WASHINGTON — Some never-before-seen artifacts from the minutes and hours following President John F. Kennedy’s assassination are going on display Friday, along with an extensive collection of photographs of the young president’s family.
The Newseum, a museum devoted to journalism and the First Amendment, is marking the 50th anniversary of the assassination with a yearlong commemoration including two new exhibitions and a new film about Kennedy.
One exhibit, titled “Three Shots Were Fired,” follows the events and news coverage that unfolded after Kennedy was shot in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. It will be on view until January, along with an extensive exhibition of photographs by Kennedy’s personal photographer, titled “Creating Camelot.”
For the first time, the museum is showing items from assassin Lee Harvey Oswald at the time of his arrest. The display includes Oswald’s clothing, a jacket that police believe he discarded, his wallet, and the wallet’s contents, including a card with the address of the Soviet embassy. There’s also a blanket that was used to hide Oswald’s rifle in a friend’s garage. The objects are on loan from the National Archives.
“For me, objects always are tangible items that help people come into a story,” said Carrie Christoffersen, the Newseum’s collections director.
Many of the items are paired with news photographs from the time, including just after Oswald’s arrest, showing the interworking of the press and the Kennedy White House.
“We’re really telling this story through the lens of the journalists and how they covered it and then how the public experienced it,” Christoffersen said.
“Three Shots,” unfolds chronologically from the first bulletin from United Press International that broke the news that “Three shots were fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade today in downtown Dallas.”
It includes more than 100 rarely seen objects, including the 8 mm movie camera used by Abraham Zapruder, who was the only eyewitness to capture the entire assassination on film. There are also items from reporters who covered the tragedy, including notebooks, cameras and a typewriter from UPI Correspondent Merriman Smith.
Curators said the assassination set off four days of nonstop television coverage, something that wasn’t repeated again until the 9/11 attacks. It was a turning point in media when TV became a primary source of news for most people, Christoffersen said.
The photography exhibition, “Creating Camelot,” features 70 images that were nearly lost in the 9/11 attacks. Kennedy’s personal photographer, Jacques Lowe, kept the negatives of more than 40,000 Kennedy photographs in a bank vault at the World Trade Center.
While the negatives were lost in the attack, the Newseum worked with Lowe’s estate to recover and digitally restore images from Lowe’s contact sheets and prints that were kept in another New York City facility. Image specialists spent 600 hours over several months restoring the pictures, digitally removing scratches and damage.
An interactive screen shows the original contact sheets with some images Lowe had crossed out, including more candid images of the Kennedys. One shows the president falling out of a boat in Massachusetts.
This is the first time Lowe’s photographs have ever been displayed together. Some were published individually in the Kennedy era in such magazines as TV Guide and Ladies Home Journal. Others have never been seen before. Lowe was 28 when he was hired as the family’s personal photographer when Kennedy realized the power of visuals in shaping his public image. Lowe’s photographs span from Kennedy’s 1958 Senate re-election campaign through his early White House years, helping to create the public myth and image of “Camelot.”
“It is the story of a man who had unique, unprecedented access in a time where Kennedy was a visionary in how much he valued the importance of his public image,” said Indira Williams Babic, who led the image restoration for the Newseum.
The collection also shows the Kennedys as real people, interacting with their daughter, Caroline, and their son, John Jr.
“I think one of the things we’ve been able to see is that yes, (Jacqueline Kennedy) was beautiful, she had great poise and elegance, but she was also a real mom,” Williams Babic said.
The Newseum also is showing a new film, “A Thousand Days,” exploring Kennedy’s presidency and family life in the White House.