Many young visitors to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston Monday have lived under just two US presidents.
But the annual family event, which featured craft-making and performances by historical reenactors, traced the rich history of American politics that grade-school history buffs, parents eager to impart a civics lesson, and maybe even a possible future president or two were delighted to celebrate.
Carson Mattice, 9, arrived at the museum with a reputation to uphold. He had won the museum’s presidential jeopardy contest the past two years, and is known among staff for his ability to remember presidents’ middle names.
Sure, the prize had been a pencil in past years, but with most of his classmates back in Augusta, Maine interested more in video games than Harry S. Truman, it was a good time to show what he’s learned from emptying the history shelf at his classroom library. (For instance, he knew that Truman’s middle name is, in fact, just the letter S.)
Carson, who said becoming president is something of a fall-back option if his intended career path of pro wrestling falls through, pointed to Abraham Lincoln and Kennedy as his favorites.
“I’ve learned more from him than I ever did in school,” said his father, Steve Mattice, 41, whose love of history began with a fifth-grade project about President Kennedy. On Monday, he and Carson’s grandfather each wore a baseball cap with the number 35, a nod to Kennedy’s role as the country’s 35th president.
But the day was about more than just the presidency.
Daisy Century, a historical reenactor from Philadelphia who portrayed Sojourner Truth, the 19th-century Black abolitionist and women’s rights activist, said an influential figure like Truth also deserved recognition on Presidents’ Day.
“If she had learned to read and write, she would have been the first woman president,” Century said. “She could hold her own against anyone.”
Truth’s legacy lives on in “any woman in politics today, president or CEO of a company, doctors, lawyers — taking on what Sojourner Truth would have ... to make a difference,” she said.
Truth’s courage is a challenge to her audience, Century said.
“What’s your excuse? Especially young people, you should be setting the world on fire,” she said.
Many visitors acknowledged that the holiday rarely inspires civic engagement.
Sherita Baker, 47, who works at the US Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay to create programs for unaccompanied service members, joked it was “go buy a new mattress and comforter day” to most people.
Ilana Bercuson, 33, who had brought her youngest children from their home in Brighton, said she remembered the holiday from growing up in central New Jersey mainly as a day off from school. But she hoped her children, even at 2 and 4, would learn lessons from the visit.
“The country is greater than whoever is head of state,” she said at the astronaut helmet and flag-making table. “I want the kids to grow up as proud Americans.”
Ngan Wedemeier, 42, who lives in Wakefield quizzed her children Madeline, 11, and Nicholas, 13, on politics and history as they ate ice cream.
“It’s important for them to know what a good president looked like,” she said. “We are living in a strange time.”
Ji Li-Nagy, 40, who lives in Weymouth, said she brought her 5-year-old daughter Lily to inspire her to become a leader. Lily’s offer to run an origami table at next year’s event could be a step to one day becoming the country’s first Asian-American president, she said.
For Carson, who lamented his elementary school classmates’ ignorance about presidential history, the day’s importance was summed up best by a quote from Kennedy himself.
He leaned one arm on the back of a chair pulled up to the Kennedy campaign hat-making table in the museum’s pavilion and didn’t miss a beat.
“We celebrate the past to awaken the future,” he said.