With 1968 came such searing moments as the assassinations of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and the confrontations between police and protesters outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
“1968 was a huge year,” said Mark Kehres, program manager at the National Constitution Center, where a new exhibit looks back on that cataclysmic year in the country’s history.
The center, at 525 Arch St., is hosting The 1968 Exhibit through Sept. 2, and Kehres said he believes it offers something for people of all ages. Entrance to the exhibit is included in the cost of museum admission.
“It’s a really, really cool exhibit,” he said.
It was a year that saw the escalation of the Vietnam War; the average unemployment rate was a mere 3.3 percent; the first 911 emergency call was made in Haleyville, Ala., and the Heisman Trophy went to a USC running back named O.J. Simpson. On television, The Monkees and Laugh-In, were among the hottest shows, and The Graduate and 2001: A Space Odyssey were the top movies.
The 5,000-square-foot exhibition is organized by the months of the year and features more than 100 artifacts. They include the torch from the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City; a velvet drape jacket belonging to Jimi Hendrix; a reconstructed Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopter used in the Vietnam War; a full-size replica of the Apollo 8 command module and the actual pressure bubble helmet used by pilot James Lovell; a program for King’s funeral; the riot helmet, tear-gas canister holster and nightstick from Chicago policeman Mike Dillon, who was stationed outside the convention; a talking Mrs. Beasley doll from the TV show Family Affair; and the cardigan sweater and Keds sneakers Mister Rogers wore in his TV show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
In addition, there are lounges focusing on television/movies, music and style, and visitors can relax on bean bags scattered on the floor.
Also, visitors can use Post-it notes to share their memories of 1968.
“It’s an immersive environment,” Kehres said. “It’s very time- and- place intensive.”
The exhibit opens with a living room scene, complete with couch, World Book encyclopedias and a floor model television tuned to CBS newsman Walter Cronkite’s critical reports on the Vietnam War.
“The war is literally coming into your living room,” Kehres said.
The scenery features a college co-ed’s dormitory room that includes a typewriter, anti-war buttons and a campaign worker’s dress for presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy.
There’s a “freedom” trash can symbolizing a protest outside the Miss America Pageant. Women’s-libbers that year discarded items they saw as oppressing them: bras, girdles, hair curlers, false eyelashes and high heels.
On the other side of the spectrum is a backyard barbecue scene, complete with an American flag. A family is eating at a picnic table and listening to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, held that year at Houston’s new Astrodome, which was billed as the “eighth wonder of the world.”
The display is meant to capture the lifestyle of so-called “Middle Americans” horrified by the lawlessness of the anti-war movement and the civil rights protests.
Visitors can use a real polling booth to vote for their favorite presidential candidate — Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, George Wallace, Lyndon B. Johnson, Robert F. Kennedy, Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern, Ronald Reagan, Nelson Rockefeller or Eldridge Cleaver.
Kennedy was shot and killed in Los Angeles in June 1968, and there’s a slideshow of Life magazine photographs of people watching the funeral train that carried his body from New York to Washington, D.C. The only sound is that of a train rolling down the track.
Music fans can answer multiple-choice trivia questions about 1968 rock, country, rhythm and blues, music soundtracks and TV themes.
Kehres predicted visitors will quickly become engaged in the exhibit.
“There’s a lot of stuff to do and a lot of stuff to talk about,” he said. ••