Forty-five years ago today, Sunday, October 20, 1968, former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy married Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis.
Many people still speculate about why she did.
Often overlooked in the pondering is the fact that the wedding took place less than five months after the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy during his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. As his sister-in-law Jackie Kennedy had not merely supported his candidacy out of family loyalty but had encouraged him personally as they struggled in the aftermath of President Kennedy’s assassination.
In the early months of 1964, shortly after her husband was been killed, Jackie had convinced, even pushed Bobby to remain in national politics and “finish what Jack wanted to do,” including withdrawal of the U.S. military presence in Vietnam.
The June 5, 1968 assassination of Bobby Kennedy was not only a personal loss for his sister-in-law, but the death of her cautious optimism about the nation’s future. She saw aspects of the culture collapsing into one obsessed with violence and danger.
She began experiencing anxiety attacks about her own safety and that of her children, provoked by the spike in new death threats towards male members of the family and suggested that her seven-year old son, the late President’s namesake, was a logical target. As she had just realized for a second time, even the Secret Service agents provided to escort and watch her young children in their routine lives were no guarantee of protection.
The huddle of screaming, scrambling paparazzi who stalked Jackie Kennedy and her children might appear to be an amusing novelty to onlookers who randomly encountered it on the streets of New York, but the former First Lady felt it had made her a “freak.” There was nothing flattering or honorific about turning a corner in personal thought or laughter with a friend after lunch to be unpredictably besieged with gnashing cameras and blinded by dozens of rapid camera flashes.
Having every part of her physicality scrutinized to search out the most superficial detail about what she was wearing (one publication even strove to determine the inch length of her every-shortening mini-skirts) and then widely reported in the gossip columns made her even more self-conscious. Walking out of church or a storefront knowing that strangers had gathered to wait and stare at her as a sort of living specimen of historic tragedy would make anyone paranoid.
Marrying someone who had an intimidating private security force at his command and heavily-guarded island in another country, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis explained, was “A release, freedom from the oppressive obsession with me and the children.”
So she hoped.
For the first year of her second marriage, the new Mrs. Onassis did indeed spend almost as much time in her husband’s Greek or Paris homes or the London one of her sister, as she did in her own home in New York..