On 20 January 1961, despite deep snow and plunging temperatures, as many as 20,000 people converged on Capitol Hill in Washington, all eager to bear witness to history in the making – the inauguration of John F Kennedy, the 35th President of the Unites States.
The American Camelot
To all those huddled against the biting cold, and many millions besides, John Fitzgerald Kennedy represented all that was new and exciting about their country. JFK and Jackie (who had given birth to the couple’s first son, John Jr, just two months previously) brought glamour, refinement and culture to the White House that had become sober and dull under the grandfatherly President Dwight D Eisenhower. For many, Kennedy’s inauguration heralded a bright new dawn for American politics. At just 43 years of age, he was the youngest man ever to be elected President. He was also the first Roman Catholic. With youth, charisma and widespread popularity on his side, the future seemed bright.
In fact, so intertwined was Kennedy to this sense of national well-being that his time in office became known as the American Camelot.
It’s become a cliche but people who remember John F Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, can usually say exactly what they were doing when they first heard the shocking news. It was a defining moment of the second half of the twentieth century.
On 21 November 1963, President Kennedy, accompanied by the First Lady, travelled to Texas, where he was scheduled to make a number of appearances in a bid to drum up support for the Democratic Party prior to the 1964 general election.
Not everyone, however, was convinced of the wisdom of such a journey. Some White House officials, worried that the President would receive a hostile reception from voters in what was a staunchly Republican State, advised against it. But characteristically, Kennedy rebuffed their concerns, insisting that a trip to ‘nut country’ was necessary. He reportedly said to Jackie: ‘if somebody wants to shoot me, […] nobody can stop it, so why worry about it?’
22 November 1963
The following day, 22 November 1963, at 12.30pm, President Kennedy was travelling in an open top car through the streets of Dallas when three loud rifle shots rang through the air, apparently shot from the sixth floor of the nearby Book Depository building. According to official reports, the first of these bullets missed its mark, while the second penetrated the back of the President’s neck. Kennedy’s steel-boned back brace which he wore to alleviate his constant pain held Kennedy in a upright position, despite his wound – allowing the final, fatal shot to strike the back of his head. (Pictured, President Kennedy with the First Lady, shortly before his assassination, 22 November 1963. Click on image to enlarge).
Joseph Patrick Kennedy, father to future US president, John F Kennedy, was born on Boston, Massachusetts on 6 September 1888. He was the eldest child and only surviving son of prominent Boston-Irish businessman and politician, PJ Kennedy, and his wife, Mary Hickey. Having received his early education at the Catholic Xaverian School, Joe transferred to the prestigious Boston Latin School at the age of thirteen. Despite an uninspiring academic record, he was accepted to Harvard in 1908 and graduated in 1912.
Highly ambitious from an early age, Joe began his career at the Columbia Trust Company, a banking institution which was controlled by his father. The young man’s exceptional business acumen came to the fore a few years later when Columbia, Boston’s sole Irish-owned bank, became the target of a hostile takeover bid by one of its rivals. Recognising that the only way to fend off the takeover threat was to offer Columbia’s shareholders a better deal, Kennedy set about raising enough finance to do so. His success in this endeavour saw him becoming, at the age of twenty-five, the country’s youngest ever bank president.
In October 1914, Joe married his long-time sweetheart, Rose Fitzgerald, the daughter of another prominent Boston-Irish politician. The couple would go on to have nine children, four boys and five girls.
Meanwhile, his business career continued apace. During World War One, Joe worked as an assistant manager at a major shipyard, supervising the production of warships and other equipment critical to the war effort. He later branched out into stock market trading, and avoided catastrophe by cashing in his investments before the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Having succeeded in his stated aim of becoming a millionaire by the time he was thirty-five, Kennedy’s later business ventures, which included whiskey importation and movie production, only added to his growing fortune.
The Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 epitomized the Cold War as the two superpowers, the US and the Soviet Union, brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.
In January 1959, after a two-year guerrilla campaign, Fidel Castro (pictured), a Marxist, aided by the charismatic Che Guevara, had disposed of Cuba’s thirty-year-old dictatorship. The Soviet Union’s premier, Nikita Khrushchev, was delighted by this turn of events and that a communist coup had taken place without Soviet encouragement (or bullying).
When Castro nationalized American assets in Cuba, the US responded by placing a trade embargo against Cuba. The Soviet Union came to Cuba’s rescue and the two nations bonded, Castro aligning Cuba to the Soviet cause. When they met at the United Nations in September 1960, Khrushchev and Castro embraced. ‘I do not know if Fidel is a communist,’ said the Soviet leader, ‘but I know I am a Fidelista.’
Bay of Pigs
The US, alarmed by this communist presence in their backyard, resolved to have Castro removed from power. On 17 April 1961 a US-backed band of Cuban exiles landed at the Bay of Pigs hoping to raise a counter-uprising against Castro, despite the assurances of the new US president, John F Kennedy, five days before, that the US would not intervene militarily to overthrow Castro. The invasion failed and over a thousand Cuban rebels were captured by Castro’s forces. Kennedy was heavily criticized, and internal support for Castro deepened as Cuba became firmly anti-American.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Born Brookline, Mass. (83 Beals Street) May 29, 1917
With these few simple words, handwritten on a small piece of notecard, Rose Kennedy recorded the birth of her second son – a handsome blue-eyed boy who, although named after his maternal grandfather, would become known as ‘Jack’.
As expected, the family’s fortunes had continued to improve in the three years since the Fitzgerald-Kennedy marriage. By the time of Jack’s birth, the family lived a comfortable upper-middle-class existence in the Boston suburb of Brookline. Over the years, Joe would successfully try his hand at a number of business opportunities, which would eventually include stock market speculation, movie producing and liquor importation. By 1927, the family had moved to the exclusive suburb of Riverdale, New York. Continue reading
Born on 28 July 1929 in Southampton, New York, Jacqueline Kennedy, nee Lee Bouvier, was the eldest of two daughters. Her parents were John ‘Black Jack’ Bouvier, a successful Wall Street stockbroker and Janet Norton Lee. The couple divorced in 1940, when Jacqueline was ten years old. Her mother went on to marry the wealthy businessman, Hugh D Auchincloss, with whom she had two more children.
A bright child, Jacqueline enjoyed reading and did well at school. One of her teachers described her as “a darling child, the prettiest little girl, very clever, very artistic, and full of the devil.” In addition to taking lessons in French and ballet, Jacqueline was also an accomplished equestrienne and her love of horses endured long into adulthood.
Jacqueline’s teenage years were spent at an exclusive boarding school in Connecticut. Graduating in 1947, she continued her education at Vassar College, where she read French, history, art and literature. Two years later, in 1949, Jacqueline participated in a study abroad programme, which saw her relocating to France to attend the University of Grenoble and the Sorbonne. Returning to the United States in 1950, she completed her education at the George Washington University in Washington DC.