The Kennedys' Other Playground

New tales about our favorite royal family getting nutsy on Martha's Vineyard.

Snap quiz: Which of the Kennedys smoked three packs of cigarettes a day?

You might suppose it was red-faced, over-weight Ted who looked like the kind of fellow who’d puff away in the dark of his limo while his driver dashed into the Dairy Queen for two Blizzards (and a third one for himself.)

But no, it was Jackie O! Jackie who, as we’ve reported in this column, kayaked, swam, and cycled, only stopping to nibble carrot sticks and sip blueberry smoothies along the way to her yoga class. It came as a complete shock, then, when she died so relatively young, at the age of 64. Jackie O?! This paragon of healthy living?

But no, in her final days, Jackie confided to her close friend, fashion designer Oleg Cassini, that she had smoked three packs a day for over forty years. If you’re going to inhale that many mini-stogies 24/7, you’ve got a pre-booked Appointment in Samara.

I learned all about Jackie's secret habit from reading a new book, “After Camelot” by J. Randy Taraborrelli. I found, to my gossip girl’s delight, that fresh tales abound of Kennedy mayhem and madcaps on Martha’s Vineyard.

In Jackie’s final nicotine-laden years, she spent most of her time on her 375 acres in Aquinnah. How, we might ask, then, did she hide this questionable habit? Did she dash behind tool sheds and overgrown rosa rugosa and under her seat at the Vineyard Playhouse to inhale those forbidden blue streams of smoke?

It takes about three minutes to suck down a cigarette. Sixty ciggies amounts to an hour and a half a day, or, more explicitely, ninety completely wasted idiotic minutes. It puts a new twist on this famously elegant lady’s last seasons on this idyllic island.

It’s not unfair to say that Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis’s final fashion statement to the world, and to Vineyarders in particular, is the following: Quit now!

Okay, moving on: Because Martha’s Vineyard Patch is a classy publication, and not for a moment do we ever go tabloidal, we’ll totally gloss over any of the new scuttlebutt to emerge about Ted Kennedy and that infamous bridge on Chappaquiddick, except to say . . . except to say that after the tragedy, Rose Kennedy scolded her son, “It was very stupid. You should have known better.”

Busted! Had he been a few years younger, she would have grounded him.

During the 1969 Edgartown Regatta that had brought young Senator Ted Kennedy to the island with disastrous results, his nephew and Ethel Kennedy’s son, Joseph Jr., arrived to cheer his uncle on. Accommodations being scarce during this High Prep sporting event, young Joe and a buddy of his searched high and low, finally securing a room for themselves at the quaint old Daggett House on North Water Street.

The two teens hurriedly unpacked their bags, then headed off to the races. Many hours later they returned with five more 17 year-olds in tow, having exercised their droigt de hospitality by inviting them to crash in their room.

The inn’s owner, Fred Chirgwin, learned of the double room now occupied as a septuplet. He knocked on the door and informed young Joe that his five extra guests would need to depart. The youngster, infuriated, hurled his sailing cap at Mr. Chirgwin, and shouted, “I’m a Kennedy! If a Kennedy rents a room, he can do whatever he likes with it!”

Oops. Well, no one expects 17 year-olds to enjoy a thorough grasp of good manners, and clearly neither Rose nor Ethel nor the Milton Academy had taken time to instill them, so Mr. Chirgwin taught R-E-S-P-E-C-T the old-fashioned way: He told all seven kids to hit the bricks.

For our final story, once again, Martha’s Vineyard played a role in shaping American’s political journey. In 1969 it was Ted Kennedy’s ill-advised response (or lack of) on Chappaquiddick that removed him from the ranks of future presidents.

Later in the 90s and early 2000s, Bill and Hillary Clinton during their Vineyard visits had become tight friends during with Ted, now a senator of some fifty years, and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, new family doyenne and, along with Uncle Teddy, chief point person in Kennedy-backed politics.

And yet, in 2007, Caroline endorsed candidate Barack Obama as the democratic nominee over her homegirl Hillary.

Bill Clinton, war-horse of a politician that he was, took it on the chin. But Hillary and Chelsea were shattered. What happened to all the picnics, the parties, the waterskiing and sailing trips on Martha’s Vineyard? What about those dreadful weeks following the plane crash of JFK Jr. when Chelsea was Caroline’s constant companion in her time of need?

Well, as Teddy himself summed it up in a press conference, “With Barack Obama, we will close the book on the old politics of race against race, gender against gender, ethnic group against ethnic group, and straight against gay.”

He got that right.

It’s been a long haul for us Vineyarders with the Kennedys and now the Obamas who, it seems, may return this August for a new vacation here.

No doubt about it. This island is a king-maker.

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Louisa Hufstader (Editor) April 08, 2013 at 12:36 PM
And these are just the stories Holly knows about!
ALISA ROMAN April 08, 2013 at 02:28 PM
Stories, is an apt description Louisa, with very little relationship to the truth. Sadly, poetic license and creative whimsy prevail in Holly's world. Many of us have inside information however, never found the need to write stories based on at best, hearsay.
Holly Nadler April 08, 2013 at 02:57 PM
Sorry you feel that way, Alisa.
Louisa Hufstader (Editor) April 08, 2013 at 04:05 PM
On the other hand: My family and I have had what I'd call more than our fair share of face-to-face encounters with various members of theirs, going back to the 1960s, and while we don't tell the tales in writing ourselves, none of Holly's narratives sounds particularly out of line.
Barbara Beichek April 08, 2013 at 04:16 PM
Back in the day, (glorious days) I worked at Gull Air doing 'whatever', reservations , check ins, marshaled the planes in, loaded bags if no one showed up. I was the happy face of Gull Air. I LOVED that job. But one foggy morning, I arrived to find a huddled, sunglassed, big hatted person on MY big red couch in the office....I demanded to know 'who is that, and who let them in?' ( I was in a funk that morning)...Well, you can guess who it was, who politely offered me the couch (not mine, really)...fogged in, needed a secret place to wait. Whoops. I hurried to secure an anonymous cup of coffee.
Holly Nadler April 08, 2013 at 04:21 PM
Barbara, was she smoking?
Matt April 08, 2013 at 07:33 PM
Who cares. She smoked oh my god no.
Holly Nadler April 08, 2013 at 07:39 PM
Three packs a day, Matt, for forty years and you die at 64? You don't think that's of equal interest as her pink pill box hats that were made so much of back in the 60s?
Michael West April 08, 2013 at 08:47 PM
Fascinating stuff, Holly! Keep it coming! BTW, How do you smoke 3 packs a day? I mean day after day. When I was smoking, I don't think I ever smoked more than a pack and a half on my worst day. Three packs is an athletic feat, right up there will drinking a six pack and a bottle of Jack Daniels or climbing the Matterhorn or running the Boston Marathon, although I don't imagine the same person could do both. But you say Jackie smoked 3 packs and kayaked, swam, cycled and did yoga? Very hard to believe, I must say, but she was a remarkable woman, no doubt about that. Sounds like she was almost supernatural and she survived to 64...
Holly Nadler April 08, 2013 at 10:13 PM
Michael, I'm with you -- can't figure out the time-management for three packs a day.
Tony S April 08, 2013 at 11:52 PM
The Kennedy family.... nuff said
Matt April 09, 2013 at 12:45 AM
No I don't think its a big deal. She smoked and that was her choice. Must be a very slow news day for you Holly.
Louisa Hufstader (Editor) April 09, 2013 at 02:08 AM
Doesn't take any time to speak of just to light one up. Smoking it all the way to the filter is another matter.
Carole Charlin April 09, 2013 at 02:48 AM
Everyone has their own personal take on stress management, hers was cigarettes. But to put the accounting straight - it takes closer to six to eight minutes to smoke a cigarette completely. So maybe she only smoked half and stubbed it out. The bottom line - who's business is it anyway. She lived a short life -- but what a LIFE!
Carole Charlin April 09, 2013 at 02:51 AM
Everyone has their own personal take on stress management, hers was cigarettes. But to put the accounting straight - it takes closer to six to eight minutes to smoke a cigarette completely. So maybe she only smoked half and stubbed it out. The bottom line - who's business is it anyway. She lived a short life -- but what a LIFE!
Barbara L April 09, 2013 at 03:54 AM
What nonsense! Who cares?
Holly Nadler April 09, 2013 at 04:33 AM
That does it! I'm going back to writing about spring garden tips!
Louisa Hufstader (Editor) April 09, 2013 at 11:51 AM
This is our number one article today, so I guess the answer to "who cares?" is: Everyone who commented, no matter what s/he said, and more than three times as many readers as took a look at anything else on MV Patch yesterday. Can your spring garden tips do this?
Michael West April 09, 2013 at 12:16 PM
Holly, you could share your Jack Jackie Teddy Caroline spring gardening tips, couldn't you? That would be a nice spring time for Kennedy compromise...
ALISA ROMAN April 09, 2013 at 01:31 PM
Michael , You are a class Act....When , The last memory, you have of your Husband, is his Brain Matter, covering your Designer outfit...I think you have earned the right to do what you please. Jackie ,was also a class act, ironically, she was an editor for a major Publishing House.
Michael West April 09, 2013 at 02:26 PM
Sorry to have upset you, Alisa, the farthest thing from my mind. I grew up going to church with the Robert Kennedy family in McLean. We all sat on little folding chairs in an elementary school cafeteria until our church was built. I was also an altar boy and served communion to Robert, Ethyl and his entire clan, often supplemented by Shrivers and Smiths. When John was assassinated, I was in geometry class at George C. Marshall High School. My best friend and I went to the Memorial Bridge in the freezing cold and watched the funeral procession on its way to Arlington National Cemetery. It was a very moving experience. Over the years, I have been dismayed to see the paparazzi fascination of the public with the Kennedys and also the wanton behavior of the scions of John and Robert's bereaved family who seem to take entitlement as a right. I think Holly was just poking good-natured fun at the sainted image of Jackie K and meant no insult or harm. I was similarly noting that keywords like the Kennedy names inadvertently draw public attention. I am very sorry to have offended you and disturbed your memories. It was, as I say, not my intention, Alisa.
Matt April 09, 2013 at 04:09 PM
poking fun at a dead woman yea that's a class act. Who's next Margret Thatcher?
Cynthia Mascott April 09, 2013 at 04:43 PM
I'm just curious how Jackie O must have smelled. You can always smell cigs on a smoker One of the worst smells in the world. But to the woman earlier in the post who said Holly shouldn't have written about the Kennedy's unless she was writing nice/nice--that's kind of silly. The family was in the public eye. If we can't live vicariously through their nuanced life, what else can we do?
Matt April 09, 2013 at 06:23 PM
You want to know how she smelled? Whats wrong with you? And you want to live vicariously through there life. What else can you do? Take up a hobby golf or go for a walk the weather is warmer or read books. That line about what she smelled like is really creepy.
Holly Nadler April 09, 2013 at 08:22 PM
Matt, would you care to stand up to your aggressive and unkind comments with a last name? And, regarding your remark about how someone smells; anyone who has had to spend time with a smoker knows that there's a distinct odor that clings to their clothes, particularly after that person has come back from a quick stealthy smoke. Do you by any chance smoke, Mr. Matt No-Last-Name?, and might that explain your touchy, maybe even defensive comments?
Matt April 09, 2013 at 09:15 PM
Unkind comments really. Your the one that's talking about a woman that died many years ago. I have respect for those that have passed. And you don't think its strange that Mrs Mascott is wondering how Jackie 'O smelled. I do think that's a little odd.
ALISA ROMAN April 11, 2013 at 03:57 PM
Michael, I am not upset with you , I was complementing you. My former husband , was with Bobby, when he was fatally shot in L.A. at the Ambassador Hotel. He escorted Coretta Scott King, at the Funeral at St. Patrick's Cathedral and stood watch with the casket. There were many contacts with the family over the years. Thank you, for taking the time to write a thoughtful reply.
Holly Nadler April 11, 2013 at 04:14 PM
There are two kinds of people: Those for whom EVERYTHING is super-serious and those who who are grateful for the moments of humor that suddenly bubble up in this otherwise super-serious situation called life. I've heard Jackie O had a huge sense of humor, and while she might not have loved the article I wrote above (with stories gleaned from a new book; not made up, at least not by me), let's hope she would have avoided memory-keepers who could only lock onto her husband's brain-splatter on her dress. I'll bet she loved telling close friends how she snuck her ciggies, even though she clearly regretted her habit before her untimely end.


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