Following her husband’s death, Jacqueline Kennedy was flooded with notes of sorrow and condolence.
“I want to take this opportunity to express my appreciation for the hundreds and thousands of messages, nearly 800,000 in all, which my children and I have received over the past few weeks,” the First Lady told America in her first public statement after the president’s assassination.
This week, the Kennedy Library released many of those 800,000 condolence letters online. Each letter in the series was handled by Jackie Kennedy’s personal secretaries, and the correspondence includes handwritten letters, telegrams, cards, and photographs from ordinary citizens, foreign officials, and various American and international government organizations.
One especially touching letter came from Maxine McNair, whose daughter Denise had been killed five months previously in the 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Ala.
“May I commend you on your wonderful display of courage,” she wrote. “Isn’t it strange how people with so much to give the world are taken? That’s God’s will however, and not for us to question.”
Another letter came from Bob Thorn, 13, who admitted he felt that the tragedy was “kind of my fault” because he’d received a ‘C’ in his American history class. In an excerpt published by CBS, he wrote, “After this tragic loss, I realized that I could do plenty to help my country. Next term, I promise you, I’ll get an A.”
Other letters included one from a 10-year old girl inviting Mrs. Kennedy to her house in Louisiana, a French teacher sharing tributes from her students, and an Italian artist who had sculpted a bust of the president.
“Mrs. Kennedy wishes me to thank you for your letter of June 25th enclosing a photograph of the fine bust you have made of President Kennedy,” replied one of the First Lady’s personal secretaries, Nancy Tuckerman. “While Mrs. Kennedy has a deep feeling for such items, she has received so many lovely works of art that it will not be possible to show them at their best advantage at the Kennedy Library. She therefore suggests that perhaps you should display it locally where it may be seen and appreciated by so many more people.”
In her Jan. 14, 1964 address to the nation, Kennedy said she felt deeply touched by the outpouring of support from Americans and people abroad.
“The knowledge of the affection in which my husband was held by all of you has sustained me. And the warmth of these tributes is something I shall never forget,” she said. “Whenever I can bear to, I read them. All his bright light gone from the world. All of you who have written to me, know how much we all loved him and that he returned that love in full measure.”