Page last updated at 12:22 GMT, Tuesday, 9 March 2010

John F Kennedy condolence letters to Jackie published

Kennedy family at JFK's funeral, 25 Nov 1963
Kennedy's assassination had a profound effect on the country

Some of more than 1.5 million condolence letters sent to US President John F Kennedy's widow after his death have been published for the first time.

The poignant collection includes dozens from an 11-year-old girl from Texas, where Kennedy was shot, and others who wrote of their grief at his death.

One child said her "tears wouldn't stop", while a man wrote of his body "trembling at the terrible incident".

Kennedy was assassinated on a visit to Texas with his wife, Jackie, in 1963.

The letters were discovered by historian Ellen Fitzpatrick in the John F Kennedy Library in Boston.

"It was like the roof came off the building, the walls dropped away, the floor came out from under me. I was absolutely floored by what I'd begun to read," she said.

"I have been teaching American history for 30 years and I'm not sure I've ever seen a collection as powerful and that represented so many ordinary people speaking from the heart about their views about American society and politics and the president."

Tracked down

Most of the letters had been destroyed but thousands still remained.

Among them were more than two dozen from 11-year-old Jane Dryden, who wrote a letter a week for six months.

I tried to tell myself he would be all right but somehow I knew he wouldn't... the tears wouldn't stop.
Extract from letter by Mary South

"I know that you hate the whole state of Texas. I do to [sic]," she said in one letter, dated January 1964.

"I wish I lived in Washington, DC where maybe I could maybe see you standing on your porch. I am determined to move there as soon as I can. I would feel safer there."

In another letter, written two days after Kennedy's death, teenager Mary South described how, sat at her church organ, she hoped Kennedy would survive.

"I tried to tell myself he would be all right but somehow I knew he wouldn't... the tears wouldn't stop. The slightly damp keys were hard to play but I offered it up that the president might live."

Now 60 years old, Mary was among about 200 of the letter-writers Prof Fitzpatrick managed to track down.

When one of Prof Fitzpatrick's researchers read her the message it brought memories of the event flooding back.

"I started to cry all over again," said Mary, who lives in California.

"It was like I was right back there in 1963."

'Average American'

The impact of Kennedy's death on the American public is conveyed by the personal nature of many of the letters, published in Letters to Jackie: Condolences From a Grieving Nation.

Writing from New York, Marilyn Davenport explained that she was "... just an average American - average mentality, average housewife, average housing, average size family, a year younger than you [Jackie Kennedy] and perhaps a little more sensitive than some, but I will always have a warm spot in my heart for both of you as long as I live".

Mrs Davenport gave Mrs Kennedy her phone number, saying "if you ever want to talk".

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