pink pillbox hat; a missing piece of history!
The iconic pink suit,
stained with blood from the 1963 assassination,
resides in National
Archives, but the location of her hat is a mystery.
By Faye Fiore LOS ANGELES TIMES
Published: 6:41 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 30, 2011
COLLEGE PARK, MD. — In the nation's collective memory, the assassination of John F. Kennedy
is a clash of images and mysteries that might never be sorted out to the satisfaction of everyone.
But if there is a lasting emblem that sums up Nov. 22, 1963, the day America tumbled from youthful
idealism to hollow despair, it is Jacqueline Kennedy's rose pink suit and pillbox hat.
A collection of Kennedy treasures and trivia was unveiled this month at the Kennedy Presidential
Library in Boston to coincide with the 50th anniversary of his inauguration; it includes the fabric of his top hat (beaver
fur) down to his shoe size (10C).
But missing and hardly mentioned are what could be the two most famous remnants of Kennedy's last
day. The pink suit, blood-stained and perfectly preserved in a vault in Maryland, is banned from public display for 100 years.
The pillbox hat — removed at Parkland Hospital in Dallas while Jacqueline Kennedy waited for doctors to confirm what
she already knew — is lost, last known to be in the hands of her personal secretary, who won't discuss its whereabouts.
"The single symbol of that event and of her as a persona is that pink suit," said Carl Sferrazza
Anthony, a historian of first ladies. "It's all anyone need see, and, in an instant, people know what it is in reference to."
When she packed for Dallas, Jacqueline Kennedy took along two suits, one of them the rose pink
Chanel knockoff created by a New York dress shop so she could indulge her French tastes and still buy American. The pink suit
was trimmed in navy blue, and the trademark pillbox hat was secured with a pin.
In Dallas, her clothing bore witness to history. Clint Hill, the Secret Service agent assigned
to protect the first lady, remembered resting his hands on the suit's trembling shoulders, the left side of the skirt wet
with blood where she had cradled her husband's head.
Lady Bird Johnson, in the motorcade's third car, recalled Secret Service agents frantic to get
the president inside Parkland Hospital while his wife bent over him, refusing to let go: "I cast one last look over my shoulder
and saw, in the president's car, a bundle of pink, just like a drift of blossoms, lying on the back seat."
Somewhere inside the hospital, the hat came off. "While standing there I was handed Jackie's pillbox
hat and couldn't help noticing the strands of her hair beneath the hat pin. I could almost visualize her yanking it from her
head," Mary Gallagher, the first lady's personal secretary, who accompanied her to Dallas, wrote in her memoir.
Despite urging from staffers and handlers to "clean up her appearance," Jacqueline Kennedy refused
to get out of her bloodied clothes, according to biographer William Manchester's account of the assassination, "The Death
of a President."
"Why not change?" one aide prompted. "Another dress?" the president's personal physician suggested.
Jacqueline Kennedy shook her head hard: "No, let them see what they've done."
The suit was never cleaned and never will be. It sits today, unfolded and shielded from light,
in an acid-free container in a windowless room somewhere inside the National Archives and Records Administration's complex
in Maryland; the precise location is kept secret. The temperature hovers between 65 and 68 degrees; the humidity is 40 percent;
the air is changed six times an hour.
"It looks like it's brand new, except for the blood," said senior archivist Steven Tilley, one
of a handful of people to see the suit since 1963.
The suit's stamp on history is indelible for a nation that anguished with every disheveled glimpse
of its widowed first lady: climbing the stairs onto Air Force One to accompany her husband's coffin back to Washington, standing
beside Lyndon Johnson as he took the oath of office.
"Somehow, that was one of the most poignant sights," Mrs. Johnson later wrote, "that immaculate
woman exquisitely dressed, and caked in blood."
Jacqueline Kennedy returned to her private quarters in the White House in the early hours of Nov.
23. She took off the suit and bathed. Her maid, Providencia Paredes, told Manchester that she put the clothing in a bag and
Sometime in the next six months, a box arrived at the National Archives, where such treasures as
the Constitution and Bill of Rights are kept. In it were the suit, blouse, handbag, shoes and even her stockings, along with
an unsigned note on the letterhead stationery of Janet Auchincloss, Jacqueline Kennedy's mother: "Jackie's suit and bag worn
Nov. 22, 1963." No hat.
Archivists put all of it in a climate-controlled vault, where it remained for decades.
In 2003, a deed of gift was secured from Caroline Kennedy, by then the sole surviving heir. She
stipulated that the suit not be displayed for the life of the deed — 100 years. When it runs out in 2103, the right
to display it can be renegotiated by the family, Tilley said.
Gallagher, 83, and Paredes together have posted for Internet auction a long list of items that
belonged to Jacqueline Kennedy. No hat. Reached by phone, Gallagher refused to discuss the hat.