For every person who adores the Kennedys, it seems there is another who doesn’t. The new movie “Chappaquiddick,” about the night in 1969 when a car driven by Senator Ted Kennedy plunged off a bridge, resulting in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, is stirring old memories — and antipathy — about the Kennedy clan.
But Rick Kaplan, a 67-year-old chiropractor from Overland Park, Kan., remains an ardent fan of the dynastic family. Indeed, Kaplan claims to have the world’s largest collection of John F. Kennedy memorabilia, the bulk of which is focused on the Brookline native’s years campaigning for, and then serving as, president.
Kaplan’s collection totals between 1,700 and 1,800 items, which he has arrayed in the 800-square-foot basement of his home. He says he was drawn to JFK when he was 10, after his parents took him to an exhibit in St. Louis, and the young president’s good looks, full head of hair, and affinity for football reminded him of his father’s. He says what started as a hobby — collecting JFK-related items — turned into a full-fledged “obsession” as the number of items grew, and Kaplan became an active Democrat in the red state of Kansas.
“The Kennedy name has just stayed out there for such a long time,” he said. “I’d probably say they were America’s first royalty . . . like America’s first royal family.”
Kaplan has spent years seeking out specific items related to JFK’s presidency. While he doesn’t own personal items, like Kennedy’s diaries, he does possess paraphernalia from events throughout JFK’s presidency, like a ticket to the breakfast event the president and wife Jackie attended the morning of the assassination, Nov. 22, 1963.
Among Kaplan’s favorite items are a poster advertising JFK’s televised debates with then-vice president Richard Nixon in 1960, and several items related to the president’s 1963 visit to Ireland, which was significant because JFK was the first Irish Catholic president.
But Kaplan has one problem.
“I’ve run out of room,” he says.
He frequently buys items on eBay, but without sufficient space to display everything, Kaplan said he’s thinking of selling (or donating) his stuff to an individual, school, or museum that would want it. Although much attention is paid to JFK’s assassination — did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone? — Kaplan’s collection is focused on his life. “I just kind of wanted to make it more of a tribute to his life as people would have known him,” he said.