This city and this state have just experienced an outpouring of nostalgia and remembrance for fallen son John Fitzgerald Kennedy. And that emotional effusion has helped spotlight an unfortunate failing on Beacon Hill.
The State House grounds hold sculptor Isabel McIlvain’s eye-catching bronze likeness of JFK, unveiled before a crowd of 2,500 — a crowd that included Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Ted Kennedy — on what would have been Kennedy’s 73rd birthday back in 1990. For more than a decade, the Kennedy statue made the State House’s western grounds a popular spot for sightseers.
But it’s been moldering away in not-so-splendid isolation for the past 12 years. The reason? The statue is located on a section of the State House grounds that was closed to the public after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks because of its proximity to the governor’s office.
It’s not just the JFK statue languishing in limbo. Two others are kept from public view: likenesses of Henry Cabot Lodge, the statesman and scholar whom Henry Adams considered “Boston incarnate” (and whose base now serves as a nut-shelling site for the local squirrels) and of Anne Marbury Hutchinson, an early champion of religious liberty.
Make no mistake, if JFK is accessible, people will come. One could see that on Friday and Monday, when, as part of the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death, a Department of Conservation and Recreation park ranger was stationed nearby so people could view the statue.
On Friday, visitors came despite a steady rain. On Monday, David and Dawn Muldowney, from Haverhill, were delighted to view JFK in the bronze. David, 59, who said JFK was his favorite president, wasn’t aware of the statue until he heard about the viewing opportunities on TV.
“It was a wonderful experience,” he reported. “I didn’t even know it was hiding here.”
Chicago resident John Fitzgerald Reece, who was named for the president, came with two friends on his 50th birthday to see JFK’s likeness. Although he also visited the Kennedy Library, Reece said the JFK statue was “probably the most interesting thing that I have seen so far.”
Massachusetts lays claim to four presidents: John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Calvin Coolidge, and Kennedy. It’s lamentable that we don’t have statues of them all in Boston; certainly a walking tour of our presidents would enhance the sight-seeing experience here.
At the very least, however, it’s time to return the one presidential statue we do have to public view.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo was the motivating force for the recent two days of access, after a timely suggestion from storied State House political columnist Peter Lucas. DeLeo says that during a visit to Washington last week, it struck him that people could get within several feet of Kennedy’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery, but were left to peer through a fence at his statue here in Kennedy’s home state. The speaker wants to change that.
“Who do you think people coming to see our State House would really like to see, JFK or General Hooker?” asked DeLeo, referring to the massive statue of the horse-bound Civil War general outside the building’s main public entrance.
Secretary of State William F. Galvin, who agrees that it’s time to make the JFK statue more accessible, says that effort should start with an assessment of the risks that reopening the area would present and the development of a security plan. Ultimately, all that has to be hashed out between the governor, the speaker, and the Senate president.
If an agreement to reopen the west lawn can’t be reached, there is another way: Move the statue. It could, for example, be relocated to Ashburton Park, on the Bowdoin Street side of the building, which is open to the public from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Or it could be moved down near the (now closed) principal entrance to the State House’s west lawn, where it could easily be fenced outside, rather than inside, the closed grounds.
This is just not that difficult a problem; it could have been solved long ago.
But as JFK said, “Things don’t happen, they are made to happen.”
Fortunately, the speaker seems determined to heed that admonition.