Somewhere deep in the National Archives of the United States is a woman’s suit that I first saw on a black and white television set in my parent’s bedroom late November of 1963. I have not thought of it much. But now, fifty years later as we near the anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, I found myself caught up in the media’s attention given to what Jackie Kennedy wore the day her husband was shot and killed.
For me, November 22, 1963 pushed me into a new world. Up to that point the television had brought me Saturday morning cartoons, the beginning of the U.S. Space Program, Walter Cronkite and Situation Comedies. It was all pretty good until that day for me. But at some point, while watching the chaotic news coverage, I broke down, cried, put my pajamas on and crawled into bed well before my normal time. There are few details I remember other than that feeling of loss and sadness. I don’t think I stayed in bed long, little boys are restless and resilient and back out I came. All the television had to offer was the news about JFK. School was shut and the whole nation changed.
Caroline Kennedy, seven months my senior, had her sixth birthday five days after her father died and two days after her brother John Jr.’s third birthday. She is the only surviving member of her immediate family today. Gone of course are her dad, Jackie too in 1994 and her brother John went too early in a 1999 plane accident. Few remember a stillborn sister Arabella and Patrick, a brother who lived two short days in August of that same sad year.
She is the rightful owner of the pink Chanel suit Jackie was wearing on the last day of JFK’s life. In 2003 Caroline made a gift to the National Archives of the suit. At the time of the gift it was agreed that nobody from the public would be able to see it for 100 years. I wonder, what will people think when they see the pink suit with the blood stains and will they have a sense for the sadness of that day now fifty years past. I wonder what people will see and feel in 2103, long after I am gone and long after my children are gone. If the United States survives another 90 years what will people think about our loss that happened 140 years earlier? For all of us who were alive on November 22, 1963 that suit took a part of us with it. If it does make it back into the public eye……. will they understand who we were and who we became that day? That pink suit holds in it the sadness of a family and the people of a nation. It holds a little bit of all our stories.
Thank you for reading.