DORCHESTER, MASS. — THE promise of Camelot returned to this Boston neighborhood Friday, coming full circle as the Kennedy family welcomed President Clinton to the rededication of the revamped John F. Kennedy Library museum.
The air was crisp and skies sunny for the event. The media came in droves to record the president joining America's de facto royal family to honor its titular head and Mr. Clinton's hero.
After a program led by anchor Tom Brokaw, Clinton toured the rooms - refurbished for $6.9 million - in I.M. Pei's structure on Boston Harbor. He watched videos of President Kennedy speaking about the space program and other concerns. He studied family photos, examined objects such as Mr. Kennedy's rocking chair, and experienced a re-creation of the 1960 Democratic convention hall, among other displays.
Clinton's appearance enabled him to reflect on a man who inspired him and to push the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). ``He changed the way we think about the world,'' he said. ``Think of the appeal he made for civil rights. Just this year, we passed the Motor Voter Act. From the Peace Corps to the National Service Program ... we see a common effort.''
Clinton may have annoyed a few people - notably Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts - by saying John Kennedy would have voted for NAFTA had he been alive today. (The senator opposes NAFTA).
But, overall, speakers stressed the need for those under 40 to learn from Kennedy. ``Previous exhibits assumed prior knowledge of his life,'' said Frank Rigg, deputy curator. ``In the next 15 years, the number of people with no knowledge would be even greater. Also, we felt the original museum had an air of melancholy about it,'' he said, explaining the attempt to present more of Kennedy's life. His death is alluded to on TV screens in just one dark hallway.
Many here said Kennedy most desired to pass the torch of public service to the next generation. ``Of all that he did, my brother took the highest pride in young people,'' the senator said.
The visiting Bergthold family seems to embody the public-service theme. Gary and Linda taught in Ethiopia for the Peace Corps; she now serves on Clinton's Health Care Task Force and he is involved in international development. Their daughter did Clinton's Summer of Service program. ``Today brings an enormously powerful feeling of memories, like it's a circle coming back to me,'' Gary said. ``This week, I met an Ethiopian who said he wouldn't be working in the US without the Corps. We helped to create a generation of Ethiopians who could help themselves.''
Ultimately, it was Clinton's own ascent that was referred to over and over as an example of the Kennedy legacy. The point is driven home in the exhibit, where a now-famous video shows teenage Clinton shaking Kennedy's hand at the White House.