The stills of John F Kennedy waving from an open-top limousine, minutes before his assassination, are legendary. However, one picture from that day has become iconic – Jackie Kennedy in a pink Chanel-esque suit and matching hat, covered in her husband’s blood.
Today marks 50 years since the assassination of JFK, and the day that Jacqueline Kennedy’s life changed forever. On November 22, 1963 a gunman, believed to be Lee Harvey Oswald, shot her husband, the 35th president of the United States. Distressing scenes, caught on film, show the First Lady manically scrambling onto the rear of the moving vehicle to retrieve part of John’s brain, then trying desperately to hold his head together. Witnesses say she shouted: “They have killed my husband, I have his brain in my hand.”
Hours after his shocking death, Jackie sat on a plane home, and refused all suggestions to change her clothes. “Let them see what they’ve done,” she insisted, staring out of the window. In her bloodstained suit, which has gone on to become an iconic artifact, she captured both the glamour and horror associated with that day – emerging from the plane, stained with evidence from her husband’s murder, she boldly stood in full view for all the awaiting photographers. Her brother-in-law, Robert F Kennedy, held her hand as she walked down the steps.
Leaked FBI files suggest, soon after this moment, the pair allegedly became lovers. It is believed they were brought together by their grief. Little did Jackie know that five years later, she would be by Robert’s side as he too died of a brain injury resulting from a remarkably similar assassination attempt. Alone, once again, Jackie was a victim of what the papers dubbed ‘The Kennedy Curse’.
Waiting patiently on the sidelines was shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, who married Jackie months after Robert’s death. But yet more tragedy followed when, in 1975, Aristotle also died, prompting more speculation that Jackie carried the ‘Curse’. She said of matrimony: “The first time you marry for love, the second for money, and the third for companionship.” Though, sadly, she died in 1994 never having found the long-term companion she longed for.
Jackie’s true love was always her first husband, JFK. After her death, the pink tweed suit and matching hat were locked in an airtight vault, forever preserved in history, but never put on public display. Many believe that this was at Jackie’s request. “She certainly understood invisibility and disappearance very deeply, as well as staged appearance,” said the cultural critic Wayne Koestenbaum, author of Jackie Under My Skin: Interpreting An Icon. “So the unseen suit is a very poignant and accurate emblem of her contradiction.”
A doctor on the scene of president Kennedy’s death spoke of the last moments Jackie spent with her husband. As he died she swapped her wedding ring with his and kissed him goodbye – a moment that she never revealed to the public, proving that while Jackie was famously outspoken, Mrs Kennedy knew that the most powerful moments of all are sacred.
Images: Corbis and Getty