by Laurie Austin, Audiovisual Reference Archivist and Stacey Chandler, Textual Reference Archivist
Reference Archivists love sharing the treasures in their collections, so when the National Archives’ Office of Presidential Libraries announced a Twitter chat about Presidential holiday traditions, textual archivist Stacey Chandler and audiovisual archivist Laurie Austin jumped at the chance to participate. The #POTUSchat on December 9 was a great opportunity for us to look beyond the few Christmas-themed documents and photographs that everyone knows, and find some hidden gems to share with the public!
One question we were lucky enough to get in advance: “How did the First Family do their Christmas shopping?” Until we started digging for an answer, we had no idea – but the first place to look was in the Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis Personal Papers. We hit the archival jackpot when we found this FAO Schwarz toy catalog for Christmas 1961, along with a handwritten note by Mrs. Kennedy about items (and even their page numbers in the catalog) she wanted to order for her children, Caroline and John F. Kennedy, Jr.
A look inside the catalog shows that a great deal of attention went into choosing gifts—and luckily for archivists and researchers, Mrs. Kennedy dog-eared several pages and circled specific toys. What a find! We couldn’t believe we could actually see the selection of specific Christmas gifts, let alone figure out how they were purchased.
But the fun didn’t stop there. Once we knew what to look for, we searched our photo and film collections to see if we could find the gifts in use. That horse and hound set circled on page 89?
We spotted those in Caroline’s White House bedroom.
Caroline Kennedy’s bedroom, 8 May 1962. KN-C21446 [crop]. Photograph by Robert Knudsen, White House Photographs
Caroline Kennedy’s bedroom, 8 May 1962. KN-C21450 [crop]. Photograph by Robert Knudsen, White House Photographs
That “Busy Box” on page 10? There it is in John, Jr.’s crib in the nursery!
John F. Kennedy, Jr.’s bedroom, 8 May 1962. KN-C21451 [crop]. Photograph by Robert Knudsen, White House Photographs
Admittedly, the big rocking horse from page 13 was pretty easy to spot in Caroline’s room.
Caroline Kennedy’s bedroom, 9 May 1962. KN-C21505. Photograph by Robert Knudsen, White House Photographs
Of course, we did find a few favorites. Laurie’s is the trampoline from page 86, which Mrs. Kennedy noted the mothers of the childrens’ play group would get for the South Lawn.
Here we have a sweet photo of Caroline jumping on it, with a brave friend named Shawn Brittle underneath!
Caroline Kennedy jumps on a trampoline on the South Lawn of the White House as her friend, Shawn Brittle, lies underneath. 17 May 1962. ST-A19-41-62 [crop]. Photograph by Cecil Stoughton, White House Photographs
And can you believe we actually have footage of an unidentified friend jumping on the trampoline from an April 4, 1963 children’s party on the South Lawn?
PPP:54. Footage by Cecil Stoughton. President’s Personal Pictures.
Stacey’s favorite? The “peasant” costume that Mrs. Kennedy circled on page 76 – a pretty fancy “peasant,” if you ask us!
Check out the photo of Caroline wearing this gift while spending time with her mother and brother in the White House nursery.
Mrs. Kennedy with Caroline Kennedy and John F. Kennedy, Jr. in the nursery, 27 November 1962. ST-A28-13-62 [crop]. Photograph by Cecil Stoughton, White House Photos
As reference archivists, our work is guided entirely by the questions we are asked, and we get to learn something new about our collections every day. We’re grateful for the best holiday gift any archivist could as for – a question that led to fun discoveries in our archives!