Past the exhibits about the Cold War, the space race and the Cuban missile crisis is a new display case at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, virtually invisible behind the crowds of visitors straining to see what’s inside.
It’s a dress, the white silk wedding gown Jacqueline Bouvier wore when she married Kennedy in 1953. The gown is part of a collection of belongings her children gave to the museum after her death in 1994.
Only a few things were selected for the first public display.
“She was reluctant to have too much of the focus on her,” her daughter, Caroline, said at the museum last week.
The dress, which took seamstresses two months to make and used 50 yards of material, is the focal point at the end of a long, red-carpeted hallway in the museum representing the White House.
Also on display: her diamond-and-emerald wedding ring and the beige suit she wore to Kennedy’s inauguration, with its famous matching pillbox hat.
“This is part of American history,” said Anne Kintz of Warren, Conn., who toured the museum last week. “I’ve seen pictures of it so many times.”
The fragile wedding dress will be on view only through the summer. On a screen behind it, home movies of the Kennedy wedding run continuously.
“It was such a love story, and she was bigger than life. I’m as interested in her as I am in him,” said Joann Simpkins of Bedford, N.H.
The new exhibit chronicles more than the first lady’s matrimonial fashion sense, also documenting her little-known personal side.
Jacqueline Bouvier’s baby brush, a sweater and her childhood prayer book are part of the display. So is an early report card. Surprisingly, the highly poised woman got a D in Form as a girl “because her disturbing conduct in geography class made it necessary to exclude her from the room.”
Included is a composition she wrote as a schoolgirl. “To be kind, one must live outside of oneself and care about the happiness of others,” it reads.
Her only known memo to her husband also is on display, a three-page handwritten argument in a sharply different tone about efforts to save the ancient Egyptian temples in the Nile Valley threatened by the Aswan Dam.
“Though they had hoped to get $30 million from us, I think they will now be satisfied with an expression of the president’s support,” she writes. “Then they can hustle and find the rest of the money themselves.”
Also shown: a handwritten letter to the director of the National Gallery of Art about saving historic buildings surrounding Lafayette Square.
A plum from the collection of 25,000 documents contributed by her children, though not yet on display, is a note about finding more literary shelf space in the White House. “We need more bookshelves,” she wrote. “Don’t any presidents ever read?”
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