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  Camelot at Dawn

Excerpted from Camelot at Dawn: Jacqueline and John Kennedy in Georgetown, May 1954. (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001). Photographs by Orlando Suero. Text by Anne Garside, director of public information at the Peabody Institute.

They were yet newlyweds--Jack Kennedy a junior senator, wife Jackie a student at Georgetown--that day in early May 1954, when a young photographer arrived at the front door of their narrow Georgetown duplex on Dent Place. Orlando Suero was employed by New York's Three Lions Picture Agency, owned by Max Lowenherz. Suero, 29, would shadow the couple for five days, chronicling their "everyday" existence: working together at Jack's Senate office (left), looking at wedding photos, tossing a football with nearby Robert and Ethel Kennedy, hosting their first dinner party (above).

Suero shot over 1,000 negatives, many of which never found their way into the public eye. When Lowenherz sold his picture agency in 1983, he retained ownership of the collection, and six years later gave all the photographs to Hopkins's Peabody Institute for safekeeping. They remain, today, in the Peabody Archives.

Lowenherz, a German-Jewish immigrant, asked that the following statement should accompany his gift: Let this visual record of a great American family be my tribute of gratitude to America, which gave me so much.
--Sue De Pasquale

At this period in their marriage, Jackie often worked with Jack in his office--Room 362 in the Old Senate Office Building, directly across the hall from Vice President Richard Nixon. She helped him select what she thought he should read and drafted replies to letters from constituents. "This was a real working session in his office," says Suero of the Thursday morning shoot on May 6. "It wasn't set up for the camera. Jackie was helping him read and edit materials."

In later years, as JFK grew more conscious of his image, he refused to be photographed with glasses.

While making the effort to share Jack's political interests, Jackie also hoped to draw him into her own artistic pursuits. At their first Christmas together with the Kennedy family, she gave him a very expensive set of oil paints. Over several weekends in April and May, the painting set came back out. With Jackie's encouragement, Jack set about his new hobby with characteristic intensity--if minimal artistic skill. Jack was so pleased with his Dent Place paintings that he gave one or two of them as presents to Bobby and Ethel and other family members. Two of his works later accompanied him to the White House.

On Saturday afternoon, Jack and Jackie teamed up with Bobby and Ethel at a nearby park. Jack was sometimes held to have "majored in football" at Harvard. In spite of his slight build and puny weight, he went all out to win a place on his college's second football squad. All his life, football stars were among the people he admired most.

Perhaps JFK's most courageous attribute was his determination to ignore the almost constant pain he suffered with his chronic back condition. "I had no idea that Jack was in agony with his back," said Suero. "It never showed in anything he did."

During the time at Dent Place, Jackie learned domestic skills from housekeeper Mattie Penn. Jackie definitely needed Mattie, who helped to prepare tempting meals for Jack, both to eat at home and to deliver to the office for his lunch, the favorite being clam chowder.

Due to worsening health problems, Jack's weight in the first year of his marriage plummeted from 175 pounds to 140 pounds. He tried to make a joke of it, telling his sister Eunice: "Don't worry. It's nothing serious. Just a result of Jackie's cooking."

Housekeeping was casual at the O Street home of Bobby and Ethel Kennedy, pictured here with their first three children. "No doors were ever shut and everybody wandered through every room all the time," related one family friend.

Bobby and Ethel's first two children were named in memory of Bobby's sister Kathleen and brother Joe, both of whom died tragically. Not until January 17, 1954, when Robert Francis Kennedy Jr. was born, did Bobby have a namesake. In this photo, Kathleen [far left], soon to celebrate a third birthday, takes in everything around her with an intent, wide-eyed gaze; currently Kathleen Kennedy Townsend serves as lieutenant governor of Maryland.

On Saturday evening, May 8, Senator and Mrs. Kennedy attended a dinner at the home of newspaper columnist Joe Alsop, then went on to a small dance. Suero provides a joyous image of Jackie floating down the narrow staircase of the house at Dent Place in a crinoline gown, a perfect dress for dancing, while Jack gazes up at her in rapt attention. It was admiration tempered by his usual deprecating humor. "Jack said something like 'Jackie, you look absolutely gorgeous,'" Suero relates, "but he was always kidding her, so he followed up this compliment with 'but if you stood sideways, you'd disappoint half the men in America!'"

One form of relaxation that Jack and Jackie enjoyed together was listening to popular music. In this photograph Jackie is looking through their shared collection of 78 rpms, which they played on the turntable Victrola of the era. The weekend after JFK's assassination, nearly a decade later, Jackie would tell journalist and family friend Theodore H. White that the song her husband loved most came at the very end of the recording of Camelot: "Don't let it be forgot that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot."

Jack and Jackie much preferred having a few close friends in for dinner to going out to official Washington parties. At this informal party, which included Robert and Ethel Kennedy, Bobby brought his German shepherd puppy along. House guest Lem Billings (the tall man in the white suit) also had his big poodle with him, so Jackie had four guests and two dogs for dinner that night. After dinner, Jack smoked a Cuban cigar, a taste he had acquired since his wedding. Jackie encouraged it so that he could not complain about her smoking. Later, as president, he had to renounce Cuban cigars when the United States imposed a blockade on Cuba.

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