The day that President John F. Kennedy died is one of the darkest days in American history, but now, for the first time ever, a piece of history from that fateful day will be put on display for the public to see: the gun JFK shot himself with after his caption for a New Yorker cartoon was rejected is coming to the Smithsonian.
Wow. What an incredible artifact from a tragic day that the nation will never forget.
Beginning next week, The Natural Museum of American History will be featuring the Smith & Wesson Model 36 revolver that JFK shot himself with upon learning that the New Yorker’s readers had not chosen his submission as the winning caption in the magazine’s November 1963 Cartoon Caption Contest. As a part of the exhibit commemorating the late President’s life, the Smithsonian will also feature the exact issue of the New Yorker that JFK read before he shot himself.
The exhibit will also feature the caption submitted by John F. Kennedy that earned him a spot as a finalist the week prior:
As seen in video footage from that tragic November day, as JFK rode beside his wife Jackie in the backseat of a Lincoln Continental convertible through the streets of Dallas, Texas, he started looking through the latest issue of the New Yorker. He flipped directly to the back of the magazine to the Cartoon Caption Contest page, where he discovered the news that would change the course of history forever.
Americans will never forget the look of total devastation in JFK’s face as he saw that he hadn’t won the contest and started repeating, “I just can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it.” He threw the magazine down to the car’s floor as his heartbreak deepened. “You’ve got to be kidding me. I’ve worked so hard to get here, but this is proof that I’m never going to be good enough for the New Yorker.” He buried his head in his hands.
Anyone who was in Dallas that day will remember the booming sounds of JFK’s uncontrollable sobs and the agony in his voice as he screamed, “What’s the point of it all? Of course mine didn’t win. I’m a total fuck up. All I’ve ever wanted was to win the caption contest, and I can’t even fucking do that right. I’m an embarrassment to everyone I know. What was I thinking? Obviously I don’t belong in the same magazine that publishes Dorothy Parker and J.D. Salinger. I don’t belong in the New Yorker. Hell, I don’t even belong on this Earth.”
Although many sources report that Jackie tried calming the hyperventilating JFK down by reminding him that he had been a finalist, which is a lot farther than most people make it, there was no getting through to him. He unbuckled his seatbelt, lunged toward his Secret Service agent sitting in the driver’s seat, and grabbed the gun from his holster. He held the revolver to his head as he yelled, “I’D RATHER BE DEAD THAN BE A RUNNER-UP IN THE CAPTION CONTEST,” and pulled the trigger.
Those heartbreaking last words would be etched into the memories of every American for the rest of time. Rest in peace, JFK.
Anyone interested in experiencing this solemn exhibit honoring the late President’s untimely death should start planning their trip to Washington, D.C. ASAP, because this is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime exhibit that history buffs won’t want to miss.