In the Wake of the Kennedy Assassination, Robert Kennedy Arranges to Present His Sister-in-Law, Jacqueline, With a Gift From John F. Kennedy’s Cabinet and Intimate Friends

"We want this to be a surprise"; It was a gold coffee service with engraved signatures of Kennedy’s cabinet on it; he hoped to divert the grieving former First Lady with this poignant gesture.

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She moves into her first permanent home after the White House, and her husband’s confidants prepare a surprise housewarming

A symbol of strength for a traumatized nation in the winter of 1963–64, Jacqueline Kennedy was in fact falling apart—grieving and endlessly reliving her husband’s assassination, afflicted with what we’d now call post-traumatic...

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In the Wake of the Kennedy Assassination, Robert Kennedy Arranges to Present His Sister-in-Law, Jacqueline, With a Gift From John F. Kennedy’s Cabinet and Intimate Friends

"We want this to be a surprise"; It was a gold coffee service with engraved signatures of Kennedy’s cabinet on it; he hoped to divert the grieving former First Lady with this poignant gesture.

She moves into her first permanent home after the White House, and her husband’s confidants prepare a surprise housewarming

A symbol of strength for a traumatized nation in the winter of 1963–64, Jacqueline Kennedy was in fact falling apart—grieving and endlessly reliving her husband’s assassination, afflicted with what we’d now call post-traumatic stress disorder. Her biographer, Barbara Leaming, writes that unknown but to a few inside her inner circle, the former First Lady had nightmares, a drinking problem, and suicidal thoughts. In the weeks following the assassination, Jackie was, as she later said of herself at this point, “not in any condition to make much sense of anything.” But on December 6, 1963, she had to vacate the White House for the Johnsons and moved temporarily into a borrowed house in Georgetown, three blocks from where the John F. Kennedys had lived at the time he was elected president. Soon after, she asked a priest why had God allowed her husband to die like this? What possible reason could there be for it? She emphasized the senselessness of Jack’s being killed at a time when he still had so much more to offer. Jackie also confided to him her unease with the role that the American public had thrust upon her in the aftermath of Dallas. She did not want to be a public figure and felt that the world viewed her, not as a woman, but as a symbol of its own pain. And she kept thinking that the assassination was due to some failure on her part: If only she had not mistaken the sound of a rifle shot for the revving of motorcycles. If only she had been looking to the right, then she could have pulled her husband down, and then the second shot would not have hit him, and so on.

On February 4, 1964, Jacqueline Kennedy moved her family into a permanent home on N Street in Washington. Her brother-in-law, Robert Kennedy, was also deeply troubled at this time, but in addition was concerned about Jackie’s well-being. He came up with the idea of a housewarming gift for her, something that he hoped would be meaningful and evocative of her White House years, yet beguile her from her grief for a little while. He chose to present her with a magnificent gold coffee service, with a tray engraved with the signatures of members of the Kennedy cabinet. Moreover, rather than have the gift simply come from him, he arranged for it to be a joint gift from cabinet members and other Kennedy intimates. He was, of course, Attorney General at this time.

RFK sent this letter to one of the contributors, telling him when and where to arrive for the surprise gift presentation and housewarming party. Typed letter signed, on Attorney General letterhead, Washington, February 12, 1964, to David Bell, the administrator of the Agency for International Development. “Dear Dave, Our gift to Jackie has finally arrived and we would like to present it to her on Wednesday, February 26. Since we want this to be a surprise, it would help a great deal if you could be at her house, 3017 N Street, N.W., promptly at 6:15 p.m. Your share of the gift, by the way, is $25.00. Best, Bob.”

The housewarming event indeed occurred on February 26, 1964 at Mrs. Kennedy’s home. President and Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson were present, along with members of the late President’s cabinet, JFK intimates Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (White House aide), David Bell (foreign aid director), Angier Biddle Duke (State Department protocol chief), Gen. Maxwell Taylor (chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), Supreme Court Justice Arthur J. Goldberg, Pierre Salinger (White House press secretary), and numerous wives. LBJ brought along three pens with which he had signed a historic tax bill President Kennedy had pushed, and gave one each to Mrs. Kennedy and her two children. Then the Cabinet presented the gold coffee service.

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