Rare Kennedy photos go inside America’s most famous family

Rare Kennedy photos go inside America’s most famous family from their vacations to home life as vast collection opens a window into Camelot

  • The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum completed an 18-month project to catalog and digitize more than 1,700 photographs 
  • The digitization effort was launched last year to coincide with celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of JFK’s birth
  • The extensive photo album, which can be viewed online, shows the family throughout different decades
  • Vintage family snapshots show the Kennedy family on vacation and at home 

The photographs are black and white, and at times are out-of-focus or spotted, but one thing is crystal clear: the glamour of the Kennedy family. 

More than 1,700 vintage snapshots of the Kennedy family at home and on vacation are now available for viewing online.

Here’s a young, shirtless JFK, baring six-pack abs and smirking poolside while striking an un-presidential pose. There’s Rose Fitzgerald not-yet-Kennedy in her Sunday best, long before she’d become the family matriarch and trade girlhood grins for imperious stares. Here’s Kathleen Kennedy, awkwardly twisting upside down in a skirt to kiss Ireland’s Blarney Stone. There’s little Teddy Kennedy on the playground, sporting skinned knees.

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum completed an 18-month project to catalog and digitize the photographs that’s sure to feed the nation’s continuing obsession with Camelot.

In this circa 1948 photo provided by the Kennedy Family Collection, courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, members of the Kennedy family pose for a photo in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. They are from left, John F. Kennedy, Jean Kennedy, Rose Kennedy, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., Patricia Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Eunice Kennedy, and in foreground, Edward M. Kennedy. The Boston-based museum completed an 18-month project in 2018 to catalog and digitize more than 1,700 black-and-white Kennedy family snapshots that are viewable online, giving a nation still obsessed with ‘Camelot’ a candid new glimpse into their everyday lives. (Kennedy Family Collection/John F. Kennedy Library Foundation via AP)

In this October 1934 photo provided by the Kennedy Family Collection, courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, Robert F. Kennedy, top front, Edward M. Kennedy, left rear, and Jean Kennedy, right rear, play on a swing set in Bronxville, New York (Kennedy Family Collection/John F. Kennedy Library Foundation via AP)

“It’s just fun to see where the camera took them,” said Nicola Mantzaris, a digital archivist who helped compile and catalog the fragile negatives, all carefully stored in subfreezing temperatures to slow their chemical decomposition.

“If you think about your own family photos and in what disarray they are in and just the volume – there’s definitely a universal aspect to this,” she said.

Many of the photos are ordinary snaps of typical American family life in the first half of the 20th century: vacations, holidays, kids mugging for the camera, meals captured ever so slightly out of focus.

But the candid images throw open a new window into a world that few have been able to peer into without physically visiting the presidential library in Boston, and even then by appointment with an archivist.

The collection is the culmination of what presidential historians dubbed the “Nitrate Negative Project,” a nostalgic look back at the Kennedys through the lenses of the affordable cameras and black-and-white film that ushered in the era of amateur photography and family albums. The new technology also laid the foundation for today’s social sharing platforms such as Instagram, complete with a few amusing instances of Kennedys appearing to photobomb one another.

In this October 1936 photo provided by the Kennedy Family Collection, courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, John F. Kennedy, right, Robert F. Kennedy, second from right, and Patricia Kennedy, front left, pose with friends in Palm Beach, Florida (Kennedy Family Collection/John F. Kennedy Library Foundation via AP

In this 1908 photo provided by the Kennedy Family Collection, courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, Rose Fitzgerald poses at Windsor Castle in Windsor, Berkshire, England (Kennedy Family Collection/John F. Kennedy Library Foundation via AP)

The digitization effort was launched last year to coincide with celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of JFK’s birth.

“They’re the closest counterpart to a royal family that Americans have,” said Patrick Maney, a Boston College professor who specializes in presidential history.

“There’s a perception that it was a golden age in America, and in some ways it was,” he said.

These photographs fascinate all the more because they were taken before most of their youthful subjects went on to greatness. 

John F. Kennedy (far right) and his sister, Kathleen Kennedy (center) are with friends in Charleston, South Carolina in 1942. Also pictured is Charles ‘Chuck’ Spalding (far left), John ‘Zeke’ Coleman, Jr., and George Houk Mead, Jr., who is wearing his United States Marines officer’s uniform

JFK’s sister, Kathleen Kennedy, (left) plays cards with friends George Houk Mead, Jr. (center), and Elizabeth Wayne Coxe (left)  in Charleston, South Carolina

John F. Kennedy (center) with family friends Elizabeth Wayne Coxe (at edge of frame, left), John ‘Zeke’ Coleman, Jr. (left of Kennedy) and George Houk Mead, Jr. (seated in car)

John F. Kennedy (center) has fun with friends Charles ‘Chuck’ Spalding (left) and John ‘Zeke’ Coleman, Jr. (right), as they pose beside a car in Charleston, South Carolina

John F. Kennedy (center) joined the US Naval Reserve in late 1941. He is with friends John ‘Zeke’ Coleman, Jr. (left), and Charles ‘Chuck’ Spalding, in Charleston, South Carolina in 1942

John F. Kennedy was commissioned as an ensign with the US Naval Reserve in 1941, and would raise through the ranks to command his own boat – a motor torpedo boat called a PT-109 – in the South Pacific. He is shaking hands with his friend, John ‘Zeke’ Coleman, Jr. while Charles ‘Chuck’ Spalding salutes at right

JFK, captured toothy and goofy in the collection, became the nation’s 35th president, and his assassination in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, still guts older generations of Americans.

Before running for office and after graduating from Harvard, Kennedy joined the US Naval Reserve in late 1941 and was commissioned as an ensign. He would raise through the ranks to command his own boat – a motor torpedo boat called a PT-109 – in the South Pacific, conducting nightly raids on Japanese barge traffic, according to a National Park Service article.


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He received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal and the Purple Heart for his military service, according to the article.  

No less evocative: How one can see in their young faces their adult selves – hints of the impactful public servants and household names they would become.

The flapper fashion of the era, too, captures the imagination: bobbed hair, cloche hats and cigarettes.

JFK, especially, “is still alive in a way,” said Maney, the Boston College expert, who was in high school when Kennedy was gunned down. Although some have suggested JFK’s star power may be dimming just a bit, Maney doesn’t buy it.

“He’s frozen in time,” he said.

The vast collection of photos shows the Kennedy at their homes and on vacations. Here, John F. Kennedy sits outside the Kennedy family home in Palm Beach, Florida in 1945. Next to him is Paul ‘Red’ Fay 

By the family pool at the Kennedy’s home in Palm Beach, Florida in 1945. JFK (left) is in overalls with his friend, Paul ‘Red’ Fay (right)

John F. Kennedy (second from left) is wearing his US Navy officer’s uniform. He would receive the Navy and Marine Corps Medal and the Purple Heart for his military service during World War II. He stands next to his father, Joseph P. Kennedy (left) and his friends, Paul ‘Red’ Fay (far left) and Ben Smith (far right)

John F. Kennedy (left) with his father, Joseph P. Kennedy (right) at the family’s home in Palm Beach, Florida

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