Landmark (Historical Person) of the Month (June): Robert F Kennedy (Part II)

In a change of pace, our last post was not about a historical place, but a historic person (Robert F. Kennedy), and family (the Kennedy's), and event (the 40th commemoration of RFK's assassination).

In a related item,you can have your own piece of history, as Hickory Hill, Robert Kennedy's old house, is for sale. Incidentally, it is right down the street from us.

Hickory Hill was believed to have been built in the 1840s, and was originally part of a large tract of land known as Langley (Langley is an unincorporated area, more famous as the home of the CIA, the Central Intelligence Agency). During the Civil War, Union General George B. McClellan reportedly commandeered Hickory Hill and used it as a temporary headquarters.

The house has been the home of several notable public figures. In July 1941, it became the home of newly appointed United States Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson and his wife, Irene. Jackson (13 Feb,1892 - 9 Oct 1954) was US Attorney General (1940-1941) and went onto become an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court. He was also the chief US prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials and incidentally, was the last Supreme Court justice not to have graduated law school.

Justice Jackson serving as prosecutor at the trial of Hermann Goering; Nuremberg, 1945

[In an ironic coincidence, Robert Jackson was also the name of the freelance photographer who took the picture of Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald, the assailant of John F. Kennedy]

Jack Ruby shoots Lee Harvey Oswald on November 24, 1963.

In 1955, after Justice Jackson died, his widow sold the property to US Senator John F. Kennedy.

Just a year later, JFK sold the house to RFK and his wife, Ethel. At the time, Ethel was pregnant with their fifth (of 11) children. In the 50's and 60's, it was the center of the Kennedy political dynasty. It was a "wild, informal mixture of a children's playground, upbeat discotheque, and a humming political headquarters," described one regular visitor. One of the first things any visitor noticed was the sheer number of children and animals running around the place. "There were lots of kids," remembers one of them, Kathleen Kennedy Townshend. "There were plenty of horses, many dogs, chickens, geese, goats. It was a menagerie... my brother Bobby collected reptiles. And actually the turtle was in the laundry room. The sea lion was in the swimming pool."

No visit to Hickory Hill could be complete without some kind of sporting event, particularly one of the legendary games of Kennedy touch football. Family members were notoriously competitive, and played by a rulebook of their own. "If you were going out for a pass, you had to fly," recalled famous sportswriter George Plimpton. "Bobby was sour if you missed one."

Invitations to Hickory Hill were highly coveted, and no place better expressed the personality of its owners. Another Kennedy trait in evidence at Hickory Hill was curiosity. He and Ethel surrounded themselves with accomplished people from all walks of life -- scientists, entertainers, academics, athletes, politicians -- and grilled them all equally. Kennedy was a voracious reader and lifelong student, and once invited noted Harvard historian Arthur Schlesinger to organize a series of seminars at Hickory Hill. The lectures, organized around dinner and drinks, attracted upwards of sixty people who heard from leading thinkers from a variety of disciplines. Afterwards the Kennedys would lead the question session. "A thousand and one questions," remembered John Glenn, who was asked what it was like to feel weightless while orbiting Earth.

Even guests at the frequent parties the Kennedys threw were fair game. "A Hickory Hill party was an odd mixture of high sophistication and childish hijinks. Dinner guests might include the Russian ambassador to the United States and the Secretary of State," according to Kennedy biographer Evan Thomas, "but there was a pretty good chance somebody gets thrown in the swimming pool."

Ethel and her eleven children continued to live at Hickory Hill for many years after RFK's death.

Want to see the Realtor listing?

Expanded by the Kennedy family, the house is for sale for $12,500,000, a 50% reduction from its original asking price; it is rumored to need major renovation. 19th Century residence sits on almost 6 acres w/ majestic trees and rolling lawns. The residence has 12 bedrooms, 10.5 baths, 12 fireplaces, a 38 ft living room, pool and pool house, tennis court and stables. But on the bright side, we'd be neighbors!


TonyB said...

What a great piece of history and well said.

miranda huerta said...

well written, well informed, thank you for your knowledge on a an iconic family that jumped through hoops, scaled political walls, and gave of themselves completely for a better life for all americans. will there every be another iconic pollitcal family that can do so much or nearly as much? Hmm i wonder.

H said...

Check the wikipedia page on Hickory Hill for more current information and some historical corrections (like the house may have been built in 1870, making its use during the civil war unlikely.)