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Collecting the Kennedys

By Lynn Wooten

November 17, 2014: When I was in the fifth grade, I wrote a book report on President Kennedy’s assassination. I found the subject absolutely riveting, and I must hold the dubious record for the number of times the book Four Days was checked out of an elementary school library by the same person.

My fascination with the events in Dallas quickly spread to the family and their epic soap opera. Oddly, I vividly remember the first time I laid eyes on a photo of Jackie Kennedy (it was a close-up shot of her beaming, at Love Field, in the book The Torch is Passed), and my mother helped me pronounce her name. It was love at first sight.

I spent countless Saturdays poring through the periodical stacks at our library, copying pages of interest and jotting down the dates of back-issue magazines I would order for my budding Kennedy collection.

Starting off, there were the requisite Life, Look and Saturday Evening Post issues. Then, in the 1980s, I would anxiously await the twice-a-year auction catalogues from Kennedy Political Items Collectors (KPIC) and would stay on the phone late at night bidding away.

I tirelessly scoured flea markets and used-book and magazine stores. Friends of friends of friends would happily unload their old historic newspapers from their attics, and I would carefully file and care for them. Then eBay came along – and many items that had seemed rare and out of reach became far more accessible. To this day, I only halfway joke that had it not been for eBay, I would have owned my first house much sooner!

In 1996, with the help of an auction insider, I attended the famous Jackie Kennedy Onassis estate auction at Sotheby’s, including an exclusive VIP preview cocktail party. Surrounded by the very wealthy and eating caviar for the first time, I most certainly was out of my element!

But I got to see all of Jackie’s remarkable furniture, jewelry, books, china, rugs and basic bric-a-brac up-close. Confidently – yet, as it turned out, quite naively – predicting that items would sell for perhaps 10 times their pre-sale estimates, I put away about $1,000 with which to purchase one of the lesser items – say, for example, a beat up upholstered stool that had been in Mrs. Kennedy’s White House bedroom, estimated at just $100.

Well, during the opening auction session a couple of nights later, I was seated across the aisle from former Chrysler Corp. chairman Lee Iacocca. An hour into the auction, with its jaw-dropping, skyrocketing hammer prices, I glanced over at Iacocca as he rubbed his temples. If these prices give Lee Iacocca a headache, I thought, I’m waaaaay out of my league.

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1040 Piano Display

November 14, 2014 Notes: Objects displayed on Jackie's Henry F. Miller Ebonized Baby Grand Piano in a corner of her 1040 Fifth Avenue Dining Room. Piano sold at auction for $167,500.

Source: Sotheby's 1996 Onassis Auction Catalog, page 466.  Image edited by Steven L. Brawley.

Forever Jackie

By Mary Christopher

November 12, 2014: By the time I could identify all of the Huxtables on “The Cosby Show,” I was already fascinated with Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis.

My baby boomer mother, think Sally Draper obsessed with Mary Poppins, grew up in the thick of the 1960s culture boom as a Jackie lover and Kennedy admirer.

Her love for Jackie certainly rubbed off on me – a girl who came of age in the 90s during the emergence of technology, hip hop and Hillary Clinton.

In May 1994 when everyone was rushing around my suburban town having prom pictures developed, I was running around buying commemorative Jackie magazines because she had just passed away. There may have been photos I hadn’t seen before and I was curious to see which part of her life would be projected on the cover … young Jackie, First Lady Jackie, jet set Jackie O or New York years Jackie.

As I look through those magazines today no feelings have changed, no interest flailed and no part of me wants to de-clutter the box to make space for my daughters’ ever expanding toy collection. Why? Because it’s Jackie, she will always remain a chic and timeless mystery.

She never seemed to go through any “awkward” phases in life and didn’t need formality to look elegant. It was her natural way. Her life was a mixture of fairy tale, fable and tragedy. As one of the most followed and photographed women in the world we are left feeling like we didn’t quite know her.

Someone once said that Jackie was “a phenomenon in phenomenal times” and I believe that to be very true. Living in the sixties had to be an unbelievably sensational and befuddling experience. The country changed socially, politically and culturally and she entered at just the right time. Coming off the stodgy fifties, she infused chic, modern and traditional sensibilities in her own way. Classic with a twist.

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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.

Read more: Visiting Yusha

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