The Missing Pink Pillbox Part 1

by Brandon Wolf

Exclusive to Pinkpillbox.com

November 24, 2014

Part 1

The Creation of An Iconic Image

It is approximately 9:00 am on the morning of November 22, 1963, and Jacqueline Kennedy is just about dressed for today’s political appearances in Fort Worth, Dallas, and Austin.

She has finished putting on a raspberry colored suit with navy blue trim and a navy blue blouse. It is the famous Chanel designed suit assembled and purchased through a New York salon named Chez Ninon - her secret way of getting a European suit with an American label.

All that remains to be done before she faces the public is to affix the matching pillbox hat to her head, and then have her secretary Mary Gallagher help her button the cuffs of short white gloves.

Her auburn hair (recently coiffed by her stylist Kenneth Battelle) is not quite shoulder length, and is styled in a soft flip at the ends. In the front, it is combed over from the right side and falls in a loose bang. She positions the hat about half way back on her head. Chic and classy, emphasizing her natural beauty, it is she who makes the outfit, not the other way around.

She has no idea that she has just created an image that will become indelible and iconic. Neither does she realize this will be the last time she will wear that pillbox hat. In fact, it will be the last time she wears any pillbox hat.

The hat was probably made by the designer Halston, who worked for Bergdorf’s, where Jackie got many of her hats from. Halston made her Inaugural hat, and she liked his work, so it’s a safe assumption.

Exactly how the hat attaches to her hair isn’t known, but since it doesn’t sit directly on top of her head, we can assume that it was held in place with at least a small comb sewn into  the lining. It’s also possible that the comb is like a barrette with a small clamp that fits over the hair drawn into the comb, and then locked at the end. Open car motorcades were a part of her life now, and she may have learned that her hats sometimes needed special reinforcement to stay firmly in place.

Happy Thoughts Flood Her Mind

For Jackie, today is just another campaign appearance. Life is good. She has re-surfaced on the national horizon, after a three month hiatus recovering from the loss of her son Patrick in August.

Her campaign appearances the day before in San Antonio and Houston show that she is helping the re-election efforts. The media is focusing on the ideological splits in the Texas Democratic leadership, but she is balancing it out with rave reviews for her campaign enthusiasm.

Back in Washington, her husband’s office is scheduled to receive new draperies and a new rug while they are in Texas. Holiday decorations are ready to be hung after Thanksgiving. She has chosen a historic crèche as the focal point, and a picture of it is on the front of the 1963 cards, which she and the President have already signed.

Hoping for a second Kennedy term, she is planning to step up her already successful effort to use culture as a common global unifier. She is pushing for the construction of a national cultural center in DC, and for a cabinet level position for the arts. She is also planning to try once again to give her husband another child – upon leaving the hospital after Patrick’s death, she told the staff that she will be back soon.

She has agreed to campaign in California next. Eager to please her husband, she is willing to go anywhere, anytime that he needs her. She also has come to realize how different campaigning is, when you are the President and First Lady of the nation.

The re-election team is ecstatic. She adds an excitement to any appearance the President makes, and increases the size and enthusiasm of the crowds. The nation loves her. Women dress like her. Interest in learning French is up at college campuses. Her image makes a magazine a best-seller.

Not only beautiful, she is scholarly. She understands art, music, speaks fluently in French and Spanish, and has a firm grasp of history. She is the most famous and admired woman in the world. And yet, she still has the shyness of a little girl.

Her fame and adoration have not gone to her head. Her very movements have a shyness about them. She speaks in a soft, breathy voice and she waves in a restrained, refined manner. She is the real thing. And a totally new form of role model for young women.

Today will be another fast-paced day, planned down to the minute by the Kennedy handlers. There will be a breakfast appearance in Fort Worth, a motorcade to the airport, a flight to Dallas, another motorcade through Dallas, luncheon at the Trade Mart, a motorcade back to the airport, a flight to Austin, a motorcade there, and finally a huge fundraising dinner.  The next day the Presidential couple will be guests at the LBJ Ranch – her first visit to the Vice President’s Texas home – and then a flight back to DC.

A Thunderous Welcome in Fort Worth

Jackie is now ready to join her husband at the breakfast. He has already been there for about half an hour.  Her lateness works to good effect – the people attending the event are getting two opportunities to unleash their excitement towards the Presidential couple. Clint Hill takes her through the kitchen and she waits by the door for a cue from the master of ceremonies.

The time for her entrance has come. Clint opens the door and walks a few feet in front of her.   A local television station is broadcasting the event live, and their camera picks up the image of her pillbox hat as she walks out the kitchen doors. First there is a moment of astonishment, and then the room bursts into wild applause. People are standing on their chairs to see her.

The television reporter says that Jackie is wearing a pink suit – “sort of a nubby material” – and has on a matching signature pillbox hat. As the camera follows her to the front of the room, we see her from behind, and because of the crowd, it is only her pillbox hat that we can see moving along to the front of the room.

Such admiration could lure a person of less substance to inflate their ego. Instead, she is pleased that she can make her country proud. In the age of a somber Cold War between superpowers, she has chosen to mount a cultural offensive. She is a student of history, and knows that many great civilizations did not conquer through military might. Their greatest victories were won through culture.

She is the hit of the breakfast, and her husband is glowing with pride.  After breakfast, the whole entourage heads towards the Ft. Worth airport. At the Ft. Worth airport, Jackie is hit by a strong gust of wind or a current of air from another jet. Her hair flies into her face, although the pillbox hat stays stationary. The scene is caught by a news cameraman. Awkward as the situation is, she is still smiling. But she is hoping the bubbletop will be on the Presidential limousine in Dallas.

It is her own private frustration that she is expected to ride in an open convertible through a city for nearly an hour, and then look fresh and perfectly groomed when she arrives for a luncheon.

Hot Weather and Excited Crowds

The flight to Dallas seems almost superfluous. It takes thirteen minutes, and as soon as the pilot reaches his cruising altitude, he begins his descent. But the drama of Air Force One arriving at Love Field makes it worthwhile. Live television cameras have been broadcasting from there for more than an hour. Finally Air Force One comes into view and gracefully lands.

When the door of the plane is opened, it is Jackie who steps out first. The crowd roars. JFK is the first President to break protocol and follow his wife.  He simply does not feel gentlemanly preceding her.  There is a receiving line which includes the Johnsons. Lady Bird and Jackie share a ‘long time, no see’ giggle at the staging, since they had just been together fifteen minutes before.

The Kennedys give themselves to the crowd. Finally, they step into the Presidential limousine and sit down, Jackie on the left, JFK on the right.  A bouquet of red roses given to Jackie are on the seat between them. The portable jump seats have been unfolded so the Connallys can ride with them. This makes the limousine a cramped space. JFK has to turn his legs to one side in order to fit.

The bubbletop is not in place. There is no rain. But there is heat. Hot heat. Hot Texas heat. And Jackie is wearing wool.

As the limousine leaves Love Field, a television camera catches sight of them. Jackie’s hat is visible, and becomes smaller and smaller as the limousine moves further and further away. As the motorcade begins, first there is hardly anyone along the route. But small crowds finally start to appear. Then they grow larger. Once they have turned onto Main Street, downtown Dallas is thronged with well-wishers.

For Jackie, it is like Mexico, all over again. The sun is hot and in their faces, and the cheers of the crowds are nearly deafening. She take it all in, lets it warm her, and she gives back, waving and smiling.

Her Secret Service agent, Clint Hill, has been fixated on the hat since the motorcade left Love Field. He is true and dedicated agent, totally devoted to protecting Mrs. Kennedy. The pink hat is an easy focal point for him.

At the end of Main Street, the entourage is ready to head towards the Trade Mart, where a luncheon – and more adoration – await. Jackie is wilting in her wool suit, but she has already determined she will soldier on for Jack, and do whatever he asks for the campaign ahead.

The line-up of cars now has to move over one block, in order to access the entrance to Stemmons Freeway which will take them to the luncheon. Main Street heads through a small park like area named Dealey Plaza, but has no turn-off to Stemmons.

On the left side, Commerce Street is a one-way street heading into town. On the right side of plaza, Elm Street is a one-way street heading out of town. Stemmons can only be accessed from Elm Street.

A Dance with Death Amidst An Oasis of Green

The limousine makes a sharp right turn off Main onto Houston Street.  As it does, a photographer snaps a photo of Jackie, holding on to her hat with her left hand. Perhaps she knows from experience that this hat can become loosened and slide out of place. The vehicle then makes it way down Houston Street.

In the Presidential limousine, Nellie Connally makes her now-famously ironic remark, “Mr. President, you can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you.”  The car turns left onto Elm Street. On the right is something called the Texas School Depository. Dealey Plaza is an oasis of green. Indeed, it was meant to beautify the edge of downtown, when it was constructed in the 1930’s.   

If it had not been the scene of a national tragedy, it would still be a place of calm reflection – a special respite at lunch for those lucky enough to work close by. The plaza is a mirror image of itself, divided by Main Street which bisects it.

There is a long beautiful pergola at the top of each bank. Steps are gracefully built into the small hills. Large trees and benches provide places to sit and read or share a take-out lunch with friends. In the center of the plaza, along Houston Street, fountains send up jets of water that splash down into long reflecting pools.

Jackie is looking ahead at a railroad overpass that the limousine will pass under.  It will be a few seconds of relief from the hot sun, she thinks. Her mind might have even have drifted off to the pergola on her left, admiring its architectural beauty.

Twelve seconds are not much time, but the next twelve seconds of her life she will replay a thousand times in her mind in the months ahead.  She has been looking to the left, as her husband had requested.  “If we both look at the same person, we’ve lost the chance to reach another voter,” he had reminded her when they left Love Field. She hears what she thinks is a motorcycle backfire, but pays it no mind.

Then suddenly, she hears Governor Connally screaming. Dazed, she looks to her right to see what he is screaming about.  As she turns, she sees her husband’s arms bent at the elbows and held straight out to his sides, at his neck. His fists are doubled up. She gently touches his left arm with her gloved right hand and then quickly adds her left hand too. For the next second or two, she is distracted by Connally screaming, but then turns back to her husband.

He has not acknowledged her touch yet.  He is looking, she thinks, puzzled – like he sometimes looked at a press conferences when a difficult question was asked. She is trying to sort everything out. But it has come at her way too fast for any human being to sort out quickly, and she is truly baffled.

Stopping time in its tracks is impossible.  But streaming videos in a digital age allow us to stop the images of time.  If we view the famous Zapruder 8mm film shot that day, on You Tube, we can halt its motion. We can freeze the last second that Jackie was our nation’s First Lady.

It is a tender moment. Jackie still has her gloved hands on her husband’s left arm. Because he has not responded, she has leaned forward to look him straight in the face. There is concern, gentleness, and love in her expression. He is about to be taken from her, but in our stop action world, they are connected, physically and emotionally. The only solace she will have in months to come is that she was with him at the very end.

Freezing a video does not change history. And in the next second, the President will be dead, Jackie’s life will be dramatically changed, and life as we knew it on our planet will never be the same.

If not for the fact that a murder had just occurred, the scene might seem like a choreographed otherworldly ballet – a swirl of pink against a lush green background – a gallant man leaping onto a majestic car – and a finale with a heroic pas de deux.  As suddenly as the scene has played out in Dealey Plaza, it is gone.

Excalibur has sunk beneath the waves.

The Race to a Hospital

In just a moment of time, Jackie’s life has disintegrated. The dreams that she looked forward to a few hours ago are shattered beyond recognition. And she is on her knees on the floor of the Presidential limousine, bent over her husband’s body which now has a shattered skull. The limousine is moving at speeds up to 90 mph down an expressway. The sirens of police motorcycle escorts sirens are wailing in unison.

The five minute ride to Parkland Hospital seems like an eternity.  The wind is tossing her hair and hat every which way, and suddenly it is dangling right in front of her.  She grabs the hat and gives it a violent tug.  She flings it either on the floor of the limousine or on the back seat.   

Soon the car has stopped and she is sobbing. Her agent, Clint Hill gently touches her shoulders and they tremble uncontrollably.  He is explaining that they need to get her husband into the hospital, but she refuses.

She knows that the man she loves is gone, and she just wants to be left alone. Hill finally convinces her to release what she has been guarding with the fierceness of a tigress. He has removed his own jacket and placed it near the President’s head. Jackie looks at it and begins to use it to cover the horror that only she and Hill have seen.

The next hour speeds by. The doctors do what they can. The President’s pulse stops. Calls go out for a priest, a casket, and a hearse. Several agents decide it’s important to put the hardtop on the limousine before any photographers find a way to reach it.  While they are doing that, agent Paul Landis notices Jackie’s pink pillbox hat in the back seat. He takes it into the hospital and can only remember ‘giving it to someone’.

Soon the hat is in a large heavy bag, with the word “Hill” written on it. It’s the kind of bag that patient belongings are placed into and given to a responsible party who must sign for them. It’s the kind of thing that is habit for the staff – they don’t want someone returning later and accusing them of stealing a patient’s wristwatch while they were being treated in the emergency room.

The bag makes its way to Clint Hill.  He is Mrs. Kennedy’s agent, but he has too much to do to be keeping up with the bag.  So he gives it to Mary Gallagher, Jackie’s secretary. Gallagher opens the bag and looks at the hat, stained with blood and other matter. When she glances inside, she sees a tuft of Jackie’s hair on the ‘hat pin’ and recoils.

The Pass Off on Air Force One

It’s an early lift-off from Love Field for Air Force One. And it’s headed to Washington, not Austin. Everyone on board is in shock, but the pilot doesn’t let this stand in the way of proper procedure, and he makes sure a manifest is completed before the craft is airborne. Among the names on that manifest are Mrs. Kennedy, Mary Gallagher, and Sergeant Major Joseph D. Giordano.

Giordano is the Kennedy’s official luggage handler. On this trip, he has also served as valet to JFK. In the years ahead, he will go to work as a trusted driver for Robert Kennedy, and once again be witness to a Kennedy assassination. He helped in the efforts to set up the Kennedy Library and finished his career as Assistant Sergeant-at-Arms in the U.S. Senate.

We don’t know the details of the pass-off, but on the flight Gallagher transferred the bag to Giordano. Already the pillbox hat had become a reminder of tragedy and ended dreams, and no one seemed to want the responsibility of holding on to it. Back in Washington, Giordano headed to the White House. The rest of the entourage had followed Jackie to Bethesda Naval Hospital where an autopsy on the President was performed.

At the White House, Giordano gave the bag to a White House policeman, with specific instructions that it be given only to Agent Clint Hill. This does seem a strange request, and one wonders if there was some miscommunication between Gallagher and Giordano. Perhaps it was the large letters that said “Hill” that prompted the instructions.  The more logical person would seem to have been Providencia Paredes, Mrs. Kennedy’s personal maid and wardrobe assistant.

The Last Documented Sighting (The Map Room)

About 8:00 pm, Agent Bob Foster, who was in charge of the Kennedy children, returned from Janet Auchincloss’ Georgetown home.  Janet had asked Maud Shaw to bring them over to her place until their mother returned.At Bethesda, when Jackie found out, she asked that they be brought back immediately to the White House.  “Now of all times, they need to be in their own home.”

Foster had Shaw and the two children with him and was headed for the family quarters when a White House guard approached him with the package with the hat in it.  He went into the Map Room to see what was in the bag, and instantly recognized Jackie’s pillbox hat. The guard said he had been told by Giordano to give it only to Clint Hill. Foster became infuriated with the guard, and said he was Agent Foster, not Agent Hill.

The guard apologized and said he had always had the two of them confused. Foster left with some parting words not suitable for print.

That information is straight from “The Death of a President”. Unfortunately, Manchester simply leaves it there. He does not tell us what happened next to the bag with the pillbox hat in it.  Agent Foster died in 2008, so he can’t be asked. The name of the White House policeman is not given.

The Map Room at that time was used as the office for the newly created position of White House curator.  It usually was filled with items coming into the White House that were being restored. So, contrary to any rumors, Jackie’s pink pillbox hat was back in the White House and was seen in the Map Room by Agent Bob Foster and a White House policeman around 8:00 pm on November 22, 1963 – less than 12 hours after Jackie had first put it on in Fort Worth.

An Important Element of History Goes Missing

The rest of Jackie’s outfit was spirited out of the White House around 6:00 am on the morning of Saturday, November 23, 1963.  Janet Auchincloss phoned Provi Parades and told her to gather up the suit, shoes, hose, and purse and put them into a box and have them delivered to her Georgetown address.

Janet put the box in her attic along with Jackie’s wedding gown.  At some point, in the next few months or years, the suit was shipped to the National Archives, with a simple note on Janet’s stationary saying, “Jackie’s suit and bag – worn November 22nd, 1963”. A document available from the Archives lists the official inventory: Pink Chanel Suit – Jacket; Pink Chanel Suit – Skirt; Blue Blouse; Pair of Stocking, wrapped in a white towel; Pair of Blue Shoes; Blue Purse.

According to “The Death of a President”, Jackie did not know where the suit had gone to. She finally read the book in 1967, so after that it was no longer a secret. It’s possible she had the suit moved at that time. With the location known, it could be a prime object for theft.

The National Archives stored the box for years, not viewed by anyone. It was deemed not relevant to any of the assassination inquiries (The Warren Commission, and two Congressional investigations).

Today it is housed in the National Archives facility in College Park, Maryland. It is keep in a room in a secret location, with a consistent temperature and humidity control. People who have been allowed to see it say that it still looks brand new, except for the blood stains.

In 2003, Caroline Kennedy deeded the clothes to the National Archives.  Before that, it was just considered a loan from the family. The deed stipulates that it cannot be displayed earlier than 2103, and the family has the option of renegotiation of the terms at that time.

The Archives knew the hat was not with the suit, but since it belonged to the family, they made no effort to search for it. The first time that Americans in general were made aware of its status was in a syndicated article dated January 30, 2011, written by Faye Fiore of the Los Angeles Times, and is the most comprehensive evaluation of the missing millinery to date.

Near the end of the article, Fiore states: “But the location of the hat is a little-known mystery no one is working to solve. Kennedy historians contacted for this story were surprised to learn it's missing.”

Does The Hat The Matter?

In her article in 2011, journalist Fiore stated that the hat was ‘a hole in history’.  Over the past fifty years, the hat has become so iconic, just a picture or illustration of it brings a flood of memories back to the viewer.

It represents that ‘loss of innocence’ that so many Americans feel occurred when JFK was killed. If our innocence has been lost, it seems oddly ironic that the icon representing it has been lost too. Americans might feel better having the icon found and preserved. In a way, it is ‘all we have left’ of what we lost that day in Dallas.

No Americans in recent history have suffered such a collective sense of loss and disillusionment. Usually the anniversary of deaths are reserved for movie stars like James Dean, musicians like Elvis Presley, or the horrific slaughter on 9/11/2001.

But every year around November 22, articles and TV news stories appear.  And every five years, commemoratives collectibles are nearly a cottage industry – everything from LIFE magazine reprints to hand-painted plates to figurines, artwork, and coins of all sizes and shapes. The recent 50th anniversary was a major cultural event.

Perhaps David Von Drehle, writing in the Time magazine dated November 25, 2013, finally put his finger on our continuing obsession with the assassination:

“The endless quest to recover the shattered promise of that man reflects the unique relationship that many Americans have with their 35th President.  He alone is cherished less for what was than for what might have been. To close the book on his murder feels, in some way, like letting that open-ended promise slip away into the past. And that is something we do not wish to do.“

Part 2: In Search of the Missing Pink Pillbox (coming soon)

About the Author:

Brandon Wolf first discovered Jacqueline Kennedy during the 1960 Presidential campaign, when he was thirteen years old. Raised in a fundamentalist religious family, he was told that the Kennedys were dangerous pawns of the Catholic Church, and that the election of Kennedy would end in the establishment of a national religion, Catholicism. Thus, he and other followers of their particular faith would be persecuted.

When Wolf first saw Jackie on Inauguration Day 1961, he feel in love with her. He decided converting to Catholicism wouldn’t be a bad thing, if events ever came to that point. To the frustration of his church acquaintances, he developed a ‘magnificent obsession’ with Jackie that left them shaking their heads in dismay.

Wolf remained an avid fan and follower of Jackie until her death in 1994. He cites her as being the greatest influence in his life – a role model who fascinates and inspires him to this day. A native of Michigan, he has lived in Houston, Texas since 1977. He is a regular contributing feature writer for Houston’s OutSmart magazine.

Copyright Steven L. Brawley, 2002-2015. All Rights Reserved.