On this day in 1953, then-Senator John F. Kennedy weds Jacqueline Lee Bouvier. The newlyweds had so many wedding guests that it took them more than two hours to shake hands with everyone in their reception line!
One guest later remarked that the event was “just like the coronation.”
The nation was fascinated by the couple, but life was not always so easy for the Kennedys themselves. Shortly after their marriage, Kennedy had spinal surgery, which entailed a tough recovery process. The couple also had trouble having children, suffering a miscarriage and a stillborn daughter during their early years of marriage.
In 1957, the Kennedys finally welcomed their daughter Caroline to the world. Soon afterwards, Kennedy announced his candidacy for President—and then Jackie discovered that she was pregnant again! She spent much of the campaign season at home, as advised by her doctor. Nevertheless, she helped in any way she could. She wrote a column called “Campaign Wife.” She taped commercials. She did interviews. She responded to letters.
John, Jr. was born about two weeks after Kennedy was elected. What a world to be born into!
As First Lady, Jackie undertook a project to restore the White House. “Everything in the White House must have a reason for being there,” she said. “It would be sacrilege merely to ‘redecorate’ it—a word I hate. It must be restored—and that has nothing to do with decoration. That is a question of scholarship.” She tracked down furniture and art that had been used by other Presidents, and she convinced some of their owners to donate the pieces. She helped to establish the White House Historical Association, which helped to pay for many of these efforts.
Of course, throughout this time, we now know that there was a less glamorous side to “Camelot,” as the Kennedy presidency was later called. The marital relationship suffered as the President engaged in alleged and/or actual affairs. Yet, despite these problems, some believe that the President and First Lady were coming together again during the last year of Kennedy’s life.
Tragedy brought them together.
In August 1963, the Kennedys lost another child. Their newborn son, Patrick, was a preemie who was born with a serious lung ailment. Today, that ailment is much more easily treated. Back then, it was a very serious problem.
Jackie was not with her son after his birth because he’d been taken to a children’s hospital in Boston. It was left to the President to travel with his dying son, while Jackie recuperated from a C-section in Cape Cod. Unfortunately, on the morning of August 9, little Patrick died in the President’s arms. His friend Dave Powers later reported that he witnessed something that few ever see or hear: a Kennedy crying.
“After the death of Patrick, the other agents and I noticed a distinctly closer relationship, openly expressed, between the president and Mrs. Kennedy,” one Secret Service agent later wrote. “I first observed it in the hospital suite at Otis Air Force Base but it became publicly visible when Mrs. Kennedy was released from the hospital.”
Sadly, no one will ever know what could have come from this possible renewed tenderness between the couple. Just a few months later, the President was assassinated, and Jackie found herself a widow, alone with two young children. The President’s state funeral took place on John, Jr.’s third birthday.
“There’ll be great Presidents again . . . . but there’ll never be another Camelot again,” Jackie concluded.