Fifty years ago, Jacqueline Onassis entered the White House for her first visit since her husband, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated.
By 1971, it had been almost eight years since Onassis had been in his old home, but he had written to then-first lady Pat Nixon requesting a private visit before the unveiling of Kennedy’s official portrait.
That letter, and others, on display in the Richard Nixon and Kennedy presidential libraries, show the importance of Onassis and his sons’ visit, and the tenderness of Pat Nixon’s treatment when the family visited the White House.
Nixon had invited Onassis to attend the official presentation of the portraits of her and Kennedy. For Onassis, who had only returned to the Washington area to visit Kennedy’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery, the idea of an official event was too much.
“As you know, the idea of going back to the White House is difficult for me,” Onassis, who remarried in 1968, said in a handwritten letter to Pat Nixon on January 27, 1971.
“I really don’t have the courage to go through an official ceremony and take the children back to the only home they both knew with their father in such traumatic conditions. With all the press and everything, things that I try to avoid in their little lives, I know the experience would be difficult for them. “
Instead, Onassis suggested a private visit to Nixon: “Maybe any day before or after, at your convenience, the children and I could quietly enter Washington and come pay our respects and view the photos in private?”
Nixon agreed, and Onassis and his children Caroline Kennedy, then 13, and John F Kennedy Jr, 10, visited the White House in late January. Nixon made sure no family photos were taken as she and her daughters, Julie and Patricia, gave the family an intimate tour of the place that brought back such happy and sad memories.
The Kennedy children met the Nixon dogs, and the president, Richard Nixon, as the Washington Post recalled Julie, writing in her autobiography, told the children the legend that sitting on Lincoln’s bed and making a wish would make that wish come true.
After the visit, Onassis wrote to the president and the first lady to express his gratitude.
“I have never seen such magnanimity and tenderness,” he wrote.
“Can you imagine the gift you gave me?” she said. “Return to the White House in private with my little ones while they are still young enough to rediscover their childhood, with you two as guides, and with your daughters, such extraordinary women.”
The Kennedy children also sent thank you notes to the Nixons.
“I loved all the photos of the Indians and all the presidents. I also really like old guns, “wrote John F Kennedy Jr.” I really loved dogs, they were so much fun as soon as I got home, my dogs kept sniffing at me. They may remember the White House. “
Caroline Kennedy, like her brother, enjoyed meeting dogs and seeing portraits of her father and mother.
The portraits hung “so well,” Caroline said, writing that “everything was perfect and everyone was so nice.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism