The Kennedy Family

© Photograph by Richard Sears · John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston
© Photograph by Richard Sears · John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

»[The Kennedys] are unique in our history, and the day they depart the public scene will be a sad one;

for [we will] have lost a family as much our own as theirs.«

Gore Vidal, 1967


The Kennedys and the Fitzgeralds were among the hundreds of thousands of Irish who made the arduous journey to the United States in the nineteenth century. They hoped to find a better life there. This aspiration led the families, who were soon to be united, to an impressive situation in a few generations. The financial ascent was above all the work of Joseph P. Kennedy, who made the family one of the richest in the United States. The social recognition of Catholic achievers in Protestant America had long been resisted. By 1960 at the latest, however, with the election of John F. Kennedy as the thirty-fifth President of the United States, the Kennedys had become the »First Family« of the nation.


Jackie Kennedy later mythologized the Thousand Days John F. Kennedy spent in the White House as »Camelot,« borrowing from the legendary court of King Arthur. The »Democratic Prince« in the White House was probably the first pop star of politics, and he also fascinated artists and intellectuals. His violent death in November 1963 saddened people around the world, as if a close personal friend had died. With the murder of Robert F. Kennedy five years later, another standard bearer of hope for a better world was gone.


The rise of the Kennedy family and its international effect can barely be understood apart from its special relationship to the media. From early on, the family recognized the effect of photos and then also, later, of television images. Many of the famous photos displayed here have become part of international remembrance. Together with many other objects from the private and public lives of the members of »America’s royal family,« they show the Kennedys’ triumphs and tragedies, their social commitment, and their liberal politics.


Few places hold such a special meaning for the Kennedy family as does Berlin. »We’ll never have another day like this one as long as we live,« was how John F. Kennedy described the enthusiastic reception that hundreds of thousands of people gave him on June 26, 1963 in West Berlin. Only a few steps away from this museum, on the other side of the Brandenburg Gate, the American President saw for the first time the Wall that had been built two years before, dividing the city into two halves, East and West. Filled with emotion, Kennedy rapidly revised his long-prepared speech, to be delivered an hour later at the Schöneberg city hall. And he spoke those words, that for his wife Jackie, too, became his most famous: »Ich bin ein Berliner.«