Funeral and Burial
Jackie spent the majority of her life fighting for privacy. But Caroline and John understood their mother's place in history, so they orchestrated a funeral and burial that was both public and private. It gave those closest to her the intimacy they needed to grieve and simultaneously allowed Americans everywhere a chance to pay tribute.
Maria Porfido holds a copy of the New York Post as she stands outside Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis's New York City apartment
Photo Credit: Timothy Clary/AFP/Getty Images
St. Ignatius Loyola Church
The funeral took place in New York at St. Ignatius Loyola Church, the same church where Jackie had been baptized and confirmed. Somber spectators began arriving before dawn. By the time the hearse arrived, thousands had gathered outside, the crowd covering three city blocks. Some knelt in prayer, others cried as attendants opened the back of the hearse and removed the mahogany casket, covered with ferns and a cross made from white lilies of the valley.
One thousand people packed the church for the ninety-minute service. Many were next-generation Kennedys including Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Timothy Shriver, Christopher Lawford, William Kennedy Smith, and Edward Kennedy Jr. Others were family friends such as Pierre Salinger, Dave Powers, and Roosevelt Grier. John Jr.'s then-longtime girlfriend, actress Daryl Hannah, and Maria Shriver's husband, action film star Arnold Schwarzenegger represented Hollywood. Fellow First Ladies Hillary Rodham Clinton and Lady Bird Johnson also came to pay respects to their friend and colleague. The ceremony also featured opera singer Jessye Norman performing Ave Maria.
SHE SAID …
“When you get written about a lot, you just think of it as a little cartoon that runs along the bottom of your life — but one that doesn't have much to do with your life…. The sensational pieces will continue to appear as long as there is a market for them. One's real life is lived on another private level.”
John Jr. told the congregation that he and Caroline had struggled to find a reading that properly captured Jackie's essence, which, he said, could be summed up by three qualities: “the love of words, the bonds of home and family, and her spirit of adventure.” He then read a passage from the Book of Isaiah. Caroline reminisced about her mother's love for Martha's Vineyard before reading Edna St. Vincent Millay's “Cape Cod.” Maurice Tempelsman recited another poem, “Ithaka,” by C. P. Cavafy. He ended with his own words: “And now the journey is over, too short, alas, too short. It was filled with adventure and wisdom, laughter and love, gallantry and grace. So farewell, farewell.”
Senator Ted Kennedy delivered the eulogy but somewhat pointedly did not mention her marriage to Onassis. Instead, he focused on Jackie's dedication to her family and country.
THEY SAID …
“And then, during those four endless days in 1963, she held us together as a family and a country. In large part because of her, we could grieve and then go on. She lifted us up, and in the doubt and darkness, she gave her fellow citizens back their pride as Americans. She was then thirty-four years old…. She graced our history. And for those of us who knew and loved her — she graced our lives.”
— Senator Ted Kennedy
After the funeral ceremony, Caroline, John, and Maurice led an intimate group of Jackie's closest friends and family to Washington for the burial. It was her wish to be buried next to John F. Kennedy and their two children, Arabella and Patrick, in Arlington National Cemetery.
President Clinton met the family's chartered jet at National Airport and led a twenty-eight-car motorcade. It was a clear, hot day but thousands of spectators stood along the route to Arlington to pay their respects.
The brief graveside ceremony was conducted by the Reverend Philip J. Hannan, retired Roman Catholic Archbishop of New Orleans. As auxiliary bishop of Washington in 1963, he had presided over John F. Kennedy's funeral. As the ceremony ended, the bells of Washington's National Cathedral tolled sixty-four times — once for each year of Jackie's life. Only 100 people were invited to the ceremony, but Caroline and John allowed television cameras to film from a distance and millions of Americans tuned in to watch Jackie be laid to rest next to the man who had been the love of her life. As the mourners walked away, Caroline placed a long-stemmed white flower on her mother's coffin. John knelt to kiss it before touching the black granite marker on his father's adjacent grave. They both visited the grave of their uncle, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and said a silent prayer before leaving.
Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg and John F. Kennedy Jr. at graveside ceremonies for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
Photo Credit: David Ake/AFP/Getty Images
The normally jaded and cynical New York press showed uncharacteristic respect and deference in the wake of Jackie's death. Few others had ever embodied the vibrancy and the appeal of the city as Jackie had. She represented the best New York had to offer: creativity, intellectualism, social awareness, and advocacy, all pursued with a unique and inimitable style.
After Jackie's death, there was a renewed interest and appreciation in her life and in her historical, political, and social impact. In the days, weeks, and months following her death, tributes to Jackie poured in from every corner of society, and memorials in her honor continued for years after. Central Park's main reservoir was renamed the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. A residence hall at the George Washington University was renamed Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis Hall. New York's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis High School for International Careers in midtown Manhattan was dedicated by the city in 1995. It is the only high school in America named in her honor. In a 1999 Gallup poll, Americans named Jackie among the list of widely admired people of the twentieth century.
On the day of Jackie's funeral, the country mourned not just the passing of an individual but everything Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis represented. She established a standard of social awareness and activism that current First Ladies strive to match. She became a symbol of American grit and grace in the days, weeks, and years following her husband's assassination. In her, Americans saw their own lives; the same complex tapestry of joy, tragedy, triumph, and heartache that everyone experiences — except Jackie's played out in public. Her unwavering independence and her courage to live life on her own terms occasionally earned both criticism and grudging respect.
Today Jackie is remembered as both a woman of her time and ahead of it. She is honored as an enduring icon who continues to inspire new generations of women to believe that it is possible to balance family, career, and social activism. Her most admirable legacy is her commitment to staying true to herself. That was the key to a life well lived.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
Photo Credit: David McGough/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images