It is a picture-perfect spring afternoon at the original Kennedy family summer home in Hyannis Port, and Suffolk University student Darion Ferdinand is experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime moment.
He is sitting on a leather-padded wooden rocking chair in the sunroom of the historic Kennedy home -- a replica of the chair that President John F. Kennedy rocked in for many years, usually while conversing with family and friends.
“It felt special, like I was king of the hill,” said Ferdinand, a senior studying European History and a former U.S. Army sergeant.
Through a special arrangement with instructor Nancy Holcomb, students in her Boston’s Historic Homes course were given a guided tour of the private Kennedy home, which eventually will be turned into a public museum under the auspices of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, a nonprofit educational institution.
The tour of the Kennedy home, purchased by Joseph P. Kennedy in 1928, began with the request that the visitors take off their shoes.
“I felt like I had been welcomed as one of the Kennedy children visiting Grandma,” said junior Gabrielle “Gabby” Womack with a smile.
The Kennedy Compound, also known as the Hyannis Port Historic District, covers six acres of waterfront property along Nantucket Sound. The students visited only the oldest of the houses, which is surrounded by well-tended lawns and spectacular views of the ocean from its long porches. The other homes are all private residences, and the house they visited is not open to the public at this time.
The first floor includes the bedroom that President John F. Kennedy used before purchasing his own home in the compound, and the basement holds a movie theater and a room with about 180 dolls representing 75 different countries.
“Out of all the places I visited during our course this semester, this was my favorite,” said Francesca Famosi, a senior and American History major. “Seeing all the photographs in the house taken throughout the years gave you a true sense of what the Kennedy family was all about. I didn’t grow up with the Kennedys, so this was a real learning experience.”
Stories bring history to life
Said senior Kirstin Mulvaney: “Being able to see the house was great, but hearing all the stories about the Kennedys brought the family to life. My mom loved the Kennedys, so she was kind of jealous that I was coming here. She asked me to e-mail her all the photos and tell her all about it.”
The students will share their ideas and impressions about the transformation of the Kennedy private home into a public museum with James M. Shea, director/curator of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate.
A new generation of museum-goers
“In addition to educating and inspiring our students, we want to listen to what they have to say,” said Shea. “We want to learn from them as much as they want to learn from us.”
Added Holcomb: “The students’ input is important, because they are the new generation of museum-goers.”
History Department Chair Robert Allison, who joined the students for their experiential learning opportunity, said: “The purpose of today is for the students to see a private home in transition and what needs to be done to turn it into a public museum. They get to learn firsthand about the important people and events of the past and what needs to be done to keep that history alive.”