Currently in the Past

Getty Images, JFK Library. Caroline, Jacqueline, and John Kennedy in the White House.

I haven’t had a chance to post in a week, for multiple reasons. I’ve partially been at a loss for what to write about, and partially been busy (when I’m not working) tearing apart this great book I’m reading. It’s called The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House, by Kate Andersen Brower. The book is sort of a cross-generational memoir of the staffers who have worked in the White House from The Eisenhowers to the Obamas. Brower has interviewed countless White House butlers, valets, maids, electricians, plumbers, and chefs about their time at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Even as a student of history, I’m learning fascinating new facts (“behind-the-scenes” footage, if you will) about the first families for the last 60 or so years.

While reading Sunday evening, something stuck me. The chapter I’m currently reading is about tragedy in the White House. So of course Brower, from the staffers point of view, describes the hours and days after President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.    White House doorman Preston Bruce waited in to the wee hours of November 23rd, 1963 to be there for the arrival of Mrs. Kennedy. He said “he only had one idea in my mind…I wanted to be there when she came back to the White House.” And of course there are the stories about Jackie’s insistence on wearing the blood-stained pink suit all the way back to Washington. Lady Bird Johnson had asked if Jackie would like a change of clothes on the flight back to Washington – but Jackie refused, “almost with an element of fierceness,” as said by Lady Bird. Jackie then said: “I want them to see what they have done to Jack.”

Now I’ve spent time in Washington and spent a few months living there while working an internship. Therefore, I’ve been to all the museums. But I wondered…did I miss seeing Jackie’s famous pink suit? Where is it kept? Something with such historical significance must be held somewhere! This led me to do some research. Evidently the suit was kept by Jackie’s mother the months after the assassination, then was given to the National Archives in 1964 to be held in a climate-controlled secret vault. After Jackie died, it became the property of her sole-surviving heir and daughter, Caroline. In 2003, Caroline officially gifted it to the Archives with the condition that it not be seen by the public for another hundred years, in an effort to not sensationalize the event any longer. This seems insane, but I do understand the need for family privacy, even years later after such a tragic event.

Man! Such a bummer for history lovers and those infatuated by this life-changing day. By the time it is available to the public in 2103, anyone who lived through the event will be long gone. In the end. I do admire Jackie for insisting on wearing her same clothes. It takes some strength to remain caked in your husband’s blood to make such a bold statement.

Rest in peace, Mr. And Mrs. Kennedy. Long live Camelot.

 

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