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WHAT HAPPENED TO Jacqueline Kennedy’s pink suit?

the fate of Jacqueline Kennedy's pink suit

By Mohammed AlJuhaniPublished 2 months ago 7 min read
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The Kennedys arriving in Dallas

Traveling back to 1963, we delve into a notorious event in American history: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. In particular, we explore the fate of Jacqueline Kennedy's pink suit, symbolizing that tragic day and evolving into a significant fashion statement of the 20th century. The mystery also surrounds her matching pillbox hat, which vanished shortly after President Kennedy's passing and remains unaccounted for to this day.

On November 22, 1963, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline, commonly known as Jackie, started their day in Fort Worth, Texas. They were campaigning for the 1964 presidential election. Kennedy's first task of the day was to address and greet the crowds outside their hotel. He joked that Jackie always looked better than him and the rest of the crowd. Afterward, he delivered a breakfast speech to the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, with Jackie in attendance. She wore a pink suit with navy trim, a matching pillbox hat, and white gloves. Although often mistaken for a Chanel suit, Jackie was actually wearing a replica by a designer named Shaney. She had learned from past controversies over wearing non-American clothes. This decision paralleled the British royals' preference for British designers. Unbeknownst to Jackie, she had just put on the most famous outfit she would ever wear - the last one her husband of ten years would see her in.

After breakfast, the Kennedys boarded Air Force One, the presidential plane, for a short flight to Dallas where the President was scheduled to give a lunchtime speech. It was with this speech in mind that he had asked Jackie to bring and wear the pink suit. Before their trip, he told her, "There are going to be all these rich Republican women at that lunch, wearing mink coats and diamond bracelets. Show these Texans what good taste really is." They landed at Love Field at 11:37 a.m. and were greeted by crowds. They then got into an open-top limousine for a drive through Dallas to reach the luncheon around 12:30 p.m. As they drove down Dealey Plaza, shots rang out. Kennedy was hit twice, including a catastrophic wound to the right side of his head. Governor Connolly of Texas, who was traveling with them, was also hit but survived. The President slumped over into his wife's lap, and she cradled his head as they were rushed to nearby Parkland Hospital. Despite efforts, nothing could be done for JFK, and he was pronounced dead at 1 p.m.

Jackie remains at the hospital, still in her suit, standing with her husband's blood and brain matter. Despite suggestions for her to change, she adamantly refuses, determined to show the extent of the tragedy. A female staff member among the presidential group later recalled how she observed Jackie's gloves, noticing what appeared to be polka dots. It struck her as odd, considering Jackie's usual fashion sense. However, upon closer inspection, she realized that the dots on the gloves and the spots on Jackie's suit were, in fact, remnants of her husband's brains. Jackie steadfastly refused assistance or cleaning, demonstrating her unwavering resolve by keeping her gloves on.

After being permitted to see her husband's body, Jackie briefly reconsidered her decision about the gloves. She took one off to remove her wedding band and place it on his finger. She then put the glove back on, and the ring was returned to her later that day. Mrs. Kennedy was clearly in severe shock, but her comment expressing a desire for people to see what had happened - even though she didn't know the identity of the assassin at that point - reflects a remarkable awareness, even amidst her trauma and shock, of the significance of images, especially her own. She understood that photographs would be taken of her, preserved forever, and she did not want the violence of that day to be sanitized. Lady Bird Johnson, her successor as First Lady, was also present and later wrote that seeing the immaculate woman, elegantly dressed and covered in blood, was one of the most poignant sights.

After the president's death was confirmed, his body was taken from Parkland Hospital to Air Force One for transportation to Bethesda Naval Hospital for an autopsy. It was during the departure from the hospital and the boarding of the plane that observers and photographers noticed the condition of Jackie's outfit. The images show blood on her skirt and legs, as well as on other parts of her attire, including the gloves she still had on. One notable absence was Jackie's hat, which had been removed while she was at the hospital, and its whereabouts remain unknown. Mary Gallagher, Jackie's personal secretary, later remembered being given Jackie's pillbox hat at the hospital and noticing strands of her hair still attached to the hat pin, picturing her removing it from her head.

William Manchester, the author, states that the hat returned to the White House and was mistakenly given to Robert Foster, the agent who looked after Jackie's children. While some sources indicate Mary Gallaher as the last known guardian of the object, the truth is we are uncertain about its fate. It is possible that the hat was misplaced during the chaos of that day and the subsequent days when Jackie had to vacate the White House two weeks later. Alternatively, someone might have intentionally taken it as a macabre keepsake. It is also plausible that the hat remains with the Kennedy family, undisclosed to the public. Additionally, the gloves have vanished from historical records, although they are visible in photographs for a bit longer.

One of the most well-known photos of Jackie from that day was captured shortly after she boarded Air Force One with her husband's coffin. Just before takeoff, the picture shows her standing in shock beside the new President, Lyndon B. Johnson, as he was sworn into office at 2:38 PM. The image is in black and white. Jackie had washed her face and removed her gloves before the photo was taken, but spots of blood can still be seen on her jacket.

Jacqueline Kennedy wearing her blood-stained pink suit while Johnson takes the oath of office as president

After arriving at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, Jackie was joined by her brother-in-law, Robert Kennedy. Together, they accompanied President Kennedy's body to Bethesda for the post-mortem. In the early hours of November 23rd, it was time to return to the White House. Only after ensuring her husband's remains were safely placed in the East Room for repose did Jackie finally change out of her pink suit.

I have previously mentioned that the former First Lady, Jackie Kennedy, had a keen understanding of the importance of image. She was aware that the outfit she wore on that day would remain of significant interest for years to come. The exact timeline is unclear, but eventually, the suit was sent to the U.S. National Archives, most likely with Jackie's approval. According to a Washington Post article from November 2013, the archives indicated that (the only clue to the transfer date was the address on the accompanying letterhead, which featured a single-digit postal code. The archives noted that the postal service transitioned to five-digit ZIP codes in 1963, although they were not widely adopted for several years).

The national archives did not own the items. It was only in 2003, nine years after Jackie's death, that her daughter Caroline signed a deed of gift giving the clothing to the institution. One stipulation is that the materials should never be publicly displayed, researched, or used in any way that would dishonor the memory of Mrs. Kennedy or President Kennedy or cause grief to their family members. Access to the materials will be restricted for 100 years from the date of the deed of gift. This means that the earliest the outfit can be viewed by anyone other than a few archivists and specified individuals is in 2103. After this time, the Archivist of the United States will handle the materials in a way that considers the Kennedy family's concerns. These restrictions also apply to any photographs of the materials. None of the materials can be publicly displayed or accessed for research or scholarly purposes. Access can only be granted to authorized individuals acting for congressional committees, presidential committees, commissions, or other official U.S. government agencies investigating matters related to President John F. Kennedy's death.

Archivist Stephen Tilly, who is one of the few to have seen it, described the item as appearing brand new, with the exception of the bloodstains. The deed of gift document includes a list of items in the archive's possession, revealing the absence of the hat or gloves. The inventory consists of Jacqueline B. Kennedy's clothing and personal effects worn on November 22, 1963, including a pink suit jacket (not Chanel as commonly believed), a pink suit skirt, a blue blouse, a pair of stockings, a pair of blue shoes, a blue purse, a portion of a cardboard box addressed to Mrs. John F. Kennedy at the White House, stationery belonging to Mrs. Hugh D. Auchincloss (Jackie's mother) with a handwritten note regarding Jackie's suit and bag worn on November 22, 1963.

This is the tale of Jackie Kennedy's pink suit, from her choice to wear it during the trip to Texas to its current placement in a temperature-controlled vault at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. Following President Kennedy's assassination, Jackie remarried in 1968 to Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, taking on a new persona as Jackie Onassis. However, this union faced challenges and ended with Onassis's passing in 1975. Jackie is interred at Arlington Cemetery alongside President Kennedy and two of their children who passed away shortly after birth.

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About the Creator

Mohammed AlJuhani

I am an aspiring author, interested in history and science, embarking on a journey in the world of writing with passion and interest. I am characterized by a strong desire to explore the depths of knowledge.

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