Review & Giveaway: Dear Mrs. Kennedy: The World Shares Its Grief, Letters November 1963

Dear Mrs. Kennedy: The World Shares Its Grief, Letters November 1963 by Jay Mulvany and Paul De Angelis

Hardcover: 240 pages

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press; First Edition edition (October 12, 2010)

Forty-seven years ago this month, Americans as well as people around the world were brought together by a senseless act of violence against our youthful and much-loved President, John F. Kennedy.  The outpouring of grief from around the globe directed at Jacqueline Kennedy, the beautiful and elegant new widow, was massive and immediate.  She received more than one million letters in the weeks and months that followed the tragedy.  Although Mrs. Kennedy vowed to display the letters in the Kennedy Library one day, the letters remained filed away in a warehouse for decades waiting for the library to open.

Volunteers reading and sorting the letters

From grade school children to dignitaries, nuns, moviestars, and royalty to politicians and famous names like Martin Luther King, Jr and Winston Churchill, the expressions of sorrow and sympathy came from everywhere.  I truly appreciated the authors’ decision to do more than just catalog the letters.  They introduced each one by telling who the letter writer was in relation to the president, giving the reader a much more complete snapshot of the history of the time.  This was so helpful to someone like me, who had heard of Anwar Sadat, for instance, but wasn’t quite sure why I knew the name.

I think of the Kennedy assassination as the 9/11 of that generation.  Both events shattered our collective innocence.  People en masse remember where they were and what they were doing the minute they heard the shocking news.  Both events brought everyday life to a standstill and kept us riveted to our televisions.

My reaction to this book surprised me.  I was a baby at the time so have no firsthand memory of the assasination, yet I was greatly moved by the expressions of sympathy.  I had to put the book down more than once as the tears just flowed out of me.  It also made me realize more acutely than ever before the value of the written word; the art and sensory pleasure of beautiful stationary and handwriting as opposed to emails and text messages.

This is a book every American who cares about history should read as it is a fascinating portrait of the time; an intimate portrayal of the hope personified in one young man and the shock as that hope was extinguished so violently.

Highly recommended.

I thought it would be interesting to ask a few bloggers about their Kennedy memories.  This is what they wrote:

From Suzanne at Preternatura:

I was in preschool in a small town in Northwest Alabama, and we were on the playground when the news came in. I remember the teacher herding us back in our classroom and telling us the president had been shot. We were really too young to get it but others in my class I’ve stayed in touch with over the years remember it the same way. They closed school early.

More than that, I remember watching the funeral on our black-and-white TV (God, does that make me feel old), not understanding it but mostly watching Caroline and John-John, as everyone called him, since they were about my age. I remember sitting and watching it with my brother and my parents, and my parents being upset, but not much else. I was too young, and over the years my memories have gotten mixed up with all the iconic images we’ve seen from the media.

From Debra at Bookishly Attentive:

My parents, my twin sister, my grandmother and I were in a lighting store in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, probably shopping for a dining room fixture. I was three. I actually remember the store (I was fascinated by the lights, evidently) and I remember the owner (an older, heavyset woman) coming up to my parents and asking if they heard what happened, and if they had, why are they still shopping in the store?  She was crying, wringing a white handkerchief. I then remember my parents hustling us out to the car. She closed the shop behind us.

I asked my mother about this memory years later, after watching some kind of JFK documentary, and she said I had remembered the events almost perfectly.

I was too young to really process what had happened, but I do remember my parents being subdued.  I distinctly remember sitting on the floor of the living room of our old apartment on Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn. My mother, my sister and I were watching the funeral on the old black and white in the corner. The thing that made the biggest impression on me and what I actually remember to this day is the horse (Black Jack?) with the boots backward in the stirrups. I remember that scared the heck out of me.

I just think how totally different this world would have been if that day in November, 1963 had never happened. And it makes me immeasurably sad. Always.

From Terri at Reading, ‘Riting, and Retirement:

I was 13; I was in a junior high class (English I think); the news came over the loudspeaker, our principal announced it. I don’t recall precisely what we were doing in class; when the news came over the loudspeaker, I was confused at first. It didn’t sink in until later when I saw my friends in the cafeteria. There was lots of crying and hugging. I think they let us out of school early.

We watched TV non-stop for days. It was quite surreal, especially when Oswald was shot. I hate to admit it, but I was taking my cues from my parents, so I can’t really recall what I was feeling, other than scared and sad.

I remember watching Jackie Kennedy and being fascinated by her and by the Catholic rituals. I don’t think I’d ever seen them before (kneeling, crossing herself, etc). In my naïve adolescence, I decided I wanted to be a Catholic, so for a few nights I knelt by my bed and crossed myself. That was as far as I went though.

It was the beginning of a very volatile time in our country – many assassinations, the Vietnam war and its protests, etc. The age of innocence ended in those years, I think.

I have one copy of DEAR MRS. KENNEDY to give away (US/Canada only).  To enter, just leave a comment and let me know where you were and what you were doing when you heard the news of either the Kennedy assassination (if you’re old enough) or the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01.  The contest ends Sunday, 11/14, at midnight.

21 Responses

  1. I wasn’t alive for this…but I know my sister would greatly enjoy this book as she’s a history buff.

    As for 9/11, I was actually in my sixth grade history class.

  2. I was 5 when Kennedy was killed and I don’t have any memory of hearing the news. I do remember watching his funeral train and his funeral on TV, though.

    For 9/11, my in-laws were visiting and we were getting ready to go out for breakfast when a neighbor came over and told us we had to turn the TV on to watch the news.

  3. I was not around when Kennedy was assassinated, but my father was, and he has told me about his reaction to the news.

    I heard about 9/11 while I was working at an office job. I was listening to the radio, and heard that a plane had struck a building. I was the first in my office to know. I went and told a coworker and turned on the tv in the break room. Soon everyone was there watching. It was so scary.

  4. I wasn’t alive when Kennedy was shot but my parents were and I have heard both of their memories of this many times.
    On 9/11 I was 31 and at the beach for a week with my parents and aunt. Was going to go shopping that day and turned on the tv for a few minutes while having breakfast and watched the 2nd plane hit. I didn’t move from the tv the rest of the day. My sister in law was a pilot at American then and so we were a bit frantic until we got ahold of her and knew she was ok. I also have many friends in and around the DC area so I had to get in touch with all of them to make sure everyone was ok.

  5. Just a thought: if you like to hear some of the letters read and the recording of a piece of music composed in 1963 and sent to Mrs. Kennedy, you can listen to it by going to the author’s website

  6. I wasn’t alive when President Kennedy was shot but have always been fascinated with that era of politics and American History. As for 9/11, I was on my way to a bible study for young mothers at my church. My son was 9 months old and it was my first “day out” where he would be in someone other than my family’s care. As we drove, I listened to radio accounts of what was happening. Certainly, we prayed for the nation and it wasn’t until after the program that we realized BOTH towers had fallen.

  7. I am a big Kennedy fan…I was getting ready for my wedding, which would take place in December. I had moved home to my parents’ house so that we could plan it. On that day, my mother and I were watching a soap that we sometimes viewed: As the World Turns (no longer on the air!).

    As for 9/11, I had retired from a long career as a social worker just months before, and I was enjoying a visit from my son, who lives in Europe. He’d been doing some things in the garden, and I went to get the mail at the post office a couple of blocks away; that’s when I heard the news on the radio.

  8. 2 posts this week?!? Does this mean you’re back? 😉

  9. Our television set was broken — my dad went out and RENTED one so we could watch the coverage. (In fact, he made my next-younger sister and me watch the funeral, which by that point we didn’t really want to do. He said if we had a day off from school then we should watch coverage of what we had the day off for.) Life magazine just came out with some new Kennedy photos. And I’d not heard of this book, but how very moving. There’s a new book out on the JFK assassination written by one of JFK’s former Secret Service agents, “The Kennedy Detail.” Very interesting look inside the protection afforded the family and how the agents interacted and were close to the family. There are tons of books out there about the assassination, but this is the first one that gives the agents’ point of view about what happened, what went wrong and how the conspiracy theories got started. It gives you an entirely different perspective on this tragedy that impacted the whole world. (Hard to believe it’s been 50 years since he was elected and nearly 47 years — this month! — since the assassination.)

  10. was not born yet…for 9/11 iwas at home watching the today show…..called a friend immediately…and watched shell shocked as the second tower went down….went to work at noon sobbing…and no one at work had heard!!!! i live near o’hare airport and we are in a flight pattern…the quietness was just surreal…..
    i also remember.when the announcement came that we had bombed afghanistan and that ‘war’ now meant something

  11. I was 7 yrs old when Kennedy got shot, and I was in the hospital getting my tonsils out.
    In regards to 9/11, I’m originally from NJ now living in Wisconsin. I had just walked in the door after working all night to see the TV when the 1st tower was hit. Needless to say I stayed up till noon that day watching the news. I have many friends that work in NY and luckily none of them were injured or killed.

  12. I had just turned three when Kennedy was assassinated so I don’t remember anything about it. But my dad has always been very political. When I was not quite 8, he took me to the train station to see Robert Kennedy has his train crossed the country. That assassination made quite an impression on a little girl.

  13. I know that i was in the 5th grade. Our teacher told us the president had been shot. A little later she said he was gone. I felt so sorry for his family and for our nation, We watched it in black and white for 3 or 4 days. Mrs Kennedy looked so sad. Her children, so small by her side. I am 58 now and can still see it all like it was yesterday.

  14. I was in Math class when the president was shot. The PA announcement that told us all to go home. At first we thought someone was making a joke, but we were all sent home and for the next days we were glued to the TV. We were heartbroken at the loss of our Camelot Prince.

  15. I wasn’t born when President Kennedy was shot. For 9/11, I was at home getting ready for my friend to bring her son over for me to babysit. When I turned on the news, I thought they were talking about the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Then the second plane hit and I realized that it was happening live. It took me right back to how I felt when the Murrah Building was bombed here in Oklahoma. Shock & disbelief.

  16. […] Books on the Brain by lisamunley – “Review & Giveaway: Dear Mrs. Kennedy: The World Shares Its Grief, Letters November 1963“ […]

  17. I’m the co-author of DEAR MRS. KENNEDY and now that your contest is over I thought I’d like to say something about where I was on both 11/22 and 9/11. In 1963 I was a ninth-grader in Jr. High School in Chevy Chase MD; we were dismissed early and all the mothers were standing outside in their yards waiting for us when we walked home; everyone on the block was wondering when our neighbor, who was Assistant Secretary of State and was at a Vietnam War conference in Honolulu, was going to arrive home. In 2001, I was at home here in Cornwall CT; our daughter had just started high school nearby and her best friend from NYC had just started high school at Stuyvesant High School, three blocks from the World Trade Center and we were scared as hell she’d be crushed when the tower fell; luckily none of the kids there was hurt.

  18. I needed to answer this same question before for another for this book and it took a long time so I am
    giving the same answer.

    I remember on that day, that I was in a U.S. History class in the second seat from the front row. We were studying the Civil War battles. Over the PA came the radio message that President Kennedy had been shot. Everyone in class froze. My teacher stood very stiffly by me with his hand on my desk. I remember looking at his watch.It seemed that I couldn’t move I could just listen.
    There was a pause and then we hear the radio again, three times altogether. We all looked at each other. At that time we were all in total shock. Then there was an announcement by our principal that the classes were dismissed. We quietly filed down the hallway and boarded the school buses. My bus mate and I always sat together. We were both crying. Some the boys were sniffling. I ran into my house and my mother was watching TV. Our neighbor had called her about it. We
    were all hoping and praying that he would be alright.

    Then we saw the announcement from Walter Cronkite that the President had passed away. My mother left to plant some rose bushes in his memory. My cousin Mike rode the bus over to join my brothers, Dan, Steve and me watch the TV continously for that day and the weekend. It seemed like grief came in wave after wave. Just as soon as I thought that I could accept what had happened, a reporter would choke up and another wave of grief came.

    I remember Mrs. Kennedy wearing the stained pink suit on the airplane back to Washington D.C. and John John saluting at the funeral parade. The whole nation was in mourning. The TV told of expressions of mourning from around the world. Thank you for asking us to recall this memory.


  19. I was not alive when Kennedy was shot – my parents were both seniors in high school. When the 9/11 attacks occurred I was on maternity leave lounging around on my couch with a 3 week old baby. My husband had just come out of the shower and we watched with horror most of the day since he had the day off. For the next few days we slept with the television on and since I was getting up to feed a newborn, I had many opportunities in the middle of the night to watch coverage of 9/11.

  20. Very interesting reading where people were when Kennedy was shot. I was in 8th grade at a Catholic school and the principal announced he had been shot. We got down on our knees and prayed for him and his family. An hour or so later, she announced that he had died and we were going home early. We were off for days and watched the TV constantly.

    Funny that on 9/11, I was in my own classroom (3rd Grade) and was told not to say anything to my students. After lunch, parents started picking up their children and one little girl said – why isn’t my mother getting me? I explained as simply as I could. But I’ll never forget her asking that question.

    I would love to have a copy of the Dear Mrs. Kennedy book.

  21. I was in a 5th grade when we heard over the loudspeaker that Kennedy had been shot. We were shocked and crying and school was let out early and we were off for several days. I remember the shooting of Oswald more clearly as my family was in our station wagon on the way to see relatives when this was announced over the radio. I remember the horror and fear on my parent’s faces and it seemed the world was in total chaos. There was a sense of an unorderly world and not knowing what would happen next. Plenty of what is this world coming to.

    I especially remember the iconic shots of John John saluting his father’s casket. As an eleven year old, I’m sure I thought it was sad and so sweet that he would honor his father that way. In the intervening years, with age and motherhood, I realize that he was probably modeling the military around him and was proud to play a soldier. As most young children, I doubt he recognized his father was gone forever and that night at bedtime asked “When is Daddy coming home?”.

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