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1968 Twenty-five Years Ago

March 2023
2min read

October Surprise

On the tiny Greek island of Skorpios, the Orthodox priest arrived by helicopter and some gatecrashers from the press waded ashore when Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy astounded millions of people by marrying the shipping billionaire Aristotle Socrates Onassis on October 20. News of the sudden marriage plans had leaked out only five days before, and most of the world had not rejoiced. Although Mrs. Kennedy had already spent five years as the widow of a martyred President and was not yet even forty, the idea of her remarriage offended many who saw it as an affront to the Catholic church (she was marrying a divorced man) as well as to her late husband’s memory. Nevertheless the couple went ahead. Those who preferred to think of her as she had been when giving her 1962 television tour of the White House to Charles Collingwood were rudely shaken.

The British press derided the groom as a “blank check” who could only want the former First Lady as a kind of ultimate trophy bride, replacing his previous interest, the opera singer Maria Callas. The Roman paper Il Messagero headlined the marriage JACK KENNEDY DIES TODAY FOR A SECOND TIME , while the editor of Hamburg’s Stern magazine explained that “German women saw a halo around her head, but now it is gone with the wind.” Few conceded that, especially after the second horror of her brother-in-law Robert Kennedy’s recent murder, the former First Lady might want to be relieved of her sainthood. She could hardly have gone farther afield than the sixty-eight-yearold magnate. “It’s people with money,” he unashamedly explained, “who are the real royalty nowadays.” Boston’s Cardinal Gushing took so much abuse for allowing the marriage that he was forced to step down.

Onassis bought his intended an engagement ring worth $1.25 million on October 17. On the twentieth he wore a blue suit and elevator shoes to the service in the Chapel of the Little Virgin, and his bride wore a cream ribbon in her hair and a Valentine dress. Mrs. Kennedy, easily the most photographed person of her time, had explained that the wedding itself was to be “a private moment.” In addition to the twenty-one guests, six reporters were invited onto the island, and their accounts were pooled among the hungry media. Hundreds of frustrated reporters, the majority of them Greek, had camped at a fishing village off Skorpios, and many encircled the island in Greek ca’iques, attempting several amphibious landings at the compound and on the three-hundred-foot honeymoon yacht, the Christina . The day before the wedding, thirty or so press adventurers got into a beach skirmish with Onassis security. The screaming and rock throwing woke Mrs. Kennedy from a nap on the yacht; she put a diplomatic end to the fracas by appearing on the beach to pose with her two children. “They have to earn a living too,” she admitted to one of the angry guards, and she thanked the photographers for the flowers they had sent her that morning.

The Greek Orthodox service lasted thirty minutes, during which the handful of reporters were kept in the rain by a Secret Service agent wearing a PT-109 tiepin—a gift from President Kennedy. The newlyweds then held their reception on the Christina , where they were joined by relatives. “It doesn’t make any difference what Americans think of the marriage,” insisted the bride’s sister, Princess Lee Radziwill. “I am thinking above all of the happiness of my sister, who has done a lot for her country.”

—Nathan Ward

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