On this day 50 years ago -- Nov. 25, 1963 -- President John F. Kennedy was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.
When his widow was finally able to retreat into private mourning, it was to their home at Rattlesnake Mountain outside Middleburg, Virginia, that Jacqueline Kennedy withdrew with their children. (But she didn't like the name Rattlesnake Mountain, despite its popularity with the media; first she pressed for it to be called Atoka, after the Virginia community it was closest to, and then after the assassination she formally named it Wexford, in honor of the Irish county that JFK's ancestors came from.)
"It was the only home Jack and I ever built together, and I designed it all myself," she once said. "I don't want it to be exploited and photographed all over the place just because it was ours." She succeeded: The home seems to be little known now. Much of the information that Yahoo Homes has dug up here comes from news reports back in the 1960s and a current home listing; sites including Steve Brawley's pinkpillbox.com and Carl Anthony Online also proved very valuable.
The ranch-style home, thought to have cost about $100,000 to build, was set on 39 acres in Virginia hunt country with plenty of room for Jackie's beloved horseback riding. It had what were by all accounts magnificent views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The first lady drew up the preliminary designs, then later personally decorated the interior.
As she designed it, the home had seven bedrooms and five and a half baths, of which two bedrooms and one bathroom were in the service wing. One of the bedrooms was, heartbreakingly, outfitted as a nursery for the son with whom she was pregnant at the time. She delivered Patrick on Aug. 7, 1963, almost six weeks early. Patrick lived only two days.
The home's features included a kitchen with "twin stoves, twin ovens, twin refrigerators, twin sinks and twin work tables in the center of the room," the Washington Post News Service reported, as well as a "secret hideaway up through the ceiling of the closet of what had been President Kennedy's bedroom where he could have taken to the attic if the house had ever been invaded" (he called it his "escape hatch"); a bomb shelter beneath the stables; the president's "oversize bathtub, said to have been imported from England"; and "the raised hearth in the library which President Kennedy designed himself," where he liked to take in the views.
To anyone who is moved by the Kennedy story and Camelot, a sadness must still cling to the home even after half a century. It was supposed to be the weekend retreat for the family, a place for JFK and Jackie and their two young children to play and relax together -- and for a couple of weekends, it was. They spent their first weekend there on the weekend of Oct. 26, 1963, and then again the weekend of Nov. 10.
But two weeks after their last visit, everything would change -- for the Kennedy family, the nation and the world.
Here's a (silent) home movie from that last visit, via the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum:
A silent movie from May 25, 1963, tours the completed home; although it opens with repetitive exterior shots, there are many fascinating interior shots beginning at 2:50:
And this is a home movie from the first weekend the Kennedys spent at the house:
The former first lady sold the house a year later, in November 1964, to Quing Non Wong and his wife, also named Jacqueline.
Fifty years later, the house is now for sale at $10,995,000 -- with, of course, some significant changes, including the addition of more than 100 acres of land. The listing says the home has four bedrooms and four and a half baths in 5,050 square feet, and "still contains an underground bunker and dependencies used by Secret Service personnel."
- Jacqueline Kennedy