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Chapter 5  (part 3)

Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 6 months ago

Comments and Discussion:

Add comments, notes and translations here.

 

 

President's death is always told like a story because it flows in a narrative from begginig to end and it follows a sequence of events.

 

The widow is always in the attention of the journalists because she always has to maintain her composure and conduct the complicated funeral arrangements with attention,determinate and grace.

 

The widows are classificated in 6 categories of pictures:

-> the portrait

-> the First Lady accompanying her husband during the events leading up to his death

-> First Lady image illustrated stories of the presidents' political lives

-> the widow showed during the funeral rituals

-> the widow illustrated the personal life of the deceased president

-> the widow engaged in the political life of her husband's successor

 

Lorenzo:

I believe that the classification can be used also for the “first ladies” of living Presidents.

Although the role is changed over the year, going in the direction of higher participation in public events, it is interesting to see in our time, the different behaviour of Clinton’s wife from Bush’s wife and other Presidents.

Again I like to compare US with Italy and point out that we have a completely different first Lady role. No chance to see an active or participating role in politics for wife of President (Prime Minister etc.). No chance for women to reach a decent share in the parliament and government responsibilities as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The grieving widow

In all the deaths, reporters paid unwholesome attention to the First Widow. They anatomized her grief for the edification of the nation, applying the same values over time. She underwent scrutiny for the proper balance of emotion and self-control. Expected to grieve, even to make a display of grief, she also had to maintain composure and conduct the complicated funeral arrangements with skill and grace. Ida McKinley was too emotional. Weakened by a recent illness, under medical care, and thoroughly drugged, she could not fully participate in the funeral activities. Florence Harding, perhaps, and Eleanor Roosevelt, certainly, were too controlled. Roosevelt's obsequies were too abbreviated and Harding's too protracted for optimal grief. Anyone presiding over a four-thousand-mile funeral train ride with her husband's corpse would pace her grieving too slow. In the middle of a world war, FDR's corpse could not be gotten out of the way quickly enough. Jackie, though, was just right: the most beautiful, the most capable, and the most tragic of the widows.

 

Reporters' attention to decorum seems indecorous. In the earlier deaths, they sounded like gossips describing the widow - not common gossips but especially pompous and disingenuous ones. Here is the Times on Mrs. McKinley:

 

For an hour this morning she remained watching the body. . . . During that hour she gave herself up wholly to her grief. While the short funeral service was progressing in the Milburn home, although she remained in her room surrounded by members of the family and friends, her paroxysms of grief were pitiful, and her lamentations almost unceasing. . . .

 

Secretary Cortelyou, when asked by a reporter for the New York Times this evening whether there was any truth in the oft-repeated statement that Mrs. McKinley had become to a certain extent mentally irresponsible through the administration of drugs and opiates, replied, “It is an infamous lie.” (Special to the New York Times, “Mrs. McKinley's Grief Is Uncontrollable,” September 16, 1901, p. 2).

 

“And have you stopped beating your wife?” As intrusive as this scrutiny seems to today's reader, it was every bit as proper in its context as descriptions of floral arrangements and decomposing corpses, and arguably less intrusive than the camera's eye.

 

Later reports were less moralizing and less intimate. Although one can read between the lines that reporters considered Mrs. Roosevelt too cool a widow, they clearly did not scrutinize her grief in the same way they scrutinized Mrs. McKinley's. Similarly, Mrs. Kennedy was incessantly photographed and equally copiously described, with constant reference to her fortitude and dignity, and provided a conduit for the nation's grief. But the reporters did not gossip. The emergency room story, quoted above, gives an account of her actions that is heart-rending yet does not pry into her psyche. It simply registers a series of ascertainable facts. The pictures were the gossips, but the pictures were not as eloquent.

 

There appear to be six categories of pictures or picture content of the widows. The first to emerge was the portrait. Mrs. McKinley was first represented in portrait in the Chicago Daily News, once (next to the president's portrait) when news broke of his being shot and then again (next to her successor as First Lady) when he died (Figure 5.2). A portrait of Mrs. Harding appeared once in the Times, alongside Grace Coolidge on an interior page. The Daily News also published a close-up of her, taken from a file story rather than a formal medium shot in portrait style.

 

 

Portraits appear to have a conservative or traditional place as icons of the women in their official roles. Thus they disappeared from the Daily News but continued on in the Times until Mrs. Roosevelt, who on the first day of coverage appeared in a page-four studio shot - the last formal portrait of a First Widow. Portraits thereafter gave way to action shots in news style, such as the close-up of Mrs. Kennedy at the moment she received the folded flag from the coffin (Times, November 25, 1963, p. 3).

 

A second, much more important, kind of imagery showed the First Lady accompanying her husband during the events leading up to his death. It first emerged during Daily News coverage of McKinley in the form of a September 13, 1901, sketch of his wife leaving the Milburn residence in Buffalo after he appeared to be surviving the assassination attempt. Such images became stock coverage with the death of Harding. His wife appeared in the Rotogravure section of the Times on August 5, 1923, in half a dozen shots of their trip to Alaska, the strain of which was blamed for his falling ill (Figure 5.3). The Daily News also ran two of the shots on August 3. It was by far the most extensive visual representation of the First Lady in any of the deaths until Kennedy's, when his wife appeared again and again in pictures of the limousine just before and after he was shot. These came first from the wire services, then a second wave came from the snapshots bystanders took, and a third wave came from the home movies acquired by Life magazine. A scattering of pictures also recorded her at a series of political events earlier the same day, in each case smiling with her husband or others.

 

 

The third kind of First Lady image illustrated stories of the presidents' political lives. Mrs. Harding appeared in shots with her husband campaigning as a candidate and also arriving at the Executive Mansion after the Inauguration (Times, August 3, 1923, p. 3). The Daily News showed Mrs. Roosevelt in a family shot as they traveled to Chicago, where FDR would accept his party's nomination (Figure 5.4). Mrs. Kennedy appeared in a Times portrait of JFK with his parents after winning election. She also appeared in a file picture of her husband's swearing in. Such pictures participated in the general move toward narrative in photojournalism, with the wives playing the role of minor characters or props in stories about rising a political star.

 

 

The fourth and most important pictorial coverage of the widow showed her during the various funeral rituals. This type of picture first ran in the Times coverage of Harding's burial in Ohio and provided the only current shot of Mrs. Roosevelt in either newspaper. The coverage of Mrs. Kennedy began as she accompanied the coffin to Washington. The Times showed her with the Johnsons; then boarding the hearse, her stockings still stained with blood; and finally with Robert Kennedy - all on the first day of coverage. In the Daily News, such images began when she appeared on Sunday, first accompanying her children outside the White House (Figure 5.5) and then kneeling at the casket in the Rotunda (from normal and bird's-eye views). The Times showed these images as well as pictures of her with her children during the eulogy and later upon their leaving the Capitol. The Monday funeral services and burial at Arlington saw her in various views in both newspapers, entering and leaving the Cathedral and standing at the graveside. The newspapers repeated each other, relying on images from wire services, and the Daily News repeated the image of her kneeling at the coffin - the first from United Press International, the second from the A.P.

 

 

The extent of coverage suggests the growing reliance on pictures for describing the grieving widow. The space given over to these images, which had already been seen in other papers, on television, and even in the newspaper's own pages, shows how central they were considered to the narrative. They also suggest that the invasive curiosity characterizing earlier reports in the text eventually got transferred into pictures. Photojournalists in their roles as paparazzi could capture every moment of Jackie's grief, every gesture and facial expression, seemingly without responsibility. The picture itself swallowed up any responsibility for humane treatment or respect for privacy.

 

Another, less important, type of image of the widow illustrated the personal life of the deceased president. This started late with the image of Mrs. Roosevelt at her wedding, which ran on page five the first day of the Times coverage in a group of pictures illustrating FDR's life. In the case of Mrs. Kennedy, both newspapers showed pictures of her on her wedding day. Both also published a more recent shot of her and the family at Easter. (These follow a longer tradition of showing the president in various intimate moments, with children or a family dog, for example.)

 

The sixth, and final, type of image showed the widow engaged in the political life of her husband's successor. These appeared only in the case of Mrs. Kennedy, who figured prominently in the pictures both newspapers ran of Lyndon B. Johnson swearing the oath of office in the airplane on the Dallas tarmac (see Figure 5.12).

 

 

In general, then, the First Widow emerged slowly, first as an icon in portrait but quickly as an actor, present and witnessing the events leading up to her husband's death and then, most prominently and extensively, as the image of grieving. Pictorially, that role did not take on its full importance until the assassination of Kennedy.

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