Lots of us are thinking about JFK with the 50-year anniversary of his assassination. Footage is everywhere of that horrible day in Dallas with some very disturbing images scratched onto our mind’s eye.
It was timely that I came across a book at an estate sale recently, published in 1964 by United Press International and American Heritage Magazine. I immediately became wrapped up in the raw and exquisite photographs in “Four Days: The Historical Record of the Death of President Kennedy.“ Bruce Catton wrote the introduction. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Catton)
I brought the book home. This is a straightforward book with unbiased accounts of the day…. some dry reading but very, very interesting, especially to those who like to form their own truths. What I find most compelling is the art, and the concentration is on Jackie. It takes me pretty deep, I try to get an impression of the impact of the pain and anguish of this woman, one of my heroes. As a journalist, I’m trained to know about insinuations of a photograph. As an artist, I study human expressions and body language in an aesthetic sense. The photos are all credited to United Press International.
That day started sunny, bright and full of promise. And Jackie was pretty in pink, head thrown back, delighted in her role. She seemed so natural— wrapped up in the moment — with little acknowledgement or concern shown over the rolling and clicking cameras.
Waving from the presidential Lincoln during the ride through downtown
Dallas, she embraced the crowd as she beamed and they gobbled her up… she, always so well turned-out, with the dignity and radiance to carry off her tastefully fashion-forward style perfectly. The Texans were warm and welcoming. The governor’s wife, riding in front of the First Couple, had just turned to our president and said, “ You can’t say that Dallas isn’t friendly to you today”. The first sharp gunshot cut him off before he replied.
Two more came. The whole thing was over in less than six seconds.
Regardless of what some have said about John F. Kennedy’s public or private life, Jackie loved the guy who referred to himself as “the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris.”Leaning over her dead husband her cries rang,”Oh, Jack, No! No!
When we see The First Lady back on her feet, she still bore the elegant lines of an aristocrat, her
beloved’s very own blood splashed onto her skirt and stockings, a gruesome accessory to the day’s outfit. She seemed to be on autopilot as she moved through the world for days after that. Her ability to remain poised seemed as if a stronger version of herself was holding her up, or else Jack’s spirit and her guardian angel were assisting her from behind.
When Jackie’s eyes are open in some of these photographs taken by the press, I see a lot of things. Numbness, sadness, but a certain intensity too. To me she looks as if she is trying to look beyond this atrocity, and even through reality, her point of vision miles away, staring down the forces of hate and betrayal.
In many of the photos in this book, her eyes look down. She is likely in her own head, perhaps trying to make sense of the despicable murder of the father of her children. She also let us know in her demeanor and her actions that she knew that she was not grieving alone. Americans and the rest of the world had been robbed that day of something that cannot be bought—hope. Her decision to have the burial in Arlington rather than Mass. is testament to her understanding of the magnitude. Myopic and far-sighted all at once….
The reverence she emitted, never looking as if to grab attention for herself, or use politics . We all could almost see the sorrow breathing out of her every pore. The loving, thoughtful, attentive, intuitive, and intelligent mother she was throughout the funeral is exemplar. Reminds me of the strength of women everywhere. What decisions she made at such a time were profound and perfect. The riderlesshorse in the funeral procession is said to have been her idea. The gentle prompt she gave John-John to salute his father, after a restless day for the child when he was starting to fall apart himself during the ceremonies…frequent meltdown,s as we call them today. The salute got him straight and focused, and served as one of the ‘touchingest’ moments in humanity, ever.
45,000 letters arrived at The White House with their 5-cent stamps the following Monday to help Jackie through it.
Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy was all style and grace, she was interested in her husband’s presidency, and quite accomplished in her own right.
And lest we forget, this brave, brave lady was only 33 when John Fitzgerald Kennedy was no more.
I hope I have brought some photos to you that you hadn’t seen.
Thanks for tuning in…