Visiting Yusha

By Jane Wypiszynski

November 6, 2014: I have been obsessed with Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis since I was 10 years old.  That is not any form of exaggeration. I have read everything I could find about her, from the well-crafted books to the worst tabloid stories. Seriously, if they had a Jeopardy category for her I would start with the $800 answer, secure in the knowledge that I would be asking the right question.

As a young girl I fulfilled my passion for Jackie by sending her birthday cards every year and writing to the White House asking for pictures of her and her family (evidently I had a jones for a large number of photos because my response from Letitia Baldridge was a set of four photos and a letter saying that Mrs. Kennedy could not possibly send me the “dozens” I had requested). Perhaps my most brash moment was when I wrote to invite Caroline to spend the summer at my house so she would have someone to play with during her school recess.  

As I matured I realized that my chances of meeting Jackie were very small.  I lived in Wisconsin, went to college in Indiana, and then returned to Wisconsin to teach. But I remained under her spell, constantly seeking out information about her. I had the chance to meet Ted Kennedy several times, and after writing a senior college thesis about Robert Kennedy I took a copy of it to Hickory Hill and left it for Ethel. When I went to New York I always walked past 1040 Fifth Avenue hoping she would emerge.

In 2003 I was going to Boston for a vacation and decided, on a pure whim, to see if I could contact Hugh Auchincloss III (Yusha), Jackie’s beloved stepbrother who still lived in Newport. I sent him a letter, asking if I could interview him about her. He called me and said he would be delighted to meet me at his home, “The Castle”.  This is the smaller home on the edge of what was the Auchincloss family mansion, Hammersmith Farm, which is where Jackie and Jack’s wedding reception was held in September, 1953.

Yusha had told me to follow Thames Street until I came to a meadow with sheep; his house would be on the right. When I arrived he was meeting with someone and asked me to wait in his study for a few minutes.  The incredible magic began at that point.  His sitting room was a literal treasure chest of Jackie memorabilia: her wedding announcement, her bridal photo, a painting of Danseuse (her much loved horse), photos of her children as well as  her sister Lee and her family, Yusha’s children, and items such as a lighter from the Inauguration.

There were scrapbooks everywhere. While I waited for him to return to the room I was surrounded by comfortable by clearly expensive furniture, some in the chintz that Janet Auchincloss was known for using. The room was cozy as well as tasteful. This is exactly what I assumed Jackie would have liked in a summer residence.

Yusha explained that he had named this house “The Castle” as a joke; most of the enormous mansions in Newport had been called “cottages” by their wealthy owners.  Once Hammersmith Farm had been lost to the family Janet had moved into this home and she lived here until her death in 1989.  He had cared for her as her mind slipped away, and she had died in her bedroom.  “In fact,” he said, “Jackie sat right where you are sitting during her last afternoon.” That statement was very moving to me.  He spoke then about his family and his love for Jackie. I had to promise him that I would not reveal his exact words until after his death, so I must remain silent about that part of the day.

But I can say that he was also very proud of the mementoes he had from King Hussein of Jordan, a very close personal friend of Yusha’s. Yusha worked for many years with various agencies in the Middle East and he had profound respect for the King and his leadership. There were numerous photos inscribed to him in the house, as well as beautiful pieces of art from Jordan that had been gifts.

I expressed interest in the Mill House on the property, which Janet and Jackie had worked on only to have it burn. They then restored it to be a small residence which was still used by members of the family at various times during the summer months.  Would I like to see it? Yes!  So Yusha got into my car and had me drive back into the ocean side of the property to look at this unique and very comfortable dwelling.  He then said we should drive over onto the lawn on Hammersmith Farm, to where all the family pets had been buried, and then further into the area where Jackie’s reception had been held.  He recalled what a beautiful setting the lawn had been for her wedding party.

Back at “The Castle” Yusha asked me to come back into the house to look at one more item.  He had a lovely photograph album with pictures of Hammersmith Farm in its glory. These were pictures of a magnificent home, with muted colors and lush drapes, exquisite furniture and distinctive artwork.  He was so proud of the legacy his family had created in that huge home.

I was lucky enough to return to “The Castle” in  2005 and have dinner with Yusha at The White Horse Tavern, Newport’s oldest restaurant. The manager came to the table to share with me the joy he always had in serving Jackie, how kind she was, and how well she treated everyone who served her.

So I never met Jackie, but I have gotten the pleasure of meeting many who did know her.  And the visit to Newport and Yusha was one of special joy for me.

Copyright Steven L. Brawley, 2002-2015. All Rights Reserved.