President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy arrive at Love Field in Dallas, on Nov. 22, 1963.
(Photo: Kennedy Library via AP)
We know the suit is pink.
Even when we see it in black and white, we know Jackie Kennedy's boucle suit is pink. When we see it in color, the grainy images remind us how long ago Nov. 22, 1963, was, and the suit's vivid, feminine flame saddens us: We know the young woman wearing it will never again smile so brightly. A collective heart will break. An unsuspecting nation will never be the same.
Jackie Kennedy's pink suit hangs in our memories - in the mind's closets reserved for history's moments that create a "before" and an "after." And on the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination, the first lady's delicate suit, stained with her husband's blood, is a presence heavy in its absence, shielded from view until 2103.
"Even those of us who were not born when Kennedy was president are not immune to the horrific image of that perfect woman in that perfectly beautiful suit covered in blood," says Nicole Mary Kelby, author of the novel The Pink Suit, which will be released by Little & Brown in April. "In Dallas, our dreams died. Our hopes followed. We are still in mourning for Jackie's America."
For all of the various relics and records that tell the story of Dallas' darkest day, the mystery of the pink suit still captures our imaginations, mostly because of the woman who wore it and wore it so well.
"Jackie was a professional photographer. She painted. She designed clothes," Kelby says. "She had an artist's eye, and used the media to craft a vision of American perfection that we'd never seen before and have rarely seen since."
The suit's origin has been debated over the decades. It is sometimes referred as "Jackie's Chanel suit," but Kelby explains the suit was actually an authorized line-by-line replica made in 1961 by Chez Ninon, a New York couture house. Kelby says the first lady wore it several times.
"During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Mrs. Kennedy was forced to take over the president's diplomatic duties, something she never did," Kelby says, "and (she) wore it twice in a week - which was quite telling of the stress she was under. The next time she wore it was in Dallas."
Deeds from the Kennedy family restrict access to the suit, as well as the clothes that President Kennedy was wearing that day. Requests to view the president's clothing and the autopsy report and X-rays go through a Kennedy family representative.
The suit is stored in a secure, climate-controlled area of the National Archives building in College Park, Md., the same building as assassin Lee Harvey Oswald's clothing. Oswald's rifle and pistol, bullets and bullet fragments from the assassination, the windshield of President Kennedy's limousine and Oswald's diary and other writings are also stored at the Archives.
Although much has changed since the grim end of Camelot, the Kennedys will always intrigue the public - as will places and objects associated with the assassination. Some pieces from that day in Dallas are in museums. Some are locked in vaults. Some occasionally show up in auction houses. The fedora worn by Jack Ruby when he shot Oswald was sold in November 2009 at auction to an anonymous buyer for $45,000.
Some artifacts, like the pink suit, hold more of a mystique: the casket that held Kennedy's body on the flight to Washington, for example. On Feb, 18, 1966, the casket was weighted and dropped by an Air Force plane into the Atlantic Ocean in an area where test weapons firing left the sea bottom littered with munitions, making it dangerous for anyone to try to recover it.
Steve Tilley, a senior archivist at the National Archives and Records Administration who was in charge of its Kennedy collection from 1993 to 2004, described the casket's disposal to USA TODAY in 2009. He said he believes people are fascinated by the assassination because "there was something about Jack Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy that people just took to." The Kennedys' saga, Tilley said, "never ceases to amaze, to be interesting."
Where other items related to the assassination are located:
• Parkland Memorial Hospital Trauma Room No. 1. The contents of the Dallas hospital room where President Kennedy died, including equipment and a gurney, were sold to the federal government for $1,000 in 1973 and stored at the Regional Archives Branch in Fort Worth. The boxed items were moved in 2007 to a caged area in underground Archives facility in Lenexa, Kan., called "The Caves."
• The 1956 Cadillac used by the Secret Service in Kennedy's motorcade. It's at Historic Auto Attractions, a museum in Roscoe, Ill., 90 miles northwest of Chicago. The museum showcases other related artifacts, including the shoes Jack Ruby wore when he shot Oswald and the ambulance that transported Oswald
• Kennedy's limo. The 1961 Lincoln Continental is at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich. The car was modified after Kennedy's death and remained in service until 1977.