Letters of grief to Jacqueline Kennedy brought to life in film

Sun Sep 22, 2013 2:10pm EDT
 
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By Daniel Lovering

BOSTON (Reuters) - Three days after U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963, some 45,000 condolence letters addressed to his young widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, poured into the White House.

That was just the beginning of a flood of correspondence. Over the next two months the number climbed to 800,000, and within two years the first lady had received more than 1.5 million letters from well-wishers of all stripes, united in their grief over her husband's death.

About 250 of the letters were selected by historian Ellen Fitzpatrick and published in a 2010 book, "Letters to Jackie: Condolences from a Grieving Nation."

Now the book has been adapted for the screen in a new documentary, "Letters to Jackie: Remembering President Kennedy", which premiered at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston last week, nearly 50 years after Kennedy was gunned down on November 22, 1963, by Lee Harvey Oswald.

The film, which features archival footage of Kennedy at news conferences, public events and with family, traces the major events of his presidency, from civil rights protests to the Cuban missile crisis.

The 20 condolence letters that shape its narrative, written by ordinary Americans and read by Hollywood actors, give a visceral sense of what the 35th U.S. president meant to many citizens at a time of social and political upheaval.

"I felt as if I was looking at the beating heart of the country," Fitzpatrick said of the letters, which she stumbled across while doing research at the presidential library. "I read more and became all the more convinced that the letters should be brought to light."

A student from New York wrote of her teacher breaking down in tears at the news. A Massachusetts man fondly recalled voting for Kennedy in 1960 and expressed disbelief at the slaying of "a man so much alive" by "a madman with a mail-order rifle."   Continued...