Heritage

Jackie O. Used to Send Care Packages to Grey Gardens

The former first lady's personal assistant recalls a trip out to the overgrown house on Long Island.
IMAGE Getty
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In her new memoir Jackie's Girl, Jackie Kennedy Onassis's personal assistant Kathy McKeon recalls a trip to an overgrown estate on Long Island.

"Several years after Madam married Onassis, she came to me one day with a list of things to go buy at Gimbels," Mckeon writes. "The list was long, full of bed linens, comforters, towels and other household items. Mostly things to stay warm."

After McKeon had pulled together the care package, Onassis' chauffeur George drove her out to an enormous crumbling home, which she describes as "a big mansion set deep within an overgrown garden."

"As we approached the porch," she recalls in the book, "the heady perfume from all the blossoms gave way to the overpowering stench of cat urine. The porch and weedy garden were alive with skinny feral cats."

It was Grey Gardens.

An elderly woman (presumably "Big Edie") answered the door.

"'Just leave it on the porch,'" she said, then closed the door," writes McKeon. "We did as she asked and retreated. I looked back and saw another woman watching us from an upstairs window. She looked younger than the first, and wore a scarf or piece of cloth tied close to her head, like Amelia Earhart's aviator helmet."

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This would have been around the time that Kennedy, along with her sister Lee Radziwill, "poured $32,000 into repairs" after the health department threatened to evict their reclusive relatives, but McKeon had no idea who she was visiting.

She made the trek for a second time one week later with pajamas, bathrobes, groceries, and cat food in tow, but didn't realize who the older women were until years later.

"I never saw them again until Seamus [McKeon's husband] was poking around on his computer one day not long ago and happened upon a documentary called Grey Gardens, about an eccentric aunt and cousin of Madam's who had been discovered living in squalor at a crumbling Long Island estate," writes McKeon. "I recognized the images of the old woman and the younger one in the window—mother and daughter, it turned out."

"Madam had never explained who they were or what had happened, and it was too late to ask now."

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Jackie's Girl by Kathy McKeon is out now.

This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.

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Caroline Hallemann
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