John Kelly's Washington

Next up in the 'Blame Nixon?' game: Jackie Kennedy's plaques

Jackie, shown in 1961,
Jackie, shown in 1961, "updated" a Truman-era plaque. (Mark Shaw - Associated Press)
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By John Kelly
Sunday, March 21, 2010

Jackie Kennedy had a plaque put up on the wall of the White House bedroom she and the president occupied. It read (and I'm paraphrasing): "In this room John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy lived as man and wife from January 20, 1961, to Nov. 22, 1963." I believe I read that Pat Nixon had the plaque removed. Where is it now?

-- John P. Prystupa Jr., Uniontown, Pa.

What is it about the Nixons? This is the third column in a row about them and their supposedly tricky ways. Apparently, we do have them to kick around anymore.

Variations on the story -- the Nixons got rid of Jackie's plaque! -- can be found on the Internet. It's even in Chris Matthews's book "Kennedy & Nixon: The Rivalry That Shaped Postwar America." In a section on the "desecration of Kennedy relics" at the hands of Nixon, Matthews writes: "In her last day in the White House, Jack Kennedy's widow had ordered a small plaque placed in her bedroom. 'In this room John Fitzgerald Kennedy lived with his wife Jacqueline. . . .' Nixon had it removed."

But did he? Or did his wife?

No, says Bill Allman, White House curator, who has worked at the executive mansion for 33 years.

It's easy to see how the rumor might have gotten started. Bill explained that because the White House is a continually evolving historic site -- one with a new set of residents every four or eight years -- there are very few inscriptions within it commemorating the occupancy by any particular president or first lady. But there have been exceptions, and they involve a pair of mantels.

Until the Ford administration, presidents and first ladies had separate bedrooms. Jacqueline Kennedy's was the large southwest bedroom on the second floor. When she moved in in 1961, the fireplace was topped by a large, gray-veined white marble mantel that had been installed during an extensive renovation in 1951. On this mantel was a plaque:



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