Justice Jackson serving as prosecutor at the trial of Hermann Goering; Nuremberg, 1945
Jack Ruby shoots Lee Harvey Oswald on November 24, 1963.
In 1955, after Justice Jackson died, his widow sold the property to US Senator John F. Kennedy.
Just a year later, JFK sold the house to RFK and his wife, Ethel. At the time, Ethel was pregnant with their fifth (of 11) children. In the 50's and 60's, it was the center of the Kennedy political dynasty. It was a "wild, informal mixture of a children's playground, upbeat discotheque, and a humming political headquarters," described one regular visitor. One of the first things any visitor noticed was the sheer number of children and animals running around the place. "There were lots of kids," remembers one of them, Kathleen Kennedy Townshend. "There were plenty of horses, many dogs, chickens, geese, goats. It was a menagerie... my brother Bobby collected reptiles. And actually the turtle was in the laundry room. The sea lion was in the swimming pool."
No visit to Hickory Hill could be complete without some kind of sporting event, particularly one of the legendary games of Kennedy touch football. Family members were notoriously competitive, and played by a rulebook of their own. "If you were going out for a pass, you had to fly," recalled famous sportswriter George Plimpton. "Bobby was sour if you missed one."
Invitations to Hickory Hill were highly coveted, and no place better expressed the personality of its owners. Another Kennedy trait in evidence at Hickory Hill was curiosity. He and Ethel surrounded themselves with accomplished people from all walks of life -- scientists, entertainers, academics, athletes, politicians -- and grilled them all equally. Kennedy was a voracious reader and lifelong student, and once invited noted Harvard historian Arthur Schlesinger to organize a series of seminars at Hickory Hill. The lectures, organized around dinner and drinks, attracted upwards of sixty people who heard from leading thinkers from a variety of disciplines. Afterwards the Kennedys would lead the question session. "A thousand and one questions," remembered John Glenn, who was asked what it was like to feel weightless while orbiting Earth.
Even guests at the frequent parties the Kennedys threw were fair game. "A Hickory Hill party was an odd mixture of high sophistication and childish hijinks. Dinner guests might include the Russian ambassador to the United States and the Secretary of State," according to Kennedy biographer Evan Thomas, "but there was a pretty good chance somebody gets thrown in the swimming pool."
Ethel and her eleven children continued to live at Hickory Hill for many years after RFK's death.
We’ll look at a couple of items and places this month, all associated with the Bobby Kennedy legacy.
First, a little bit of background to refresh your memory on RFK. Robert Francis “Bobby” Kennedy was born in 1925, the seventh child of nine Kennedy children. He was the younger brother of John F Kennedy (35th President of the US) and the older brother of Edward “Teddy” Kennedy, current Senator from Massachusetts. Briefly hitting the highlights of his life, he served as the 64th Attorney General (1961-1964) and the New York Senator from 1965 until his assassination in 1968. He played critical roles in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1961, and was actively involved in the African-American Civil Rights Movement of the early 60’s.
(A semi-related side note: During the later days of WWII, RFK was in a Naval Officer Commissioning Program at Harvard [known as the V-12 Program]. On December 15, 1945 the U.S. Navy commissioned the destroyer USS Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. [named after his brother, a Navy aviator, who died during his 26th combat mission off the coast of England in 1944). RFK requested to be released from naval officer training to serve as an apprentice seaman on the ship's inaugural cruise through the Western Hemisphere. He was later honorably discharged from the USN.)
USS Joseph P Kennedy (DD-850), left; LT Joseph P Kennedy, right
RFK was survived by his pregnant wife, Ethel, and their ten children. The 11th son, Rory, was born several months after his father’s death.
At the funeral mass, held in St. Patrick's Cathedral, his brother, Senator Ted Kennedy, eulogized him with the words, "My brother need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it."
Immediately following the mass, Kennedy's body was transported by train to Washington, D.C. Thousands of mourners lined the tracks and stations, paying their respects as the train passed by. Due to the slow-moving nature of the train, RFK’s casket didn’t arrive at Union Station until 9:10 PM, changing the afternoon internment to a night internment (the only one to ever take place at night in Arlington). RFK is buried adjacent to his older brother John, in Arlington National Cemetery. In accordance with his wife’s wishes, Kennedy was buried with the bare minimum military escort and ceremony. The folded US flag was presented to his parents on behalf of the United States by Colonel John Glenn, USMC.
After his assassination, the mandate of the US Secret Service was altered to include protection of presidential candidates.
We’ll look at a couple of other items related to RFK over the next few weeks.
Coincidentally, the New York Times just released a multimedia presentation showcasing some of the powerful images shot from the funeral train carrying RFK’s casket. You can find it here.
Image from the funeral train of RFK, 1968