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High Hopes: John F. Kennedy exhibit opens Saturday at Oregon Historical Society

Two of numerous displays at the JFK exhibit. (Stuart Tomlinson/KATU)

The images are seared into the national consciousness: a handsome, young president (just 43 when elected) who projected American optimism and challenged the nation to ask what they could do for their country.

Those images – and those heady times – are on display starting this weekend with “High Hopes: The Journey of John F. Kennedy” at the Oregon Historical Society starting Saturday.

Along with some permanent artifacts in the OHS collection, numerous other items from private collections include some never seen before, said OHS executive director Kerry Tymchuk.

The exhibit begins with Walter Cronkite announcing the president’s death on television, cutting into a soap opera.

“For generations of Americans, that is a touchstone for them,” Tymchuk said. “Everybody remembers where they were when they heard the news that the president had been assassinated.”

Tymchuk said one of those unique, rarely seen items is a flight log detailing JFK’s flying lessons. Many of the items have an Oregon connection.

“Kennedy came here 10 separate times in 1958 and 1959 and 60 as he started planning the presidential campaign and as he started running,” Tymchuk said. “He won the Oregon primary, a key victory for him, defeating Oregon senator Wayne Morse who had been running as a favorite son candidate.”

The interactive displays feature scenes from the Cuban Missile Crisis; Kennedy’s service during World War II as the commander of PT-109; and a mock-up of the Oval Office complete with rocking chair and life-size cut-out.

“This is a one-of-a-kind exhibit. Some items that have never before been seen publicly,” Tymchuk said. “It’s a very unique, one-of-a-kind exhibit this centennial year of his birth.”

Among the highlights (text from OHS):

Dress Worn by Jacqueline Kennedy

This brown and tan checked wool suit was designed by Carolina Herrera, a Venezuelan-born designer who created many ensembles for Jackie. Jackie’s personal secretary, Mary Gallagher, was given many of Jackie’s items of clothing, including this suit. During her life, Jackie Kennedy became known for her impeccable sense of style and is now seen as a modern style icon. Courtesy of the Mark Family Collection

CBS News Camera, KRLD-TV, Dallas

This news camera filmed the transfer of accused Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and Oswald’s murder by Jack Ruby on November 24, 1963. Courtesy of the Mark Family Collection

White House “Hotline” Phone

This phone served as a hotline to the White House from 1961-63 when JFK was traveling, particularly while staying at his family’s home in Palm Beach, Florida. Courtesy of the Mark Family Collection

John F. Kennedy’s Mahogany Oval Office Coffee Table

John and Jacqueline Kennedy refurbished the White House during their residency with period paintings, fabrics, and furniture. The president’s oval office included two sofas, a rocker, and this low, American Empire style coffee table. It has bold carving in high relief, scroll feet, a heavy pedestal base, and handsome, matching veneers for its top. World leaders, military officers, and politicians gathered around this table for conversations with the president. Courtesy of the Mark Family Collection

Watercolor Painting by John F. Kennedy

In order to keep himself occupied after back surgery, John F. Kennedy took up painting as a hobby and painted this watercolor of the Kennedy home in Palm Beach, Florida in 1955. He had given the painting to the Tubridy family, some Irish friends, and was reminded of the gift years later when Aine Tubridy sent him a photo of the painting. Courtesy of the Shapell Manuscript Collection

The exhibit runs through November 12 at the OHS museum, 1200 SW Park Avenue. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free for Multnomah County residents; $11 for non-county adults; $9 for students and seniors 60 and over; $5 for children 6 to 18 years old; and free for children under 5.


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