Blast from the Past

Na­tion­al Con­sti­tu­tion Cen­ter is host­ing The 1968 Ex­hib­it un­til Septem­ber 2.

  • Down memory lane: ‘The 1968 Exhibit’ is currently on display at the National Constitution Center. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

  • Down memory lane: ‘The 1968 Exhibit’ is currently on display at the National Constitution Center. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

  • Down memory lane: ‘The 1968 Exhibit’ is currently on display at the National Constitution Center. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

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. ••

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