Letters To Jackie: Condolences from a Grieving Nation Hardcover – Feb 22 2010
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“This is a terrific, original, and important work, the perfect match between subject and author. With an historian’s grasp of time and place and a novelist’s feel for drama and detail, Fitzpatrick provides a stunningly fresh look at the impact of JFK’s assassination on the American people.” (Doris Kearns Goodwin)
“Ellen Fitzpatrick’s wonderful book — which is both a perceptive history of the public response to John Kennedy’s death and a selection of the millions of letters that followed the assassination — is a remarkable window into the character of the nation in the 1960s.” (Alan Brinkley)
From the Back Cover
As seen on NBC Nightly News, CBS Evening News, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, CNN, MSNBC, and in the Boston Globe, New York Times, and USA Today
It is perhaps the most memorable event of the twentieth century: the assassination of president John F. Kennedy
Within seven weeks of president Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, Jacqueline Kennedy received more than 800,000 condolence letters. Two years later, the volume of correspondence would exceed 1.5 million letters. For the next forty-six years, the letters would remain essentially untouched.
Now, in her selection of 250 of these astonishing letters, historian Ellen Fitzpatrick reveals a remarkable human record of that devastating moment, of Americans across generations, regions, races, political leanings, and religions, in mourning and crisis. Reflecting on their sense of loss, their fears, and their hopes, the authors of these letters wrote an elegy for the fallen president that captured the soul of the nation.--This text refers to the Paperback edition. See all Product Description
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I also wonder, if this incident had occurred now, would the nation take the time to write letters of condolence to a First Lady? How do you "text" a condolence letter? Would anyone bother to "write" a letter.
In October 2009, I received a phone call from Sarah Little. She said she was trying to connect with people who wrote to Mrs. John F. Kennedy. She asked, "Did you write a letter to her?" I said, "I wasn't sure that I had." Then she started reading what she had in front of her. I realized quickly that it was something I had written. We had a nice talk and I thought no more about it. A few weeks later, I received a letter from Mary Dalton-Hoffman. She told me a little more about the project and included a copy of my letter, a bio of Ellen Fitzpatrick, and a copy of the letter attached to a release form that she wanted me to sign and return. Still not willing to believe this was real, I sent the contract to my daughter, Linda, who is a lawyer. She saw no reason why I shouldn't sign it, but gave me some questions to ask. So I called Mary and asked the questions and still forgot about it. Then I received a couple of calls and said, "Yes, my letter could be used." Still more time passed and I got another call asking me to please sign the release. Then, she sent another copy of the release. Finally on January 5, 2010, Mary received my release. I wondered about the book. Then I received something from Amazon saying that there was a new book coming out March 7 called "Letters to Jackie" by Ellen Fitzpatrick. Last Thursday, March 11, 2010, I received my autographed copy of the book. My husband looked for my letter and found it. It takes up over 2 pages in the book. There is also a short bio. Over 1.5 million letters had been sent. About 250 letters were chosen to be included in the book. They are from all walks of life. Some were written by children, Negroes, people from other countries, a convicted felon, and even a wire from General Douglas MacArthur. It's really quite exciting to realize that I am included in the book. Although, I haven't had time to read the whole book, what I have read has been quite interesting. In a review at Amazon, Lyn Roberts says, "... To read one letter draws you into the next and the next. I loved it. I also wonder, if this incident had occurred now, would the nation take the time to write letters of condolence to a First Lady? How do you "text" a condolence letter? Would anyone bother to "write" a letter."
I guess I have to say, I still write letters, but now I email them to family and friends. I found the letters were woven together beautifully. The book stirs up so many memories of the time. Although the book is not an easy read, I find it a good perspective of that time in history.
Mrs. Milano goes on to tell Mrs. Kennedy:
"For me, nine months have gone by, and I still cry in
my pillow every night. Though I could not understand
why this should happen to my husband... I felt that
somewhere, somehow I would find the strength and the
courage to face reality. But thus far, my depression
was very great. I spent many hours with my priest and
he constantly told me that God would show me the way.
And then, while watching your sweet face, day after
day, I suddenly knew that God had chosen your courage
and tremendous faith to show me the way. Whenever my
day is bad and little on the depressing side, I think
of you, and say a Hail Mary for your husband and mine,
and the day seems to be a little less depressing.
God certainly moves in mysterious ways, for suddenly
'He' showed me the way through you, dear gracious,
humble and courageous Lady."
(I think the words Mrs. Milano uses to describe Mrs. Kennedy are just as applicable to Mrs. Milano.)
It's because of letters like this that this is a wonderful book. With what grief, respect and care these writers attempted to allievate Mrs. Kennedy's sorrow, and their own. Reading these letters really does give a reader born after 1963 a window into the emotions of the public and something of the visceral impact of the Kennedy assassination.
So why did I give this book four stars?
The letters are bordered with commentary from the author, Ellen Fitzpatrick. At page 201 Ms. Fitzpatrick states:
"It is hard to recall today that the culture of self-
revelation and public confession that is so much a
part of contemporary America did not exist in that
period. (...) The world of manners then stressed
propriety, decorum, and deference. _Many considered
rectitude, reserve, and reticence as virtues rather
than regrettable vestiges of repression one ought
to strive to overcome._"
That last sentence to me is Ms. Fitzpatrick's personal thrust into an otherwise affecting and well-edited collection of letters. I'll grant that some people may be reserved or reticent to the point of needing to overcome. But it's unfair for this imperceptive and insulated history professor to indicate these three traits are regrettable in every instance, or that they can't be virtues. I certainly don't believe that integrity, restraint and discretion -synonyms for rectitude, reserve, and reticence- are merely: "vestiges of repression" that ought to be overcome. I, for "one", could really do without the vomiting of out-of-control emotions - anger, prejudice, and "Too Much Information" that I see every day, just from switching on a TV or from reading "comments" sections in newspapers, or online. The writers of these letters, Mrs. Milano and the others, don't fall into this category - for all their emotion, they are gracious, thoughtful, and yes, restrained - just wanting to be consoled and to console.
Ironically, Jacqueline Kennedy, during those four intense days of national grief, was a model for the virtues of "rectitude, reserve and reticence" and probably would have been the last person to think that these qualities are regrettable.