Rarely seen photos of John F. Kennedy, once feared to have been lost forever when the World Trade Center was destroyed on 9/11, form part of a striking exhibition opening Friday which aims to shed new light on the iconic US leader.
The Newseum — a Washington museum dedicated to showcasing the world of the media — is staging new exhibits to tie in with the upcoming 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination on November 22.
One of the defining moments of the 20th century, Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas 50 years ago has been analyzed and raked over in books, films and television for decades.
The Newseum’s “JFK” exhibits are entitled “Creating Camelot,” which features intimate behind-the-scenes images of the Kennedys; and “Three Shots Were Fired,” which examines the first moments of the assassination on November 22, 1963.
There is also a short film titled “A Thousand Days,” which recounts the glamor of the first family.
The striking, rarely seen photos which comprise “Creating Camelot” are the work of Jacques Lowe, who was 28 years old when he first met the Kennedys in 1958 and was hired as their personal photographer.
Lowe, who died in 2001, was given unprecedented access to the Kennedy clan, capturing the rise of JFK from his 1958 US Senate re-election campaign to his rise to the White House.
In three years from 1958 to 1961, Lowe took approximately 40,000 photos of the Kennedys that he considered so valuable they were stored in a bank vault at the World Trade Center in New York.
All the negatives were destroyed in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks which reduced the Twin Towers to rubble.
However Lowe’s work survived because of 1,500 contact sheets. The photos were subsequently scanned and cleaned of pen marks or staples, allowing the Newseum to select 70 for their exhibition.
“We are exploring the way that Jacques Lowe helped created the myth of Camelot from the very beginnings of Kennedy’s career,” Newseum curator Indira Williams Babic said.
Among Lowe’s images is the famous photo of a baby Caroline Kennedy playing with her mother Jackie’s pearls in a unscripted moment. Many other photos from Lowe’s collection however have never been published before.
A series of stills show Kennedy having lunch on the campaign trail in a restaurant while still a relative unknown politician. Others show the couple out boating, and Caroline playing with White House secretaries.
“We are all familiar with photos of John John playing under the desk,” Babic said, referring to Caroline Kennedy’s late sibling. “We are not that familiar Caroline in the same role.”
The second component of the exhibition deals exclusively with the day of Kennedy’s assassination, told from the point of view of journalists.
The UPI newswire ticker bulletin, sent four minutes after the shooting, reads simply: “Kennedy wounded, perhaps seriously, perhaps fatally, by assassin bullet.”
Notepads, cameras and even the pipe belonging to famed US broadcaster Walter Cronkite evoke the journalistic tools of a bygone era.
The exhibition features several items which have never been seen in public before, including the long-sleeve shirt Lee Harvey Oswald wore when he was arrested an hour and 20 minutes after the shooting, and a jacket he is believed to have discarded at a gas station.
The wallet Oswald was carrying at the time of his arrest is also displayed, along with the blanket he used to hide his murder weapon in the garage of a family friend.