her, but never did.)

    Thank you for sharing your memories, and your memorabilia, with us.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, Suzy. We used to see Tatania’s by-line in the MV Gazette one summer. I doubt most people even knew she was Caroline’s daughter. but of course, I did. And now the youngest, Jack, is doing work at the JFK Library, head-lining events. He is as handsome as his uncle was, a rising star. The family compound, purchased years ago by Jackie is for sale…we’ll see.

  6. I remember how you recommended “What Remains” when you took me to the JFK Library. I read it not long after that, I believe. Whenever I did read it, it was wonderful, so moving and so fascinating. Thanks for the recommendation!

  7. Oh Betsy, the Kennedy assassination will always be part of our generation’s psyche.

    On that fateful Friday I was a college senior and happened to be rehearsing a play when someone burst into the rehearsal room with the news.

    When classes resumed on Monday we were called to assembly and an English professor of mine read the A E Housman poem To an Athlete Dying Young.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Yes, Dana…those four days are forever etched in our memories. I graduated from Brandeis on May 19. Years later, Jackie died on that date, which has now taken on significance for me, particularly when I realized I had lived longer than she had (she was 64 when she passed away). The family is mythic.

  8. Laurie Levy says:

    I am awed by your collection of Kennedy memorabilia, Betsy. Like you, I greatly admired JFK and was devastated by his assassination, as well as Bobby’s 5 years later. So often, I wonder what if… But we are where we are, which is in a very bad place these days. The Kennedy family has endured unimaginable losses, and I still hope a new generation emerges politically. Maybe Joe Kennedy III?

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, Laurie. I heard Ted Sorensen speak at my son’s school assembly once, many years ago. We reminisced about that just last week. Ted was convinced that, had Bobby lived, he would have won in ’68, immediately gotten us out Vietnam and, with the “peace dividend” enacted the Great Society begun by Lyndon Johnson. Well, it was nice to dream about.

      I’m happy to hear you are getting settled in your new home and are busily engaged in finding places to put all your treasures. Enjoy your new space.

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