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.
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.
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