How sad the day, November 22, 1963, was. In America, it seemed that life suddenly stopped. My grandmother told of being in a shopping mall that was suddenly deserted except for a few who aimlessly wandered, crying. I had just turned 14, and up until that day the only bad thing that happened around my birthday was the issuance of first-term report cards. Schools closed, and remained closed while America mourned. For days, the networks suspended regular broadcasting and concentrated only on the murder of JFK and all things related. So many of us stayed rooted in front of our televisions from the moment the news was announced through the funeral. Yes, America mourned, but not just the death of a president, the death of dreams and innocence.
Stunned, thousands upon thousands took pen in hand and wrote letters of condolence to Jacqueline Kennedy. The letters were stored in the Kennedy Library. Author Ellen Fitzpatrick puts the letters into historical context in her introduction to Letters to Jackie: Condolences From A Grieving Nation (as well as to each chapter) then offers us a varied sampling of the emotions Americans felt compelled to share with Mrs. Kennedy. Historical photos and copies of the handwritten missives illustrate Letters to Jackie .
Some of the letters are beautifully written eulogies and others are beautifully written — but nearly illiterate — testimonies of loss. Parents forwarded letters from their children who reacted to the assassination, and all shared the Kennedy’s grief. According to Fitzpatrick, few people wrote condemning letters, although there were some critical of JFK’s support of civil rights or what others viewed as a soft stance on communism. Letters to Jackie represents the best of us, when we could put aside politics and pettiness. Perhaps we were shocked into civility; it took 9/11 to stir us so again.