There are things in Beacon Hill, Boston, State of Massachusetts, which are truly incredible. At least for an American city. Gas street lights, charming streets covered with bad cobblestones. Opulent, impenetrable and drowsy houses, well sheltered behind their sash windows. And over this piece of the Old Continent lost on the East Coast of the United States, the golden dome of the Capitol, seat of the Massachusetts state parliament.
It was there that, on January 9, 1961, a few days before taking the oath that would make him the 35th President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy made a speech that would become famous under the name: “A city upon a hill “, A town on top of a hill. Before drawing the broad outlines of his presidency, he paid a strong homage to his city: “For forty-three years, whether I am in London, Washington, in the South Pacific or elsewhere, Boston has been my home and if God want it, wherever I am, it will remain my house. This is where my grandparents were born, and it is there, I hope, that my grandchildren will be born. ” The city accepted the compliment.
Then she watched her prodigal son return to Washington. Old cities like to think of themselves as the center of the world: from the top of Beacon Hill, the life of John Fitzgerald Kennedy looks like a series of back and forth between Boston and the rest of the universe. It was suddenly interrupted fifty years ago, on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, under the bullets of Lee Harvey Oswald, far from the bad cobblestones of New England.
For the Kennedy family, it was on the Boston docks that it all started, on April 22, 1849. That day, fleeing the famine that was raging in Ireland, Patrick Kennedy, the great-grandfather, disembarked from his boat. He would die a few years later from cholera, also on November 22: 105 years to the day before his illustrious descendant. He had had time to lay the foundations of a dynasty of which we know the mind-boggling destiny. First there was Patrick Joseph, who began the climb to the summits. Then Joseph “Big Joe” Kennedy, the businessman with teeth to eat this brand new continent. He would marry Rose Fitzgerald, daughter of the mayor of Boston, Catholic and Irish like him. There were nine children from this union. On May 29, 1917, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, their second child, was born.
He was born at 83 Beals Street, a modest Brookline home on the outskirts of Boston. At the time, it was a modern district, where the emerging middle class built “homes” between vacant lots, planted plane trees in front of the lawns. The plane trees have grown: Brookline has become a wealthy neighborhood and the old houses of the middle class are selling at high prices. The one at 83 Beals Street was transformed by Rose Kennedy into a museum in memory of the family. There are memories of the great man’s childhood: his silver cup, a piano, his mother’s desk. They are guarded by three uniformed rangers because the place, despite its modest dimensions, is managed by the National Park Service. In the days following JFK’s death, thousands of people gathered between the plane trees and the house to mourn the assassinated president.
A few years after John’s birth, the family moved three blocks away at 51 Abbotsford Road. Big Joe was not yet very wealthy, but he was already riding in Rolls-Royce … And John, who knows why, was already nicknamed Jack. Another magnetic pole was soon to appear on his world map: Hyannis Port, on Cape Cod. The dunes and long beaches of the peninsula were already the favorite vacation spot for Bostonians. His father bought a beautiful house by the sea there. John Kennedy was going to love the sea very much. The John Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston, a museum dedicated to the memory of the late president, also exhibits Victura, a pretty boat from wood at the helm of which he was often photographed while sailing off Cape Cod.
Jack left Boston for the benches of the very elitist Choate in Connecticut. Then he returned to Boston to study at Harvard: the prestigious American university is four stations from the Massachusetts State Capitol. Then Jack left Harvard for the London School of Economics. He visited Europe, he studied at Stanford, not far from San Francisco. There was war. Jack became a hero in the Pacific, and his brother died over England. The family was reunited at Hyannis Port when they heard about it, it was a beautiful Sunday in August and that day, it seems that Jack refused to race.
Big Joe Kennedy transferred the political hopes he had placed in the missing son to the surviving son. At not even 30 years old, John Kennedy was already famous in the United States. He was to become a politician, and his first campaign would take place in Boston in 1946. The victory was brilliant, and John, elected to the House of Representatives in Washington, became “congressman”. It was only the first step in a flash ascent to the presidency. We can trace its traces by walking the sidewalks of Boston alongside David O’Donnell, a young historian passionate about the adventure of JFK, and who rode a John Kennedy Tour.
With him we stop in front of 10 Kilby Street, where was the HQ of the campaign which opened the doors of the Senate to him, in 1952. We eat a clam chowder, a thick soup of clams, at Union Oyster House, where the Kennedy family had their habits. Upstairs, table 18 is named after the family. A little further, we swoon in front of another table, n ° 40 at Parker’s Restaurant, where, in 1953, Jack asked for Jackie’s hand… Then we separate in front of Faneuil Hall, where Jack gave his last speech as a candidate to the presidency in 1960.
When the President of the United States came to spend a weekend at Hyannis Port, he disembarked from Marine One, the official White House helicopter, on the lawn of the Kennedy Compound, a large house, also white. Some residents of Hyannis Port remember this. They also remember the presidential yacht sailing along the coast. In the modest museum that the city dedicates to the deceased president, Americans on vacation come to revise their ranges on television screens: John Fitzgerald Kennedy holding his daughter Caroline by the shoulder, bathing, driving a golf car overflowing with funny brats . The President in sunglasses and white polo shirt: John Fitzgerald Kennedy eternally young and smiling, like the stars suddenly extinguished.
The travel diary
The Massachusetts Tourist Board website: (www.massachusetts-tourisme.fr)
The House of the United States (01.53.63.13.43 ; www.maisondesetatsunis.com) offers a journey in the footsteps of the Kennedys of ten days, eight nights. On the program: Boston, Cape Cod, Newport and the lovely island of Martha’s Vineyard. From € 2,090 per person, including flight, hotels and a rental car.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the I have a dream speech, the agency is organizing an exhibition that explores the links between Martin Luther King and JFK. Free entry.
Air France (36.54; www.airfrance.fr). Paris-Boston: direct flights, daily, all year round. Round trip from € 814.
The Charles (001.617.864.1200 ; charleshotel.com). More comfortable than charming, this hotel is a short walk from the famous Harvard University. From 195 €.
The Colonnade (001.617.424.70.00 ; www.colonnadehotel.com). The Colonnade is located in the chic Back Bay district: the famous Newbury Street is a stone’s throw away. From € 157.
At Martha’s Vineyard
Mansion House Inn (001.508.693.2200 ; www.mvmansionhouse.com). Beautiful wooden building overlooking the charming village of Vineyard Haven. One downside: the breakfasts are very disappointing. From 135 €.
Hob Knob (001.508.627.95.10 ; www.hobknob.com). This luxurious boutique hotel welcomed Senator John F. Kennedy while racing between the continent and the island. From 188 €.
Omni Parker House (www.omnihotels.com). Ask for table No. 40. It was there, in the restaurant of this venerable hotel that John F. Kennedy asked for the hand of Jacqueline Lee Bouvier, in 1953. Around € 60 per person.
Union Oyster House (www.unionoysterhouse.com). The Kenney family had their habits there. Oysters and clam chowder. Around 40 €.
Grill 23 (grill23.com). An excellent steak house unlike anywhere else in the United States. Around 60 €.
At Martha’s Vineyard
Moxie (www.cafemoxiemv.com). Excellent restaurant serving fresh, healthy and tasty food. At Vineyard Heaven. Around 45 €.
Lobsterville (001.508.696.00.99). Seated upstairs, on the balcony of this small restaurant nestled in a wooden house, on the quays of Oaks Bluff, we watch the boats. In the evening, a bar is open on the ground floor. Sympathetic. Around 30 €.
In the footsteps of JFK
The Kennedy Tour (www.kennedytour.com). € 9.
Kennedy’s birth house: 83 Beals street, Brookline. Free.
JFK Presidential Library and Museum (www.jfklibrary.org). € 9.
At Hyannis Port
JFK Museum at Hyannis Port (jfkhyannismuseum.org). € 6.
In your library
In preparation for the fiftieth anniversary of JFK’s death, a few books have been published recently.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy, at Editions Perrin, by Frédéric Martinez: a detailed, subjective and breathless biography, 350 p.22 €.
Kennedy, by Vincent Michelot, collection “Folio”, a political biography.
More fun, The Kennedy, Editions Milan, in the collection “History Notebooks”, include in a few files the great myths of the family, 120 p., € 7.90.
Beautiful book: Kennedy, chronicle of a destiny. Unpublished photos of Jacques Lowe, personal photographer of JFK, at Editions Gallimard, 250 p., € 29.90.
Le Routard, United States Northeast, € 14.95.
Boston, Cartoville, Gallimard, € 8.90.