Friday, November 29, 2013

How Jackie Kennedy Taught Us to Grieve

Last week, on November 22, 2013, Americans commemorated the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Fifty years ago today, his traumatized widow Jackie, beckoned Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Theodore White to the family’s Hyannis Port compound for an exclusive interview. Following her husband’s murder, the erstwhile first lady intended to retreat from the public eye. Yet, before she withdrew, Jackie needed to speak to America one final time. She designated White, considered Kennedy-friendly, to be her mouthpiece.

After Jackie’s telephone call, White high-tailed it up north. Anticipating the exposé, his editors at LIFE kept the presses open; it cost $30,000/hour. As The New York Post remarked, to do this for a story that wasn't composed, based on an interview that hadn’t transpired was unheard of. Nevertheless, a heart-to-heart with the slain president’s spouse was the of news story a lifetime!

Chatting with Jackie, White characterized her bearing, “Composure . . . beautiful . . . dressed in trim black slacks . . . beige pullover sweater . . . eyes wider than pools . . . calm voice.” During the next 3.5 hours, she chronicled that horrific day just a week earlier, before disclosing her purpose. She was fearful of JFK’s legacy being minimized or tarnished by critics. Steadfast in her vision of how Americans should think of the country’s fallen leader, Jackie disclosed one of the couple’s favorite nighttime routines.

Before bed, JFK enjoyed playing albums, in particular the cast recording for 1960’s smash Broadway musical, Camelot. His favorite lyrics, crooned by Richard Burton, were, “Don't let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.” On reflection, Jackie imagined those sentimental lines encapsulated her husband’s presidency. She affirmed, “There'll be great presidents again — and the Johnsons are wonderful, they've been wonderful to me — but there'll never be a Camelot again.”

By equating JFK with this contemporary version of the Arthurian myth, Jackie was conjuring the depiction of the 35th president that’s endured the last half century. This reinterpretation, inspired by T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, accentuated the futility of war, reimagining the fabled monarch as peace-seeking visionary. Accordingly, this is how Jackie envisioned Americans remembering their lost commander-in-chief, a crusader who’d forfeited his life in pursuit of global harmony.

Later, White divulged both he and publishing supervisors were reluctant to disseminate Jackie’s Camelot analogy, but she was unyielding. Additionally, he consented to letting his interviewee make adjustments to the essay. Around 2 a.m., with Jackie lingering nearby, White dictated his editorial over the kitchen telephone. With subscriptions around 30 mil., “For President Kennedy: An Epilogue,” was undoubtedly consumed by innumerable readers. Subsequently, as Jackie had desired, JFK’s presidency would be immortalized as unequalled Camelot.

Undeniably, Jackie’s comparison has faults. Though JFK professed “Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind,” he similarly asserted “The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender, or submission.” His participation in the calamitous Bay of Pigs Invasion and resolution to “draw a line in the sand” concerning Vietnam only further separates him from Jackie’s antiwar idealist. Furthermore, by reworking JFK into what James Piereson labeled “the consummate liberal idealist” whose accomplishments would always be unsurpassed, Jackie made it tougher for the grief-stricken nation to move ahead. If what she contended was true, and there'd “never be another Camelot,” where could the nation go but downwards?

From this unfathomable tragedy came Jackie Kennedy’s longest-lasting achievement. Had JFK lived, her most noteworthy accomplishment might be renovating the White House and infusing timeless glamour into the American presidency. Instead, her legacy’s become that of scrupulously manufacturing how Americans recollect her husband. It’s a vision of the much-loved president many continue to embrace, even revere, today.

For more about Jackie’s Camelot, check-out:

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

History Bitches Fieldtrip #6: Meridian Hill Park

Last Sunday, meandering back from lunch with George, he and I took a short-cut through Meridian Hill Park. As we caught-up, I paused to get a photograph of Meridian Hill’s Joan of Arc statue, the lone female equestrian sculpture in Washington, D.C. Paul Dubois’ life-size bronze figure depicts Joan, decked-out in complete body armor, gazing towards the heavens as she urges her charger ahead. Held aloft in her left hand there’s a sword. Taken in 1978, Joan's sword wasn't restored until three decades later in 2011. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Episode #13: Abe Sada, Part 2

Some considered her living proof of the hazards of female sexuality; others esteemed her for revolting against the patriarchy. Tune in for Part II as Brittany and guest-host Farron unravel the legend and legacy of Abe Sada.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Episode #13: Abe Sada, Part 2 (Show Notes)

A newspaper piece regarding Abe’s crime;
Kichizo is pictured, too
Before Abe connived to murder her lover, Kichizo Ishida theirs was just your run of the mill “married supervisor embarks on love affair with comely employee” story. Roughly two months after meeting, the couple absconded for a prolonged tryst. The money ran out two weeks later. Kichizo returned home; Abe stayed with friends. During the separation, Abe became noticeably agitated. After seeing a play during which a geisha attacks her lover using a knife, she hatched a plan.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Episode #12: Abe Sada, Part 1

She perpetrated the crime of the century; after cutting her name into her murdered lover’s thigh, Abe Sada left her brand on Japanese history, too. Tune-in to discover how our latest subject transformed from impetuous school-girl to love-struck killer.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Episode #12: Abe Sada, Part 1 (Show Notes)

She perpetrated the crime of the century; cutting her name into her murdered lover’s thigh, Abe Sada left her brand on Japanese history, too. Born during a period when girls and women were compelled to obey patriarchal social customs, she revolted against the archetype.

Born in Tokyo’s Kanda neighborhood to a bourgeois family of tatami mat makers, Abe flouted conventions early. Throughout her youth and teenage years, she was infatuated by the glamorous, yet mysterious world of geishas. It was a scandalous preoccupation for a genteel, upper-middle class girl. Unsurprisingly, after her matrimonial prospects were seemingly doomed she utterly embraced the part of misfit.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Unusual Suspects

Mary Jane Kelly
Considering today marks the death of Mary Jane Kelly, Jack the Ripper’s presumed 5th and last victim, I thought it'd be the perfect time for a quick blogpost about the crime's female suspects, a.k.a. Jill the Ripper or The Mad Midwife.

The hypothesis Jack the Ripper was in fact Jill the Ripper was first postulated by Detective Inspector Frederick Abberline of the London Metropolitan Police. His conjecture stemmed from testimony by Mrs. Caroline Maxwell. Mrs. Maxwell claimed she'd seen Mary Jane Kelly twice after doctors presumed she was murdered. The D.I. speculated the woman she'd observed the second time was actually the killer. The suspect might have disguised herself in Mary’s clothing after disposing of her own blood-soaked garments. Though Mary was discovered partially undressed, her clothing was left at the crime scene, folded neatly on a chair. Consequently, this premise doesn’t hold-up.

Thus It Be Ever With Assassins

Mary Surratt
Looks like someone just splashed-out $100,000 to purchase four photos capturing the last moments and hanging deaths of the Lincoln conspirators. The shots which include Mary Surratt, the 1st woman executed by the U.S., are named “Arrival on Scaffold,” “Reading the Death Warrant,” “Adjusting the Ropes,” and “Thus It Be Ever With Assassins.” Taken by Scottish photographer Alexander Gardner in Washington DC on July 7, 1865, the prints were thought to fetch somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000. They were sold by Swann Galleries, a New York City auction house.

No. 1“Arrival on Scaffold”

No.2 “Reading the Death Warrant”

No.3 “Adjusting the Ropes” 

No. 4 and “Thus It Be Ever With Assassins” 

For more about Mary Surratt, check-out:
History Bitches Fieldtrip #5: Mary Surratt's Boardinghouse and Mount Olivet Cemetery


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

As a teenager, Juana entered the court of
Viceroy Marquis de Mancera 
She’s commonly extolled as Latin America’s first noteworthy poet, and first published feminist of the New World. Born November 12, 1651 near Mexico City, Juana Inés de la Cruz revealed her devotion to and immense capacity for learning early on. She was reading and solving equations before five; at eight years old she’d composed her first poem. By the time she reached adolescence, she was conversant in Greek logic, and could speak, read, and write in both Latin and the Aztec language Nahuatl. Actually, her dedication to scholarship was so fanatical, every time she made an error in Latin she chopped-off her hair.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Manuela Sáenz

Remembered primarily as the lover of Simón Bolívar, celebrated leader of South America's crusade for independence, Manuela Sáenz was a revolutionary in her own right. Born December 27, 1797 (maybe), in Quito, Ecuador, Manuela participated in the liberation movement before meeting Simón. They met in 1822, after she left her husband in Lima, and returned to Quito. Theirs wasn't just a romantic partnership. She joined him on campaigns, delivering food, medicine, and partaking in combat. She fought in conflicts at Pichincha, Junín, and Ayacucho; at the recommendation of Simón’s second in command, she was presented the rank of colonel. Manuela demonstrated her fidelity again when she prevented Simón’s murder by launching herself at assassins, granting him the chance to escape. Consequently, she was bestowed the nickname, “The Liberator of the Liberator.” 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Gabriela Mistral

Poetess Gabriela Mistral was Latin America’s first (and thus far only) woman to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature. Born in Vicuña, Chile on April 7, 1889, her given name was Lucila Godoy y Alcayaga. At 15 years old, she became a schoolteacher and began composing poetry; several of her early poems concerned the suicide of her lover.  Gabriela continued publishing verse as she taught elementary and secondary students in Chile, the United States, and Mexico.

Las Hermanas Mirabal/The Mirabal Sisters

(L to R: Patricia, Marie-Teresa, and Minerva)
Las Hermanas Mirabal-Patria (b. February 27, 1924), Dedé (b. March 1, 1925), Minerva (b. March 12, 1926), and María Teresa (b. October 15, 1935)-are celebrated, national heroines in their home-country of the Dominican Republic. They challenged dictator Rafael Trujillo’s ruthless autocracy by helping launch the 14th of June Movement. As participants, the women (nicknamed Las Mariposas or The Butterflies) distributed anti-Trujillo pamphlets, ran covert protest meetings, and recruited regime members and/or their families to defect. Consequently, the siblings, and their similarly activist husbands, were incarcerated and tortured on multiple occasions.

National Hispanic Heritage Month

Confession time; caught-up in graduate school applications, I neglected to remember September 15th-October 15th was National Hispanic Heritage Month. So, this week I'm going to be posting about some bitchin’ Latina revolutionaries, poetess-scholars, and legislators. I'll be posting fun tidbits about history-making Latinas on Facebook, too. If you've got a favorite history bitch that I've overlooked, please contact me via the comments section or Facebook! And no, I didn’t forget this month is Native American Heritage Month; I'm on it.