Letters to Jackie: Condolences from a Grieving Nation

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Overview

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 ...

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Letters to Jackie: Condolences from a Grieving Nation

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

With the full thrust of live media coverage, the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy became an unprecedented occasion for true national mourning. Within seven weeks of the President's death, his widow Jacqueline had received more than 800,000 condolences letters. (The number would mount later to 1.5 million communications.) Historian Ellen Fitzpatrick has painstakingly sorted through mounds of these missives, eventually selecting approximately 250 letters that best represent the thoughts of Americans at this historic crossroads.

Doris Kearns Goodwin
“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.”
Alan Brinkley
“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.”
Publishers Weekly
The national struggle to make sense of President Kennedy's assassination included an outpouring of mail sent to Kennedy's much-loved widow, Jacqueline, some 800,000 letters, which had been in storage until professor and author Fitzpatrick (History's Memory: Writing America's Past) took on the Herculean task of curating them. Here, she attempts to create a meaningful narrative out of the nation's massive record of grief-a real anomaly in a time when writing to public figures was frowned upon-by examining different groups (widows, African Americans, children) and examining the impact Kennedy made on every American, regardless of politics, which lead ultimately to his legend. Despite its power and significance, the material is repetitive and may overwhelm; those with the patience to wade through, however, will be rewarded with a you-are-there feel for this turning point in history.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061969829
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/13/2011
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 271,412
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Ellen Fitzpatrick

Ellen Fitzpatrick, a professor and scholar specializing in modern American political and intellectual history, is the author and editor of six books. The Carpenter Professor of History at the University of New Hampshire, where she has been recognized for Excellence in Public Service, Fitzpatrick lives in Newton, Massachusetts.

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Table of Contents

Introduction "A Deep Scar on Our Hearts"

November 22. 1963: "History Jumping Up Out of History Books" 1

Politics, society, and President, 1963: "He Was Born Holding a Flag" 89

Grief and Loss: "The Burden of His Death" 199

Acknowledgments 291

The Letter Writers 295

Letter Citations 335

Notes 343

Photograph Permissions 353

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 19 )
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  • Posted April 30, 2010

    Historically Important

    This is such an emotionally draining book, but at the same time, it reminds one what is good and what is remarkable about America and Americans. It is historical. I especially found the "first account" letters fascinating from the military people who were part of the funeral procession, as well as the letter from President Garfield's grandson - his family, of course, having first hand experience with assassination. Thank you, Professor Fitzpatrick for this wonderful and important book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 10, 2010

    Bravo

    Letters to Jackie is a book that will surprise many readers for many personal reasons. Most people do not realize how many Americans took the time to write a condolence letter to the First Lady. Politically, not every letter was written by people that agreed with JFK's politics, but the humanness of the loss was overwhelming and people ignored their politics. It's an important book for younger readers as well as it fills in large gaps of history that many have never encountered in school. They will experience through these letters a sense of hope and love for this man as a humanitarian. JFK affected ALL Americans in a profound manner- poor and rich, young and old. You will see this vividly when reading the letters' outpouring.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 9, 2010

    An Important Book for All Generations

    This may be one of the most important books for this era. The book transcends all generations. Baby boomers will be reminded how a nation united under tragedy. The younger generation will fully understand what the death of JFK meant to the nation, young, old, educated, uneducated, rich and poor. MS. Fitzpatrick has done a fantastic job of bridging the generational gap. The reader will also come away with the disturbing knowledge that we now have destroyed the English language with our wonderful technology. When a convicted felon's letter reads like exquisite poetry, it makes one wonder. 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.

    Lyn Roberts

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2013

    A very moving book

    The author was right when it was said that anyone alive at that time would never forget where they were and what they were doing when they heard that JFK had been murdered.

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  • Posted May 15, 2011

    Moving

    This book is by far one of the most amazing and emotional of its kind. Not only does it have countless letters of grief and inspiration, but also wonderful historical narrations of the tragic event by the author. The letters are presented with a remarkable flow. Enjoyable for any history buff!

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  • Posted May 24, 2010

    Revisiting the Past

    I am transported back in time as I read this thoughtfully edited volume. The events in my past are coming to life, as I read others' outpouring of heartfelt feelings following President Kennedy's assassination. I am both savoring the work, and taking in my fill of sadness a few hours at a time, as I read this very worthwhile purchase.

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  • Posted April 25, 2010

    A Reawakening

    When Kennedy died, the myth of Camelot came to an end. We who were children during his presidency remember those years as a fairty-tale time, and the day he died as a singular tragedy that shook our entire worldview. It's a real awakening to be brought back so vividly right into that time, those feelings and those emotions of childhood, but now as an adult reader with adult sensibilities. Whatever one's current politics and historical view of Kennedy's presidency, he was nonetheless, in his day, a tremendously powerful mythological figure who symbolized for the entire world the very deepest stirrings of the American Dream. The power of that myth is something we did not see again on the world's stage until the day Obama was elected. This is not about politics. It's about dreams and their power. This book of unmediated letters speaks directly to that dream and the highest transcendence of that power. As such, it is a superb sociological document, and a thrilling and tearful encounter with the past. The author undertakes to fill in the background, selecting and organizing the material with commentary for those who were not there. This effort is moderately successful, but the real fascination lies within the letters themselves. Overall, a very worthwhile read, and a truly commendable project. One only regrets that it comes to an end with just 250 or so of the 1.5 million letters originally written.

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