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BOSTON – There's no shortage of places for people to share memories of where they were 50 years ago when they found out John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. But a new website debuting Monday aims to take the focus from past to future by asking people of all ages — even those who weren't alive when Kennedy died — to share their thoughts about how he has inspired them.
The website is part of the JFK Library and Museum's commemoration of the 50th anniversary of JFK's death, which is Friday. The museum also plans a new exhibit of never-before-displayed items from his three-day state funeral, including the flag that draped his casket and notes written by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
Visitors to the "An Idea Lives On" site can explore an interactive video that includes NASA Commander Chris Cassidy, former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, comedian Conan O'Brien, Freedom Rider Charles Person and others talking about Kennedy's lasting impact.
The Kennedy Library Foundation, a nonprofit that raises money to support the library, is spearheading the project. The foundation hopes visitors will upload their own photos, videos, written messages and tweets to answer the question "How do the ideals of John F. Kennedy live on in your life today?"
"It's ambitious," said Tom McNaught, the foundation's executive director. "He was an ambitious president. In a way that's how we see this. You can't stop trying to instill in young people the ideas he instilled in my generation."
All submissions will become part of the archives at the JFK Library in Boston. The best stories will be featured on the site.
"The stories are meant to be really personal," said Brian Williams, vice president and creative director of The Martin Agency, which produced the site.
The site's name comes from a quote in a speech Kennedy gave in February 1963: "A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on." It's also inscribed on the wall visitors to the library see when they exit the small area of the museum that focuses on his assassination and walk into a brighter area where they can learn about his lasting impact on civil rights, public service, civic discourse, the arts, space exploration and more.
"President Kennedy stood for vitality and optimism and hope, so we've made a conscious decision to try to have the experience be uplifting," said Tom Putnam, the library's executive director.
Because of that focus, the library does not typically do anything special to mark the anniversary of Kennedy's assassination. But this year is different.
In addition to the website, a new exhibit starts Friday that will include the flag from his casket and the saddle, boots and sword worn by the riderless horse that walked in the funeral procession. Visitors will also see notes written by Jackie Kennedy as she made plans for her husband's funeral and a 15-minute video with footage from the events.
Curator Stacey Bredhoff hopes it will help visitors who were not alive or too young to remember comprehend the enormity of the shock and the mourning that followed.
Also Friday, the library will host a musical tribute featuring Paul Winter, who performed at the White House with his jazz sextet during Kennedy's presidency, along with a U.S. Navy choir and singer James Taylor. Between songs, notable guests including Gov. Deval Patrick will read quotes from Kennedy's speeches. The event is not open to the public, but it will be streamed live on the library's website. It will include a moment of silence at the time Kennedy was killed.
Members of the Kennedy family will not attend and instead will observe the anniversary privately at home.
"We want our tone to be respectful and we want it to have a certain reverence, but we also want it to be hopeful and end on this notion of what JFK stood for," Putnam said.