In November 1963, 11-year-old Janice O’Connell’s mind was already clouded by tragedy: Her father, just 48, had died unexpectedly Nov. 14.
Just a little over a week later, O’Connell’s teacher at the Fall River, Mass., parish school she attended had more bad news: President John F. Kennedy had been shot and killed.
Though still grieving herself, O’Connell’s thoughts turned to two other children, Caroline and John F. “John-John” Kennedy Jr.
“I just felt incredibly sad for them,” said O’Connell, 61.
She decided to write a condolence letter to Jacqueline Kennedy, expressing her sympathies for the children, too. She didn’t expect to hear back, figuring hundreds of thousands of other similar notes were already in the mail to the White House.
But “a month or two later,” O’Connell arrived home from school and was greeted by her mother, note in hand.
The sturdy note, outlined in black and stamped with Jacqueline Kennedy’s signature, had been hand-delivered by the postman that day — no postage stamp needed. It was one of only three hand-delivered notes from Jacqueline that arrived in Fall River after JFK’s death.
The others, O’Connell said, went to the postmaster himself and to Plourde’s Bakery, which had baked the Kennedys’ wedding cake.
O’Connell later learned that thousands of similar notes, likely printed commercially, were sent out. But that doesn’t deteriorate the memory at all, she said.
“I didn’t expect to receive anything back. I guess I was just surprised. And I’ve kept it all these years.”