A look into JFK’s Childhood

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Just outside of Coolidge Corner is a blue house located at 83 Beals Street that President John F. Kennedy called home for the first three years of his life. Kennedy spent 10 years in Brookline: three living on Beals Street and seven on Abbotsford Road a few blocks away before moving to New York. The house on Beals Street offers a glimpse into Kennedy’s youth, both while he lived in the house and after.

Childhood House

Due to Rose Kennedy’s vital role in the establishment of the Beals Street house as a historic site, she narrates the audio tour of the home. PHOTO FROM THE PUBLIC DOMAIN

History of the house

According to Public Affairs Lead for the John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site Mark Swartz, the house shows that a “normal” middle-class family can rise and become hugely influential.

“It’s a surprisingly modest-looking house on a small piece of land when one thinks about the later history of the Kennedy family,” Swartz said.

After Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, Kennedy’s mother Rose F. Kennedy bought their old home on Beals Street back. The house became a historic site that opened in 1969. She was able to display about 19 percent of the original items, and the rest were reproduced and made to look like the originals.

According to Supervisory Park Ranger James Roberts, Rose F. Kennedy’s love of history and desire to contribute to the historic legacy of the country pushed her to create a National Historic Site.

“She took it on willingly because she loved taking her children to historical sites,” Roberts said. “She took every opportunity to teach her children about history and she probably relished the opportunity to create a historic site.”

Visitation

Rose F. Kennedy used the house to represent the entirety of John F. Kennedy’s youth; there is a photo downstairs that was actually taken in the Kennedy’s second house on Abbotsford Road. PHOTO FROM THE PUBLIC DOMAIN

According to Jason Atsales, the Lead Park Ranger at the John F. Kennedy National Historic Site, visitation was high the first few years the site opened, dropped for a number of years and has been increasing for the past seven years. About 20 to 30 percent of the visitors are international.

“JFK is very much an international figure,” Atsales explained. “We have a lot of Japanese visitors. We found out that our site is actually mentioned in one of their chapel books. And then we have a lot of German visitors, given Kennedy’s speech in 1963 regarding the Berlin Wall.”

Swartz said that Kennedy’s story resonates with each generation.

“For people of the baby boom and earlier generations, many can take away a reconnection with the period when JFK was president and when the Kennedys dominated public life in this country,” Swartz said. “For people who are later baby boomers, Gen-X, millennial and beyond, they can get insights into the formative years of a future president and insights into the legacy of this particular president.”

Health and Illnesses

Childhood illness and injury

John F. Kennedy was not a healthy child. Kennedy’s mother collected health records for her children, which she added to after every doctor’s visit. These records show that Kennedy once had whooping cough, measles, scarlet fever and chickenpox as a child. According to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Kennedy’s family used to joke that if a mosquito bit him, it would die from the toxicity of his blood.

Kennedy was always prone to injury. During the hot New England summers, the Kennedys would vacation at their house in Hyannis Port on Cape Cod, according to the JFK Library. One summer, Kennedy and Joe Kennedy, his older brother by two years, collided on their bikes. Joe Kennedy walked away without a scratch, while the future president had to get 28 stitches.

Other Injuries and Diseases

In 1936, while playing football at Harvard, Kennedy ruptured a disk in his spine. His back never stopped bothering him, even while he was in office. According to The New York Times, physician Jeffrey A. Kelman explained that Kennedy needed ‘’seven to eight injections of procaine in his back in the same sitting.”

For these reasons, many believed that Kennedy had Addison’s disease, despite never being tested for it. Addison’s disease occurs when the adrenal glands do not produce enough cortisol. He was officially diagnosed with tuberculosis, which is linked to the development of Addison’s disease.

The New York Times reported that historian Robert Dallek and Dr. Jeffrey Kelman believed that Kennedy developed colitis and osteoporosis at a young age.

According to The New York Times, Kennedy denied his numerous medical issues. When asked directly about whether he had Addison’s disease by historian and aide Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Kennedy replied, “No one who has the real Addison’s disease should run for the presidency, but I do not have it.’’

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