The smiling guide who greets you at the museum takes a more than passing interest in her subject. For her, as for many long-time Cape Cod residents, the Kennedy clan members are more than public figures -- they're family.
Stroll around the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum and you'll soon start to feel the same way. The photographs and quotes posted on the walls provide an intimate glimpse into the life of a family that for a brief shining moment represented a golden era in America -- a time when the 35th president of the United States, his wife and children symbolized all that was best about the country.
Kennedy fans have always been drawn to Cape Cod, one of the most popular Massachusetts vacation destinations, and the museum is a big tourist highlight for the small town of Hyannis, the long-time summer retreat of the Kennedys. This year, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JKF, the crowds have never been larger.
The museum's remarkable photo exhibits and video presentations show a life lived on the shore and on the water.
Photos of sunny beaches and sail boats slicing through the waves seem to set a tone of endless summer in the lives of JFK, Jackie, Caroline and John, but Cape Cod played a pivotal role in the Kennedy presidency as well. It was in Hyannis that JFK announced his decision to run for office and there as well on Nov. 9, 1960, at the former Hyannis Armory, that he gave his victory speech.
You can see the armoury, after you blink your way out of the museum, into the Cape Cod sunshine and begin the free walking tour of the town. Simply follow the well-marked path and read the signposts along the way for a fascinating introduction to Hyannis and its most famous family.
There's yet another way in which visitors can learn about JFK and his relatives. Take a boat cruise from the Hyannis Harbour to the Hyannisport Breakwater to view the Kennedy compound -- albeit from a frustratingly respectful distance. Bring your binoculars if you'd like to get a really good look at the properties where the famous clan sunned and sailed.
While the museum, the JFK memorial just outside, and the spectacular shoreline mansions are fascinating, perhaps the most important Kennedy legacy is the Cape Cod National Seashore. A stunning 17,806 hectares of coastline from Chatham to Provincetown was set aside by the president and preserved for all time from the incursions of builders and developers. There, sparkling water, shell-dotted shorelines and sea-bird-filled sand dunes welcome all those who yearn for a bit of wilderness relaxation.
Unknown Cape Cod
Three "wicked good"things we betcha didn't know about Cape Cod (in Massachusetts-speak, wicked good is the best there is!):
1 They're rolling in dough
The best bread in the U.S. is in Hyannis. No kidding. Suppliers to top hotels and restaurants along the eastern seaboard and beyond, Pain D'Avignon (paindavignon.com) produces some of the best bread and other baked goods in the U.S. Think baguettes, sour dough, croissants and more -- you'll gain a pound with every mental image. Better yet, they operate a bistro-style restaurant that is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Don't be fooled by the factory-like exterior -- this is Cape Cod's finest.
2 Into the sunset
The sunsets are prettiest on Encounter Beach. When the sun sets over Cape Cod Bay, you want to be standing on Encounter Beach, the site where Captain Miles Standish, leader of the Plymouth Pilgrims met with local native Americans in 1620. The waters there are sheltered and therefore warmer than other beaches and the angle of the sun as it sets makes for perfect photos.
3 No car required
You don't have to drive there. Travellers can opt to take a 90-minute ferry ride from Boston to Provincetown and, in the summer, you can also hop on a train! The recently resurrected Cape Flyer is a seasonal weekend passenger service that runs from Memorial Day until Labour Day.
-- For travel information, contact the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism at massvacation.com or toll-free at 1-800-MASS.
-- The JFK Hyannis Museum is open from mid-February through November. Contact jfkhyannismuseum.org.
-- For informaton on boat tours, contact hylinecruises.com.