FRANKLIN CENTER, Pa. -- Alongside the dolls, model cars, commemorative ingots and other collectible bijoux, such as "Faberge eggs," that are its stock-in-trade, the Franklin Mint Museum will offer visitors a look at some actual historical objects over the next six weeks -- memorabilia from the lives of President John F. Kennedy and his family.
"Remembering Camelot," opening Wednesday, is an exhibit drawn from the private collection of Robert L. White of Catonsville, who has spent most of the last 30 years amassing more than 100,000 JFK-related items, including photographs, documents and personal belongings.
White's is the largest collection of Kennedy memorabilia in private hands, and this exhibit will be the largest number of items he has ever put on view.
White says it took more than two months to sift through his hoard to choose the more than 400 pieces for "Remembering Camelot," which continues on display through July 27. "I tried to do it with some semblance of a system," said White, "I didn't want to reach in and grab things haphazardly. I could have done that in two weeks."
The result, which White calls "a walk through Jack Kennedy's life," occupies the equivalent of three gallery rooms at the 24-year-old museum.
"I'm showcasing this as I would if it were my own museum," White said. "This is a benchmark display of JFK, and I want it to be impressive to people from 8 to 80. Many will come who were not alive at the time, and I have to show the positive side of his presidency.
"I chose pretty objects, historical objects that show what John Kennedy and the Kennedy family was about," White said. "I looked at everything with the idea of people coming through and seeing these things and a side of Kennedy that few people have seen before."
One such moment is in a photograph White calls "The Meeting," showing Caroline Kennedy, as a child, talking to her father across his big desk in the Oval Office.
Among larger items on display are one of JFK's famous rocking chairs, complete with well-worn cushions; the work table that stood beside his Oval Office desk, and the hand-embroidered silk flags -- presidential and American -- that streamed from the fenders of his Lincoln Continental convertible limousine when he was assassinated in Dallas Nov. 22, 1963.
Other pieces recall the 35th president's political career, including campaign posters calling for "Leadership in the 60s" and "A Time For Greatness"; the roll call ballot from the 1960 Democratic National Convention that nominated JFK; and one of the Kennedy-Johnson banners that hung in the arena.
Then there are personal objects, including JFK's gold christening ring, wallets, watches and glasses; Caroline Kennedy's scribblings on White House stationery; toy horses and airplanes kept in the Oval Office for visits by Caroline and her brother, John Jr.; Jackie Kennedy's gloves, coin purse, wallet and the Persian lamb pillbox hat she wore for her son's baptism.
White has also included photos and some personal items from JFK's parents, Joseph and Rose Kennedy, and from his assassinated brother, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
To ensure authenticity, White has combed archives in Washington and at the Kennedy Library for photos of JFK and his family actually using the items in his collection.
Most of White's items are one-of-a-kind, but he has also displayed common objects: Kennedy campaign buttons and such souvenirs as ashtrays, playing cards and salt-and-pepper shakers, which many people might still have.
"Those are their personal treasures, and I wanted people to see them here, too," White said.
"I'm really excited about this show," says Mint museum curator Judi Ashworth. "It crosses generations. Bob is preserving history."
The Franklin invitation came last October, when White and museum officials were both at a huge antiques show in Atlantic City. White had a few pieces on display, while Franklin was showing the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' three-strand faux pearl necklace. It paid $211,500 for it at auction and now sells copies of it.
Hundreds queued up for the two displays, and a Franklin Mint executive, seeing the great interest, invited White to stage an exhibition at the museum.
The Franklin Mint sells a number of Kennedy items besides the pearls, including a series of plates with pictures of JFK and a "Jackie" doll of Mrs. Kennedy in her wedding dress. It has just announced another doll of the former first lady in her white state-visit gown, wearing a miniature copy of the pearl necklace.
Now 48, White, like much of America, was fascinated by the new president and his glamorous wife back in 1960. He was 12 years old and already an advanced autograph collector. But in less than three years, it was over. Kennedy was dead, assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald.