‘So Long, Bobby’: New Exhibit Looks Back at Robert Kennedy’s Funeral Train

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Paul Fusco’s photographs from the train carrying the body of Robert F. Kennedy from New York City to Washington, D.C., where the former attorney general was interred in 1968. Credit Paul Fusco/Magnum Photos, via Danziger Gallery

Museums often organize exhibitions celebrating the anniversary of the birth or death of major artists. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is taking a slightly different tack next spring. To mark the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy 50 years ago, the museum has organized “The Train: RFK’s Last Journey,” an unconventional blend of historical photographs and cutting-edge projects.

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The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art will put on view 26 large color prints taken by Mr. Fusco. Credit Paul Fusco/Magnum Photos, via Danziger Gallery

On March 17, 2018, the museum will put on view its recently acquired portfolio of 26 large color prints taken by a Magnum photographer, Paul Fusco, now 87. On June 8, 1968, working for Look magazine, Mr. Fusco rode the train carrying the body of Kennedy from New York City, where it had lain at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, to Washington, D.C., where the former attorney general was interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

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The Dutch photographer Rein Jelle Terpstra found dozens of people who still had scrapbook photographs, snapshots in attic boxes and amateur movies of the funeral train. Credit Stephanie Sansone

The trip between the two cities, usually four hours, took eight because thousands of distraught men, women and children, many holding American flags and signs reading, “So long, Bobby,” lined the tracks to pay their respects. Mr. Fusco took more than 1,000 photographs.

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The exhibit marks the 50th anniversary of Mr. Kennedy’s assassination. Credit Anna Ingram

A few years ago, when Rein Jelle Terpstra, a Dutch photographer, noticed that lots of people in Mr. Fusco’s prints were holding cameras, he decided to track down some of them. After crowd sourcing on Facebook as well as contacting local churches and community centers, he found dozens of people who still had scrapbook photographs, snapshots in attic boxes and amateur movies of the funeral train as it passed by.

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A photograph by Mr. Fusco from the trip, which took eight hours because thousands of distraught men, women and children lined the tracks to pay their respects.

Also inspired by Mr. Fusco’s portfolio, the French conceptual artist Philippe Parreno went the re-enactment route, renting a train and dressing people like the onlookers in Mr. Fusco’s photographs. Mr. Parenno’s 70 mm, high-definition film is seven minutes long.

Clement Cheroux, the senior curator of photography at the museum, told me, “This multidisciplinary exhibition mixing still and moving images, historical and contemporary works, vernacular material and high art is exactly the type of show I am interested in promoting at SFMoMA.”

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