Camelot arises anew as JFK recaptures public spotlight.

Author:Baker, Peter
Position:News
 
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Byline: Peter Baker

WASHINGTON -- After all the ceremonies for MLK, there's now JFK.

For anyone interested in another momentous era in American history, attention is turning to John F. Kennedy's Camelot with as much intensity as the commemorations last week for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Fifty years later, the assassination of America's 35th president will once again captivate the nation and the nostalgia industrial complex -- or so hope museum curators, book publishers, filmmakers, documentary producers, magazine editors and conspiracy theorists. Not content to wait until November, the marketplace is already brimming with all things Kennedy, the start of a "deluge,'' as the producer of one coming documentary put it.

Newsstands are making space for photo-heavy commemorative issues with essays by the likes of former President Bill Clinton. Bookstores are crowded with new volumes re-examining the single-gunman theory and Kennedy's "vampire romance'' with Marilyn Monroe (complete with exceedingly graphic sex scenes). Movie theaters and television sets will recreate the glory and the tragedy with actors such as Rob Lowe playing the martyred president.

At the Newseum in Washington, more than 300,000 people have already trooped through exhibits displaying the first United Press International bulletin on the assassination, the revolver carried by one of the president's Secret Service agents and a collection of intimate photographs. After watching an original 16-minute documentary titled "A Thousand Days,'' visitors leave sticky notes with thoughts and memories.

"There's an ongoing historical resonance,'' said Shelby Coffey, the museum's vice chairman. "It's a large part of the collective memory, even for people who are much younger.''

Even amid the year's other mile markers, including the 150th anniversaries of the Battle of Gettysburg and Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, Kennedy's death occupies a distinctive place in the American story, harking back to an often romanticized era.

"It's amazing that Kennedy should have this extraordinary hold on the public's imagination 50 years after,'' said Robert Dallek, a historian, whose book "Camelot's Court: Inside the Kennedy White House'' is being released in October. "He's the one president along with Reagan who gave people hope. It's hope, it's optimism, it's the feeling that he could have made this a different world.''

It is also heartbreak...

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