Letters Reveal Public Grief for JFK’s Death

BY Anna Shoup  March 11, 2010 at 2:23 PM EDT

In the months after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the public flooded the White House mailbox with 1.5 million condolence letters to then First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.

“We loved the President as a father as the father of our Country. No one can never take his place,” one letter reads.

These are now captured in a new book by historian Ellen Fitzpatrick titled “Letters to Jackie: Condolences from a Grieving Nation.

Fitzpatrick stumbled upon the letters while researching another book on how Americans viewed President Kennedy. Her focus shifted when she remembered the condolence letters and asked the archivist if any were left. Turns out there were boxes of them.

“I was struck by how many people were unified around their television, that’s their memory of this, not only hearing about it but watching the ceremonies that followed, was that one of the many themes it seemed our first national shared moment,” Fitzpatrick told Gwen Ifill in an interview on the PBS NewsHour, which will air Thursday.

Fitzpatrick selected 250 for her book. Here’s a sample of these letters, courtesy of “Letters to Jackie” by Ellen Fitzpatrick, Ecco Publishing.*

“Letters to Jackie”

A few weeks after her husband’s death, Mrs. Kennedy recorded a message to the American public thanking them for their letters: “The knowledge of the affection in which my husband was held by all of you has sustained me. And the warmth of these tributes is something I shall never forget,” she said on Jan. 14, 1964.

Watch the full interview with Ellen Fitzpatrick on Thursday’s PBS NewsHour.