John F. Kennedy Jnr. under the Resolute Desk, 1963

As the first child born to a sitting president in nearly 80 years, John F. Kennedy Jnr enjoyed a national spotlight throughout his life. He was in utero during his dad’s campaign, and grew up in the White House. The photo of John Jr. peering out from the panel which he called ‘the secret door’ under the desk (‘my house’ to John Jnr) as his father reviews the papers was an instant icon — both for its timing and composition.

The photo was taken by Alan Stanley Tretick who took many intimate pictures of President Kennedy and his children. The President had known Tretick since his presidential run in 1960, long before Tretick started working for Look. In late August 1962, Tretick asked the President for an intimate photoshoot but scheduling would proved to be a problem. Tretick sent a reminder in early September, but the Cuban Missile Crisis would soon intervene. Another obstacle was Jackie Kennedy, the First Lady, who hated her children being photographed and used for political or publicity purposes. So the president and the photographer conspired to wait until Mrs. Kennedy was out of the country.

The President and His Son” was the cover story for Look magazine’s December 3, 1963 issue, which appeared on newsstands four days before the president was assassinated on November 22. The photo above would immediately come to summarize the memory and the myths surrounding Kennedy’s Camelot: a youthful President running the country with a close knit family playing at his side in the White House.

The desk in the photo was the Resolute Desk, was a gift from Queen Victoria to President Rutherford B. Hayes and was built from pieces of a salvaged Arctic discovery vessel. The secret door through which JFK Jr was from a later adjustment: President Franklin Roosevelt asked for a panel to cover the kneehole to hide his wheelchair or leg braces. (He often placed a waste basket in front of his desks). Roosevelt did not live to see it installed, but Truman liked the eagle motif and had it installed.

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