A tanned John F. Kennedy smiles at the gaggle of shirtless, sun-baked children perched on his beige golf cart as he drives up a hill at the family’s Cape Cod home.
Adrift on Nantucket Sound, JFK polishes off a vanilla ice cream cone as he watches John Jr. play with a toy boat.
A new exhibit at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Dorchester offers a look at the private life of the glamorous, young president, when he was away from the stresses of the White House and immersed in the comfort of his childhood summer home in Hyannis Port.
The golf cart is among several artifacts on display for the first time as part of the “Presidential Getaway: JFK on Cape Cod” exhibit. It includes the president’s golf clubs and a box of his personalized golf balls, a toy sailboat given to John Jr. by the president of Italy, and colorful, hand-carved wooden birds, replicas of a species native to the Cape, that were gifts to JFK from his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy.
Most of the items on display have been stored in the museum for decades, but the museum decided to bring them out this summer as a sunnier counterpoint to last year’s exhibit on the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination.
At the time, the room now filled with the president’s golf balls and his son’s toy boat was occupied by the boots, saddle, and sword from Black Jack, the riderless horse at JFK’s state funeral procession in Washington, D.C. The flag that draped his coffin was also on display.
Documentaries and news reports released on the anniversary focused on the circumstances of his death, as well as his political achievements. With this new exhibit, scheduled to be open through the end of October, the museum hopes people will remember JFK as a fun-loving family man, its curator, Stacey Bredhoff, said.
“We’re really happy to have him come back to life with this display,” she said. “It shows a side of him people don’t get to see.”
A five-minute movie made from newly released film taken by White House photographer Cecil Stoughton in 1963 provides different snapshots of the president’s getaway, where JFK would swim, tan, sail, golf, and spend time with his family.
Throughout his presidency, JFK on weekends visited the compound in Hyannis Port, an “emotional center for the Kennedy family,” Bredhoff said.
The president’s siblings often joined those weekend visits. One scene in the film shows Robert F. Kennedy throwing the remaining candy from a battered pinata to a swarm of boisterous children.
JFK’s beloved sailboat, the Victura, is parked on a strip of the museum’s lawn visible from the exhibit room. The white 25-foot sloop was a childhood gift from his parents, and the museum puts it on display every summer. In the film, JFK can be seen sailing it through Nantucket Sound’s blue waters.
The slain president’s treasured boat has received renewed attention recently. A book released earlier this year, “Victura: The Kennedys, a Sailboat, and the Sea,” by James W. Graham, focuses on the Kennedys’ relationship with the Victura and their affinity for sailing.
The golf cart, which the museum sent away for restoration, was featured on the cover of Look magazine in January 1962. Before being encased in glass for this summer’s exhibit, the golf cart was polished and its wheels filled with air.
During the opening morning of the exhibit Friday, dozens of visitors milled in and out of the room, some pausing to look at the iconic photographs on display. Others stood at the window and stared at the Victura, which hasn’t touched sea in decades. A man sat to watch the film as his wife and children, all from Jacksonville, Fla., walked around the exhibit.
“This is one of the few times you see him not with a suit and tie, but as a father figure,” said Honesty Eddins, 18, a JFK buff who was part of the Florida family.
“You could tell that this is stuff that he really loved,” her brother, Gage McNamee, added.
A framed photo of JFK in midswing, clad in pink pants, blue polo, and sunglasses, is accompanied by excerpts from an interview in which the pro golfer Arnold Palmer critiques the president’s form.
Bredhoff said JFK asked Stoughton, the White House photographer, to show Palmer film of the president playing. But that didn’t happen till three years ago, when Palmer was shown the footage and commented on Kennedy’s form in an interview for Golf Magazine.
After praising JFK’s wardrobe, Palmer goes on to say that Kennedy “looks pretty good over the ball, pretty solid. But he needs to firm up his hands.”
Palmer seems to favor JFK over Bill Clinton, whom he calls more athletic but less accurate. He concludes that JFK is “very fixable . . . You could see him shooting in the mid-80s. You could see him shooting 85.”