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Wednesday, May 29, 2013 : From Boston to Bangor

 

It is our last day in Boston. Tonight, we will be in Maine. However, we have a few remaining visits before we hit the road again.

 

As we feared last night, weather has turned ugly and it is raining.

 

JFK-library-540

John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library and Museum

 

Our first stop is at the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library and Museum, dedicated to the 35th President. It is not far from our hotel, just on the bank of Boston Harbor, a very appropriate place for a sailing enthusiast as JFK was.

 

For once, there is a brochure in French. The film about JFK's life that begins the visit is also sub-titled in French. Marie appreciates the attention.

 

After the film, the visit goes thru a series of themed rooms.

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1960 black and white TV set

1960 black and white TV set

 

The first theme is the 1960 Presidential campaign, the one that sent JFK to the White House. Windows showcase America in the 60s, including this black-and-white TV, which we had almost forgotten had ever existed.

 

Another room showcases one of the four TV debates between Nixon and Kennedy, the first ones at the scale of a whole country. There is also a representation of the Kennedy campaign headquarters and its less-than-professionnal resources, compared to nowadays of course.

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Partial results of the 1960 United States Presidential election

Partial results of the 1960 Presidential election

 

The next room shows the election itself. We remember the result was extremely tight in popular votes, slightly more comfortable in electoral votes, a specificity of the American election system.

 

The picture above shows the states carried by Nixon in red, the states carried by Kennedy in blue, and the too close to call states in grey. Yes, it's tight !

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Official seal of the President of the United States

Official seal of the President of the United States

 

JFK wins the election. He can now enjoy the Presidential privileges, including this official seal. At 43, he is the youngest President-elect.

 

His Republican opponent, Richard Nixon, will have to wait 8 more years before enjoying the same result.

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Reconstitution of the White House Executive corridor

Reconstitution of the White House Executive corridor

 

The next few rooms open on a well-known corridor, a reconstitution of the one in  the White House. There are precious historical representations of the 1960s, fertile in striking events. It is the the height of the Cold War, and détente is not yet on the horizon.

 

The Space Race runs at full throttle. The Soviets win the first few rounds with Sputnik and Gagarin, the Americans win the game with Apollo in 1969. JFK had promised a man on the Moon before the end of the decade, it was high time !

 

Other rooms are dedicated to the Peace Corps, to visits by foreign heads of State, and to RFK. Bob, the President's younger brother, was Attorney General. In 1962, Ted, the youngest of the family, was elected Senator of Massachusetts.

 

The Cuban missile crisis, in October 1962, is the subject of a specific exhibition at the time of our visit. Many displays and documents describe the handling of the crisis, which lasted two weeks and brought the world on the brink of WWIII. Most likely, the ultimate confrontation was very narrowly averted. The exhibition perfectly showcases the escalation of tension, almost to the breaking point.

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JFK's desk

JFK's desk

 

Later, we can see the reconstitution of the Oval Office, with the famous wooden Resolute desk. The current President uses the original desk. The one shown on the picture can then only be a copy.

 

The next rooms are dedicated to the First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, the Kennedy family and the support of the mentally disabled, a theme dear to the Presidential couple's hearts.

 

The next gallery describes in detail JFK's assassination in Dallas, on November 22nd, 1963. We can see Walter Cronkite, visibly shaken, announce that the President is dead.

 

The two remaining rooms are dedicated to JFK's heritage and Berlin. We can see a piece of the famous Wall, covered with graffiti. It is kind of premature : at the time of JFK, the Wall had virtually no graffiti.

 

It is pointless to expect controversies in a museum dedicated to JFK's work, not to his shortcomings, extensively documented elsewhere. The Vietnam War is also not really described. It became a real concern only later, during the Johnson Administration.

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The Victura, JFK's sailboat

The Victura, JFK's sailboat

 

Just outside the building is the Victura, JFK's personal sailboat. I knew the President had been a saling enthusiast, however I did not know his boat was so small.

 

The whole visit lasts about three hours, and we do not see time going by. We crossed many groups of highschool kids taking notes. JFK still powerfully draws people's attention.

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JFK Library and Museum entrance

JFK Library and Museum entrance

 

We take one last picture of the building designed by I. M. Pei, then we stroll in the parking lot, looking for license plates. Under a pouring rain, we take the highway to our next stop, on the North side of Boston, which we quickly cross with the Interstate 93 tunnel.

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On board the USS Constitution

On board the USS Constitution

 

For the second time, we stop at the former Boston Naval Shipyard. This time, we visit the USS Constitution frigate, guided by a very friendly female sailor with a slightly off-beat sense of humor. Born and raised in Rhode Island, she enlisted in the US Navy to travel around the world, and found herself assigned to Boston, a little less than two hours away from home !

 

She tells us the story of the frigate with a great deal of details. She was an escort ship for the merchant navy, then a tool for promoting American interests around the world, and now a museum. Many times, she was bound for destruction, and many times she was rescued. She is now docked in Charlestown. She is the world's oldest actively commissionned military ship still afloat.

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USS Constitution gun battery

USS Constitution gun battery

 

The frigate has 44 guns, on a single deck. Headroom is already short. At the deck below, we will need to bend our heads.

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USS Constitution, sailors' sleeping quarters

USS Constitution, sailors' sleeping quarters

 

The lower deck is the crew's sleeping quarters. As you can see, there are neither beds nor bunks. The men sleep on hammocks, that they extend when it is their turn to have a rest. Privacy is unheard of, as is hygiene.

 

Life on board must have been really tough.

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USS Constitution, officers' work room

USS Constitution, officers' work room

 

Toward the end of this deck are the officers' quarters, slightly larger and a little more comfortable. In the middle, we can see the tables where they worked and the chairs on which they sat. They slept in the cabins on the side, closed by sliding doors.

 

At the end of the deck is the captain's suite, larger and better decorated.

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Salem graveyard

Salem graveyard

 

We now leave Boston for Salem, about 20 miles away. We cross dull industrial suburbs and finally reach the city of the famous witches, sacrificial victims in a collective mass hysteria gone absolutely wrong.

 

Instead of witches, we mostly see shops, all thriving on the business opportunity. We are disappointed, we expected a little less business and more history. Although the trials themselves were more than questionable, they have now become part of history, and this heritage represents the excesses of their times.

 

Apart of the cemetery, where some of the so-called witches are buried, there are very few significant historical landmarks. But during Halloween, Salem must be a particularly lively place !

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Beautiful ship in Salem

Beautiful ship in Salem

 

This beaufitul replica of an 18th century cargo ship is anchored at the Salem Maritime National Historical Site. It is in perfect condition.

 

Just across the street is the beautifully maintained Custom House, the last one remaining in Salem. It was used to collect taxes on imported goods.

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Salem, the House of the Seven Gables

Salem, the House of the Seven Gables

 

A little further is the House of the Seven Gables, made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne's eponymous book. In the middle of the 19th century, he set his novel here, mixing in a complex plot supernatural elements, shady characters, guilt and retribution. The writer was a cousin of the owner of the house, and a descendant of people having played a part in the sinister 1692 trials.

 

Finally, the most interesting in Salem is not the history of the famous witches, almost absent, but the indirect heritage of a quite rocky period of history.

 

We leave Salem and take Interstate 95 again. After Massachusetts, we briefly cross New Hampshire, long enough to refill and see a 1977 Corvette in pristine condition.

 

Then it's Maine and Bangor, end of this day. When we make it at our hotel, night has fallen. We have dinner at Five Guys, a nearby burger joint run by, as its name shows, five guys. Burgers are cooked right under our eyes, they are juicy, delicious, with a wide choice of ingredients, way better than at other fast-food chains. We enjoy the food for a ridiculous price.

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