Visitors to this weekend's Suburban Fall Home Show at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, Pa., can expect to see rows and rows of items related to the upkeep and enhancement of their own dwellings.
What they may not expect to see are items from one of the most famous residences in the world, reflecting one of its most iconic residents: the President John F. Kennedy White House of the 1960s.
The JFK Experience comprises 350 original Camelot-era pieces that encompass Kennedy's public life, assembled over 50 years by Florida collector Nick Ciacelli.
"I was nine years old when Kennedy was assassinated," Ciacelli remembers, recalling the tragic day in November 1963. Kennedy was in Dallas and Ciacelli was in Monroe, Michigan, witnessing his fourth grade teacher and later, his parents, openly weeping at the news. "That night, I made a scrapbook of JFK to try to make my mother feel better." That act started him on a lifetime of amassing Kennedy-related paperwork, photography, speech texts, and personal items that include clothing and jewelry worn by the 35th president.
Ciacelli's most impressive memento, at least from the standpoint of both size and emotional impact, is his replica of the 1961 Lincoln convertible that transported Kennedy through the streets of Dallas. The limousine was built in 1984 using the original blueprints and is painted in the unique color Kennedy himself chose. "It is 95% accurate to the original," he says. "The paint is Kennedy Blue. The Ford Motor Company went to him and presented a number of color samples, and after looking at them all, Kennedy pointed to this one. He liked it because it was dark enough to make the limo look impressively black at night but also contained shades that made it look a friendlier blue in daylight."
Ciacelli says that the sight of the car, 21 feet in length and bedecked exactly as it was in 1963, elicits gasps from visitors. "They look at that back seat and just stare," he says.
The JFK Experience blends video remembrances of the president with items related to his family, his political career, his tragic death (not depicted in videos, by the way, out of Ciacelli's sense of propriety) and his legacy. The journey begins with a campaign pin from 1907, from Kennedy's grandfather's mayoral run in Boston. Movie footage chronicles his Senate run, augmented by speech texts and jottings of platform discussions. The 1960 Nixon/Kennedy debate is shown, with supplementary notes on display, followed by the belongings of the first family as they occupied Washington.
"Some of the things that I'm most proud to display include a sweater given to JFK by Caroline and John on what would be his last birthday the prior May," Ciacelli notes. "But my favorite item is probably the black onyx cufflinks made by Christian Dior. Press footage from that era shows him wearing them all the time; as he makes that trademark gesture with his hand in speaking, you can see those cufflinks again and again."
The displayed belongings range from the well-known (his rocking chairs, for example) to the obscure (a bottle of Vetiver, a specific cologne worn by JFK). Visitors can gaze at the ink pens used to sign the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and the bill that created the Peace Corps.
Ciacelli also wants attendees to understand that The JFK Experience is also interactive. At a recreation of the White House Press Room, the public can stand at the podium, flanked by flags and marked with the Presidential Seal, and pose for an impressive photograph. Cutouts of the past six presidents are also available, meaning that wanna-be pols can speak in front of an impressive array of past leaders of the free world.
"We have recreated the White House of the 1960s with enough detail in sight and sound," Ciacelli says, "that people have the sense that Kennedy himself is going to come from around the curtain."
The effect can be overwhelming, especially in light of the manner in which Kennedy's life ended. Particularly affecting is the displayed Christmas card that Jack and Jackie had signed, heading for the mail in the early days of that December 1963. "They never went out," sighs Ciacelli.
On the upside, though, Ciacelli sees his exhibit as a celebration of the optimism and hope that characterized that period of American history. "Kennedy was very futuristic," he says. "He never thought he would live very long, but he envisioned significant advances in ecology, education, medicine, science and the arts. He saw great things ahead."
Between the treasures at The JFK Experience and the wares on display as part of the Suburban Fall Home Show, you may need a full two days to see it all. Don't miss a thing. Grab a room, using the resources available at our website and make a full weekend out of it.