At Kennedy birthplace, ceremony honors him 50 years after his death

BROOKLINE — At the home where John F. Kennedy was born, dozens gathered today to recall his life and commemorate his death 50 years ago.

“For Brookline, he was a native son, a former neighbor, a classmate and a shining star of progress and hope,” said Nancy Daly, a member of the town’s board of selectmen.

On a bitterly cold and windy afternoon, the National Park Service held a short memorial service and wreath-laying at the John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site on Beals Street, in front of the gray Colonial Revival-style house where Kennedy was born on May 29, 1917.

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The program, which lasted about 20 minutes, included prayers from a priest and a rabbi, historical remarks from park rangers, a reading from Lyndon Johnson’s 1963 proclamation for a national day of mourning for Kennedy and another from a letter from US Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, who wrote about his great-uncle’s vision for the country.

“He challenged all of us to achieve a better and bigger future for our country,” said a park ranger reading from the Congressman’s letter. “Where man would walk on the moon; where individuals with disabilities could enjoy opportunity, not indifference; where skin color would not disqualify you from democracy or basic human decency; and where hundreds of citizen ambassadors across the globe could sow the seeds of peace.”

As the late-autumn sun shone through leafless trees and cast long shadows, Lena Schorge, a sixth-grader at Brookline’s Edward Devotion School, which President Kennedy attended, sang a rendition of “America the Beautiful.”

Daly recalled Brookline’s reaction to the news of Kennedy’s assassination a half-century ago — hundreds of people streaming to his former house on Beals Street.

Rabbi William Hamilton of Congregation Kehillath Israel offered the service’s benediction.

“Merciful God,” Hamilton prayed, “grant perfect peace, your sheltering presence upon the holy and the pure, the soul of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who has gone to his eternal place of rest.”

As the service concluded, some people made their way into the house, where they could see the master bedroom where Kennedy was born at about 3 in the afternoon more than 96 years ago. Others warmed up with hot cider and cookies in a tent behind the home.

Today’s crowd included tourists like George Brauchler, a Colorado district attorney who flew in to Massachusetts for the evening Patriots game against the Denver Broncos and decided to make a stop at the site.

Some people who lived nearby also attended the program, like Brookline residents Larry and Barbara Koff.

It’s “great to be able to come back and recall his memory,” said Larry, 71, who described the ceremony as “touching.” Kennedy had been an inspiration for him, he said, and he had served in the Peace Corps.

Barbara, 70, recalled being in Brookline 50 years ago and going to a nearby synagogue after learning of the president’s assassination.

Tom Ferris, a 75-year-old lifelong Brookline resident, stood in the crowd, attentively listening to the service and saying amens after the invocation by the Rev. Brian Clary and the rabbi’s closing prayer.

Ferris said he used to attend the church, St. Aidan’s, where President Kennedy was baptized and lives right around the corner from the Beals Street house, where Kennedy spent his first three and half years.

“It was very moving, very moving,” Ferris said after the ceremony. “It almost brings you to tears.”

And then Ferris, who had never taken a tour of the 1909-built house, mounted the steps and walked inside for the first time.