An exhibit at the Dayton International Peace Museum fulfills a promise a local man made to Edward Kennedy 50 years ago to remember his slain brothers.
Glory and Tragedy: JFK and RFK, 1960-1968 is a collection of artifacts and items related to John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert F. Kennedy, acquired by local presidential history collector Bill White.
“It is in remembrance and it’s been in honor of the Kennedys that I continue to do this, and it has turned into these wonderful museum displays,” White said.
White, 68, became involved in John F. Kennedy’s campaign for president as a 10-year-old growing up in Greenville. His mother was the chairwoman of the Darke County Kennedy for President campaign and White recalls passing out bumper stickers and buttons with his older brother.
Among the campaign memorabilia and photographs at the museum is a letter written to White in the spring of 1969 from Edward Kennedy, the surviving Kennedy brother, thanking him for his “kind words of support” after Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated the year before.
“I wrote to the senator and said, ‘My family always revered your brothers, they talked about your brothers and they were devoted to your brothers,’” White said. “At the end of the letter I said, ‘I too now feel that same devotion to your brothers and I promise you this, I will never forget them.’ I think I’ve kept that promise.”
Videos of President Kennedy making several of his well-known speeches play in the exhibit.
“It’s very dramatic when you are looking at artifacts and you are hearing and seeing the president,” White said. “They spoke to us then and they speak to us still.”
Among the high points of the show are a white pack of cigarettes and a book of matches embossed with the seal of the President of the United States of America taken from President Kennedy’s Air Force One.
A glass jar holds fragments of the Berlin Wall taken from the area closest to the president when he gave his famous speech on June 26, 1963, White said.
An engraved business card holder with the initials RFK, used by Robert F. Kennedy during his brother’s 1960 presidential campaign, was purchased by White at auction in the 1990s.
Perhaps the most powerful artifact lies inside a display case dedicated to the events surrounding the assassination of President Kennedy.
Among the vintage newspapers and a piece of glass from the Texas School Book Depository, is part of the fencing removed by Dallas police from the “grassy knoll” after Kennedy was shot. The fencing is the “bittersweet highlight” of the display, White said. “That was a witness piece of history right there.”
Though the Peace Museum is not a history museum, Kevin Kelley, deputy director, said the Kennedy brothers’ contributions to peace — both instrumental in the civil rights movement and inspirational for the Peace Corps — helped make White’s collection a perfect fit for the museum.
“It was a good combination of his really amazing collection that he’s curated over 50 years and it has a personal connection with the message that we try to send here,” Kelley said.
The exhibit will be on display at the museum through November.
“I want visitors to learn, and reflect and perhaps most important, to remember,” White said. “That’s a very important word to me, to be remembered. And the president and his brother always will be remembered as long as I’m around.”