A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Constance Alexander: ‘Kennedy Comes to Kentucky’ exhibit explores JFK’s visit to western part of state

The trees were almost bare and mornings had slipped into a seasonal chill, but that day was warm and sunny, a sweet burst of sweater weather in late November. At lunchtime, we walked outside, chatting with friends about the upcoming weekend, the senior play, and festivities leading up to the annual homecoming football game on Thanksgiving.

When the bell rang, it was on to Mr. Abrahamson’s U.S. History class. “The Brow,” we called him behind his back, unable to resist making fun of the single eyebrow that hovered over his eyes like a furry awning.

When he didn’t show up on time, we enjoyed the novelty, but as five minutes stretched to ten, we wondered what could have delayed him. Twenty minutes later, he rushed into the room to report that the president had been shot. He was going back downstairs to the television in the faculty room, promising to return as soon as more information was available.

We waited in silence. The boy next to me fooled with a rubber band and a paper clip, nervously aiming at one target after another without ever launching the missile. I wanted to tell him to stop, but could not find the words.

Around 2:05, the principal came on the loudspeaker. The president was dead.

The whole school seemed to take a deep breath as if to swallow the collective lump in our throats. We’d been raised on Eisenhower, a bland, grandfatherly golfer with a frumpy wife.

Kennedy was young, with a spring in his step and a great smile. A war hero and a prize-winning writer, he played touch football and invited a poet to speak at his inauguration. His kids were babies and his wife was beautiful. He made us believe it was possible for someone with youthful vitality — and even sex appeal — could be president.

So many years have passed since November 22, 1963, most of the populace cannot imagine the impact of John F. Kennedy on the country. Even in Kentucky, where he lost to Richard Nixon by a margin of 80,752 votes, all eight counties of the Jackson Purchase area went for JFK.

“Kennedy Comes to Kentucky,” currently on view at the Wrather Museum on the Murray State University campus, includes historic photos, campaign memorabilia, articles and documents related to the 35th president’s campaign in west Kentucky. The exhibit explores factors in Kentucky’s voting trends, and challenges visitors to ponder questions that explore core aspects of political and religious identity. Related video loops and ipad apps invite interactive participation, and the exhibition is available to the public at no cost.

The Wrather Museum is open to the public Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. It will be on view until March 14. Additional images and information are located on Wrather West Kentucky Museum Facebook page.

A gallery of historic photographs associated with the JFK administration is online at www.dailynews.com.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray, Ky. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

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