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National Archives have Jacqueline Kennedy's pink suit, but hat is missing

On Nov. 22, 1963, President and Jacqueline Kennedy were greeted by a crowd after they landed in Texas.
On Nov. 22, 1963, President and Jacqueline Kennedy were greeted by a crowd after they landed in Texas. (Art Rickerby/time & Life Pictures/getty Images)

Jacqueline Kennedy returned to her private quarters at the White House in the early-morning hours of Nov. 23. She took off the suit and bathed. Her maid, Providencia Paredes, told Manchester that she put the clothing in a bag and hid it.

State of confusion

What became of it after that speaks to the confusion of the time. A president had not been assassinated in 62 years; no one knew what to do. The Kennedy children had to be brought from their grandmother's Georgetown home to the White House and told of their father's death. It wasn't clear who should prosecute - shooting the president was not then a federal crime. The first lady's attire was not the top priority as President Johnson figured out how to take the helm of a grieving nation.

But sometime in the next six months, a box arrived at the National Archives' Washington headquarters, where such treasures as the Constitution and Bill of Rights are kept. In it was the suit, blouse, handbag and shoes, even Jacqueline Kennedy's stockings, along with an unsigned note on the letterhead of Janet Auchincloss, the former first lady's mother: "Jackie's suit and bag worn Nov. 22, 1963."

No hat.

The box was the one originally sent by the dressmaker, addressed to "Mrs. John F. Kennedy, The White House," but wrapped in brown paper. Archivists put it in a climate-controlled vault in stack area 6W3, where it remained for more than 30 years.

"It was sort of a secret that we had it," Tilley said. Sticklers for protocol, Archives officials knew it still legally belonged to Jacqueline Kennedy. So it was awkward when Parade Magazine called in 1996 with a question from a reader asking what had become of the pink suit.

Tilley, then head of the JFK collection, tried to reconstruct how it fell into archivists' hands. Jacqueline Kennedy had been dead for two years, her mother for seven. He called everyone he could find in a position to know. No one could recall the box arriving. The single-digit postal code on the address was the only clue that it had been mailed before July 1964, when the nation switched to five-digit Zip codes.

"It's one of the mysteries," Tilley said. "And there is nobody around anymore who can ever fill that in."

He suspects Auchincloss sent it. Jacqueline Kennedy had exchanged letters with the head archivist in the weeks after the assassination, but there was no mention of her suit.

"She kept it on that day, but once that moment passed, then perhaps she didn't want anything to do with it after that," Tilley said.

In the mid-1990s, the suit was moved to a new, second Archives building here. In 2003, a deed of gift was secured from the Kennedys' daughter, Caroline, by then the sole surviving heir. She stipulated that the suit not be displayed for the life of the deed - 100 years. When it runs out in 2103, the right to display it can be renegotiated by the family, Tilley said.

And the hat? Hill, 79, the Secret Service agent who famously lunged onto the back of the limousine that day to protect the first lady, had the answer.

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