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Children have ears of ‘presidents’ at JFK Library

Fritz Klein, who portrays Abraham Lincoln, listened Monday to Noah Samuel, 5, during the annual Presidents’ Day family festival at the JFK Library.
Fritz Klein, who portrays Abraham Lincoln, listened Monday to Noah Samuel, 5, during the annual Presidents’ Day family festival at the JFK Library.Keith Bedford/Globe Staff

With the sun shining overhead, families streamed into the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum Monday for its seventh annual Presidents’ Day family festival.

Roaming through Kennedy artifacts, papers, and bronze busts, throngs of children found themselves immersed in a living history lesson, with actors in the role of former presidents — from John Adams and Thomas Jefferson to Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant — on hand to answer questions.

“As a presidential library we feel an onus to engage the public in understanding the highest office of our land and, most importantly, feeling empowered to be a part of those conversations,” said JFK Library Foundation outreach and programs coordinator Maria D. Quintero, who added that the library focuses not just on Kennedy, but on the people and movements around him.


The library’s collection features letters children wrote to Kennedy while he was in office, and on Monday children again were given the chance to write to the president.

“We like to let people know that it’s one of the most powerful ways to put their voice on record,” she said.

In her ninth year as a volunteer for the library, Carla Scuzzarella, of Saugus, said Presidents’ Day is one of the best days to work “because people have taken the time to come in, they purposely want to spend Presidents’ Day at a presidential library, they’re excited to learn.”

“There’s a lot of young ones here,” said Scuzzarella, a school principal and former history teacher. “The connection with presidents and government is important . . . probably a lot of them are too young to understand what goes on right now, but at least this helps them have a positive outlook.”

Around lunchtime, Scarlett Rajbanshi, of Melrose, sat with her 6-year-old daughter, Zoe, in the library pavilion, polishing off their ice cream sundaes. It was Zoe’s first visit to the library, but Rajbanshi had been here nearly 14 years ago, when her Nepal-born husband became an American citizen.


Rajbanshi and her daughter had seen a John Adams performance, and Rajbanshi said the festival was a great way to spend the holiday, especially since she and her husband have “been mindful, given the current political climate, of her knowing the history of our founding fathers and those who set up the ideals of this country.”

Fritz Klein, an actor from Springfield, Ill., who has been playing Lincoln since 1980, said the current president always has an influence over his performance. “There’s a lot of divisiveness in our country right now, and we don’t seem to know how to deal with it well,” he said.

“Lincoln could relate to that,” Klein said. “So I can address issues of divisiveness and what are the things that make for unity.”

Andrea Tracey, of Melrose, and her friend Laura Stout, of Medford, brought their kids to the festival for what’s turned into a bit of a tradition for the February holiday.

“It’s really fun here,” said Tracey’s daughter, 11-year-old Anna. “They have all the activities and you can always see the presidents.”

“It’s really inspiring to other kids,” said Katie Mae Stout, also 11. “It’s really inviting and people get to learn about the presidents and how things went back in the day.”

Aimee Ortiz can be reached at aimee.ortiz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @aimee_ortiz.