Kennedy Legacy Changed but Enduring After 30 Years
HYANNISPORT, Mass. (AP) _ Ed Cliggott has stood guard - literally and figuratively - over the Kennedy legacy.
As a policeman, he manned the entrance to the Kennedy compound. Then he became a teacher, answering President John F. Kennedy’s call to public service.
But that was long ago. These days, Cliggott has trouble conveying JFK’s impact to his young students.
″I’ve found it impossible to relate to my kids the feeling of those three years,″ said Cliggot. ″The kids know the celebrity aspect of it. I don’t think they understand the idealism.″
Even in this community so long associated with John F. Kennedy, his image has begun to blur three decades after his presidency ended with an assassination that shocked and riveted the world.
″I’ve heard JFK was such a great president, but we weren’t there,″ said Megan Ough, 16, a student in Cliggott’s honors class in U.S. history. ″To us, the way he died is the only thing that makes him different.″
″When a president gets assassinated, you only hear about the good things,″ she said. ″Then there are all the movies and the books and everything. It’s kind of confusing.″
Indeed, considerably more has been alleged about Kennedy in the last 30 years than was widely known during his lifetime, when by contemporary accounts he was perceived as far above the baser vices.
The re-examination more or less began with Chappaquiddick, which raised questions about the judgment of U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and whispers about the libido of his brothers.
Then there were accounts of affairs with Marilyn Monroe and Judith Exner, said to have been the mistress of mobster Sam Giancana as well. And tell-alls about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, once the sainted queen of Camelot.
Others asked: Did someone ghost-write Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book ″Profiles in Courage″? Did the Kennedy administration disguise a lackluster performance behind brilliant public relations?
A rape charge against Kennedy’s nephew, William Kennedy Smith, further strained the family’s esteem though he was acquitted.
Time, too, has dimmed the glow of Camelot.
Larry Newman, a friend and neighbor of the Kennedys, said the buses that still clog the narrow streets of picturesque Hyannisport bear older people or foreign tourists - not young Americans - who hope to glimpse the famous compound. They get only a view of the fence that surrounds the three main houses and the rolling lawn that fronts the harbor.
″Most of the young people today really have no idea who he was or what he was about, because it’s a long time ago,″ said Newman. ″They don’t know what happened the day before yesterday, never mind 30 years ago.″
″Between his assassination and Bobby’s assassination and the war in Vietnam, America has changed completely,″ Newman said. ″We’re a great deal more cynical.″
Perhaps the greatest evidence of the alarm about preserving Kennedy’s memory is in Boston’s JFK museum, which has been revamped to make its subject relevant to people who do not remember Kennedy. Among the changes: the addition of interactive computers, 25 new videos and a replica of ″Main Street, 1960,″ along which JFK might have campaigned.
Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline, noted when the new museum was opened last month that most of its visitors were not yet born when he was president.
But those who are old enough - and especially, those who knew him - have no need for such a reminder.
″My recollection of him is of a charming, intelligent and extremely effective man, who had one qualification: He was always interesting,″ said John Kenneth Galbraith, an economist and JFK adviser. ″You never came away from Kennedy without some fresh insight. Kennedy had a wonderful capacity to say what most people merely think.″
As for the dark histories of the Kennedy years: ″I take it for granted that if somebody is writing another book about Kennedy, they have to say or invent something different,″ said Galbraith.
Others, less noted, feel the same way.
″I like to believe the good in people and I try to forget the bad,″ said 63-year-old Pauline Johnson, a retiree, who visited a dry and otherwise deserted JFK memorial fountain near Hyannisport this month.
″I get a little upset when I start to see these books,″ said Nalbert Teron, a retired firefighter browsing through a Kennedy exhibit that was opened last year in Hyannis by the Chamber of Commerce.
″Why now? Why 30 years later do they have to come out with this stuff? If you take all the things he was accused of doing, the man would have had to be 150 years old,″ he said, standing amidst the JFK coffee mugs, tote bags and refrigerator magnets in the Hyannis exhibition’s gift shop.
″The point is,″ he said, ″that people don’t forget him.″