JFK’s Bay of Tears
Among the eight and a half hours of tape are revelations about major political events. In the wake of the Bay of Pigs, when 176 men died and thousands were injured, Jacqueline Kennedy revealed her husband’s personal turmoil over the fiasco. “He started to cry just with me… Just put his head in his hands and sort of wept. And, it was so sad,” she said. In the tapes, recorded four months after JFK’s assassination, Jackie said she tried to make her home calm and keep the children happy in order to assuage her husband’s stress after work.
Why Release the Recordings?
From disparaging comments about leaders to revelations about major political events, Jacqueline Kennedy’s oral history doesn’t always show her in the kindest light. Still, daughter Caroline said she wanted to release the recordings with no editing. “Once you start making changes it’s ‘what do you do?’” Kennedy said of making the tapes public for the 50th anniversary of JFK’s inauguration. “It’s not my oral history, so I really felt an obligation to history and to carry out what she had done,” Caroline Kennedy said.
Jackie: ‘I Want to Die’ with JFK
Talk about speaking from the grave. In a chilling recording about the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy recalls eavesdropping on a discussion at the White House that included Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. The first lady describes the terror she felt at the thought of an impending nuclear crisis—and the limited space in the White House bomb shelter. “Please don’t send me away to Camp David… Even if there’s not room in the bomb shelter in the White House, which I’d seen…I want to die with you and the children do too.”
Jackie on MLK: ‘Such a Phony’
It’s not every day that the words sex party and Martin Luther King, Jr. are used in the same sentence. But, according to Jacqueline Kennedy in the recordings, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover told the president that King planned parties involving a lot of sex. “I said, ‘oh, but Jack, that’s so terrible. I mean that man is a, you know, such a phony,” the first lady said of the civil rights icon. That, however, doesn’t tell the whole story; Caroline Kennedy said that overall her mother admired MLK “tremendously.”
The Unspoken Gripe with LBJ
Blame it on Lyndon B. Johnson’s “enormous ego”: Despite an outward appearance of a genial relationship, Jacqueline Kennedy was no fan of her husband’s successor. According to Kennedy, Johnson was frequently missing in action from the White House, and drunk. “Lyndon as vice president just didn’t do anything,” she said of the 36th president. Further tarnishing their relationship was a phone call when LBJ, showing off in front of reporters, consoled Jackie after her husband’s death.
Jackie’s Surprising Views on Women
“Poor little women” take heed: Jacqueline Kennedy’s views on women were a product of her time. In the recordings, the first lady is vocal about her disapproval of women who had “this queer thing for power,” going so far to say that she “wouldn’t be surprised if they were lesbians.” The woman in the recording wasn’t Jackie O. yet. “I get all my opinions from my husband, which is true. How could I have any political opinions,” she said, adding, “I think women should never be in politics.”
What About JFK’s Affairs?
While Jackie’s “happiest years” in her marriage might have been in the White House, the tapes are rife with veiled references to bouts of exhaustion and sadness. In one recording, the first lady talks about leaving and returning to JFK: “He’d always send you away—and when he knew you were tired—and then you’d come back so happy again.” Caroline, on the other hand, stayed tight-lipped on her father’s alleged extramarital affairs. “I wouldn’t be her daughter if I was going to share all that,” she said.
JFK Jr.: Dad’s ‘Gone to Heaven’
Heartbreaking: Among the never-before-heard tapes is a recording of “John John” talking about his father with the historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. After wandering into the room where Jackie was making the recording, Schlesinger asked the 3-year-old about what happened to JFK. “He’s gone to heaven,” the toddler said, before thwarting the historian by saying he couldn’t remember “anything” about his father. Yet, John F. Kennedy, who cryptically asked about Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in this video, was quite the doting father, according to his wife.