President Trump likes to dismiss any unflattering or scandalous story about him as “fake news.” But to be fair, no U.S. president has had to endure as many questionable or downright fictitious rumors as one of his predecessors, John F. Kennedy.
This is a man whose been accused of everything from sleeping with celebrities (which might be true) to becoming a target for assassination because he asked too many questions about aliens (dubious at best). Whatever you think of Trump, at least he’s trying to finally make public all of the secret government documents on the JFK assassination. So maybe soon we’ll have a little less fake news about the 35th U.S. President.
But JFK’s suspicious death is just one of the myriad of rumors, myths, and tall tales surrounding the entire Kennedy family. Here are 20 of the craziest stories that some people still believe about the Massachusetts political dynasty. So read on, and be wowed—and for some 100 percent true stories about the Kennedys, don’t miss the 30 Crazy Facts about the Kennedys You Never Knew.
JFK called himself a jelly doughnut in German
It was June of 1963 when President John F. Kennedy gave a historic speech in West Berlin, just a few years after the construction of the Berlin Wall. In an attempt to demonstrate his solidarity, he told the crowd “Ich bin ein Berliner,” translated as “I am a Berliner.” Or at least that was the idea.
Some suggested that Kennedy’s German was a little clunky, and what he’d actually said was “I am a jelly-filled doughnut.” Apparently by not leaving out the indefinite article “ein,” he changed the meaning from “I am a citizen of Berlin” to “I am a Berliner.” But many experts agree, pointing out that the article isn’t always necessary, in much the same way that saying “I am American” rather than “I am an American” is also correct. What’s more, a Berliner might be the proper word for a doughnut in some parts of Germany, but in Berlin, where Kennedy was giving his speech, the most common word for doughnut is “Pfannkuchen.”
JFK smoked marijuana
Every few decades, another story about John F. Kennedy’s supposed habit of smoking cannabis in the White House pops up in the media. There have been claims that he indulged in marijuana to treat his back pain and Addison’s Disease, and gossip that he was introduced to recreational weed by one of his mistresses.
That last story came from the National Enquirer, a tabloid that also prints headlines like “Cher Sex Cult Scandal” and “(Name of random celebrity) on Deathbed!” Until there’s anything but anecdotal evidence from (alleged) mistresses, we’re gonna assume this rumor is full of hot air. For more on cannabis, check out these 20 Ways Smoking Weed Affects Your Health.
Joe Kennedy was a bootlegger during Prohibition
Historian David Nasaw, who did extensive research on the elder Kennedy for his biography The Patriarch, could find only one instance of Joe being accused of bootlegging while he was alive, by a Southern newspaper during JFK’s presidential campaign in 1960.
But somehow the story hasn’t gone away, with some continuing to insist that Joe Kennedy made his fortune by smuggling illegal rum during the prohibition of the 20s. It’s true that Joe was the son of a Boston saloon keeper, and that he went into the family business for a time. Even if he did deal in illegal hooch, it wasn’t how he built his fortune. That happened from insider trading and stock manipulation, among other shifty schemes. As Nasaw told reporters in 2012, Joe “was not a bootlegger in any way, shape or form.” And for more historical myth-busting, check out the 28 Most Enduring Myths in American History.
JFK had a lot of (alleged) extramarital affairs
You may have heard that the president (allegedly) had an affair with Marilyn Monroe. But she was one of more than a dozen other (alleged) mistresses, including everyone from secretaries (Pamela Turnure, Fiddle and Faddle), strippers (Blaze Starr), Mafia molls (Judith Campbell Exner), German prostitutes (Ellen Rometsch), actresses not named Marilyn Monroe (Angie Dickinson, Gene Tierney, Marlene Dietrich), interns (Mimi Alford, Priscilla Wear, and Jill Cowen) and Swedish socialites (Gunilla von Post). Is any of it true? Um…allegedly, yes.
Jackie had her fair share of affairs too
If you believe the rumors, the First Lady was no less promiscuous and unfaithful as her husband, having (alleged) affairs with hunky movie stars like Warren Beatty, Peter Lawford, Paul Newman, Gregory Peck, Frank Sinatra, William Holden and Marlon Brando.
We haven’t a clue if any of it’s true, but if even a small percentage of the wild stories are remotely factual, it’d be more accurate to compare the Kennedys to Caligula than Camelot. And for more great untruths, here are the 30 Things You’ve Always Believed That Aren’t True.
Aristotle Onassis and Bobby Kennedy hated each other
There’s been speculation that Jackie first started dating shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, who she would eventually marry, just to anger her ex-husband’s brother (and on-again, off-again lover) Bobby, whose infidelity made him incapable of being faithful.
Bobby was no fan of the tycoon, once telling a friend “I’ve known that [expletive] for years. He was a snake then and he’s still a snake. Other than his bankroll, I don’t understand what Jackie sees in him.”
The feeling was mutual with Onassis, who purportedly said of Bobby, “I could bury that sucker, although I’d lose Jackie in the process. But can’t you just see the headlines?” He also boasted he could “bring down” the senator by revealing his affair with Jackie. It’s all gossip, of course, given by third or fourth hand accounts, so who knows if any of it is true. It sure does sound like bad soap opera dialogue.
Images via Wikimedia Commons
John Jr. was a Senate frontrunner before his “suspicious” plane crash
When John F. Kennedy Jr. died in 1999, crashing his Piper Saratoga into the Atlantic Ocean, the official explanation for the accident, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, was “spatial disorientation.” But some suspected foul play. Why?
Although he never expressed interest in running for the U.S. Senate, there were plenty of rumors that he was seriously considering it. His only significant challenger would have been Hillary Clinton. So, of course, the future presidential contender did what anybody would do to a formidable political opponent…she sabotaged his plane. It sounds as ridiculous today as it did in twenty years ago when the conspiracy theory first made the rounds.
Richard Daley stole Illinois for JFK in the 1960 election
There’s an old urban legend about an elderly woman in Indiana, who purportedly requested in her last will and testament to be buried across the Illinois state border so that even after she died she “could continue to be of service to the Democratic Party.”
We know that Chicago politics were a little—okay, a LOT—corrupt during the 60s, run by the Democratic Mayor (and notorious hippie-hater) Richard M. Daley, who was accustomed to getting what he wanted. If he wanted Kennedy to sweep Illinois in the 1960 election, well, he knew just the dead Indiana voters to make it happen.
Kennedy was a bigamist
As the story goes, Kennedy had a few too many adult beverages at a party in 1947 and eloped with his girlfriend, Palm Beach socialite Durie Malcolm. When he sobered up, he realized that he’d made a big, big mistake. His dad, who was grooming his son for the presidency and worried that the secret marriage might become a scandal, had all records of the marriage “taken care of,” according to a Kennedy biographer.
The marriage documents just disappeared, and no legal divorce filing ever occurred. So when JFK married Jackie, he was already technically married to somebody else. Assuming any of it’s true, and there has yet to be any real proof.
Image via Wikimedia Commons
Kennedy was assassinated by the CIA
Among the many theories about who was really responsible for the assassination of John F. Kennedy, this is the most chilling. Kennedy biographer Philip Shenon claims it was Bobby Kennedy who first suspected that his brother’s death was an inside job, although he changed his mind after meeting with CIA Director John McCone. That didn’t stop this particular conspiracy theory from gaining traction over the years.
So what were the possible motives for the CIA murdering a sitting president? There are many theories floating around, everything from ensuring that the U.S. didn’t pull out of Vietnam, to rumors that Kennedy was considering slashing the agency’s budget, to fears that he was too soft on communism. For more on government cover-ups, check out these 15 White Lies with Huge Historical Consequences.
Kennedy was killed by Lyndon B. Johnson
It’s a less popular theory, but no less kooky. The idea that the Vice President wanted his boss offed, ostensibly so he could take his job, was first made by Madeleine Brown, who also claimed to be Johnson’s mistress and the mother of his child.
We’re not saying she’s lying, we’re just saying there’s something suspicious about a woman who says “The guy I had an extramarital affair with who refused to leave his wife for me totally killed the president!”
Kennedy was killed by the mafia
If the CIA or Lyndon B. Johnson seem too far-fetched, how about this one? The mob helped Kennedy get elected (allegedly) and when he didn’t return the favor, letting them commit crimes with impunity, they got their revenge by having him gunned down, Godfather-style.
At least this theory has a few plausible details: Jack Ruby, who killed Oswald before he could testify, did have some mob connections, so maybe he was trying to stop the pigeon from singing… if you know what we mean. (Is that not mobster lingo? We have no idea. Also, this conspiracy theory is feeling increasingly stupid the more we think about it. Let’s move on.)
Kennedy was killed by extraterrestrials
Wait, wait, before you start laughing, hear us out.
In the book A Celebration of Freedom: JFK and the New Frontier, author William Lester argues that just ten days before he was assassinated, Kennedy demanded to be given confidential documents revealing what the government did and didn’t know about aliens.
So apparently he was killed because he was too close to finding out that we have E.T. somewhere in the White House basement, or something. If you dig deep enough, you’ll find articles with titles like “Did Nibiru aliens kill John F Kennedy?” Which means, maybe it was actual aliens who pulled the trigger? And that’s when our brains start to hurt and we stop reading.
Jackie dissed the Queen
This rumor comes courtesy of the Netflix series The Crown, which cast a new light on the President and First Lady’s 1961 London trip to visit Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. If the show is to be believed, Jackie talked some serious smack about the Queen later, calling her “a middle-aged woman so incurious, unintelligent, and unremarkable that Britain’s new reduced place in the world was not a surprise but an inevitability.”
When word got back to Elizabeth, Jackie returned to apologize, and dish about her own troubled marriage. Although the show is “based on” real events, it’s unlikely that any of this actually took place, even though it makes for compelling TV.
JFK had Marilyn Monroe killed
The official story is that Marilyn Monroe died in 1962 of a barbiturate overdose. The less official rumor is that JFK and/or Bobby Kennedy worried that Marilyn, who one or both of them were sleeping with, would expose one or both of their (alleged) affair(s), so they decided to have her “eliminated” by injecting her with a lethal dose of narcotics and staging it as a suicide and/or OD. And that’s the least crazy rumor about Monroe’s death.
There are actually stories that the Some Like it Hot actress was murdered by the CIA and/or the Mafia to anger John and/or Bobby Kennedy, and possibly even because she knew too much about UFOs and the Kennedys were afraid she’d spill the beans.
JFK killed sales for the hat industry
Because JFK didn’t wear a top hat to his 1961 inaugural ceremonies, as almost every president before him had done, he’s been accused of single-handedly killing the hat industry during the 60s. It was presumed that people thought, “Hey, if the handsome president doesn’t wear a hat, why should I?”
But as it turns out, this is some serious fake news. Kennedy did wear a black silk top hat throughout his inaugural day and only took it off to deliver his inaugural address. The trend of men wearing hats for formal occasions was already well on its way out long before Kennedy, and as numerous photos of his inauguration prove, he was hardly the one responsible for bringing them out of fashion.
Image via Wikimedia Commons
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. claimed that Trump would be the greatest president in history
It sure does sound like a ringing endorsement. But when the son of Bobby Kennedy made these remarks, during a 2016 interview with CNN, it was before Trump took office. It helps to look at his entire quote: “I think Trump can be any kind of president he wants,” Kennedy said. “I think he could be the greatest president in history if he wanted to.” There’s a pretty big difference between “would be” the greatest president and “could be.”
JFK predicted his own assassination
On the morning before he was killed, Kennedy tried to assure his wife that there was no reason to fear their enemies. She had shared with him an anti-Kennedy “tirade” in the Dallas News, according to the 1972 bio Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye, and expressed her concern they shouldn’t be visiting Texas.
“We’re heading into nut country today,” he purportedly told her. “But Jackie, if somebody wants to shoot me from a window with a rifle, nobody can stop it, so why worry about it?” If that doesn’t give you goosebumps, well, we give up. But did it really happen? That depends on if you believe the book’s authors, who were close friends and advisors for Kennedy during his presidency.
Image via Wikimedia Commons
There are huge coincidences between the Lincoln and JFK assassinations
This rumor is a treasure trove for conspiracy theorists, and the “evidence” is, if not convincing, then at least interesting. Lincoln was elected in 1860, Kennedy in 1960. Both Lincoln and Kennedy have seven letters in their name. They were both shot in the head, on a Friday, by southerners known by three names (John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald). What does any of it mean? Nothing, probably, but it is fodder for conversations that end with, “Or did I just blow your mind?”
There’s a Kennedy “curse”
It was Ted Kennedy who first suggested a family curse, when giving testimony about his role in a woman’s death at Chappaquiddick. Although the idea of a curse seems preposterous, it did seem like the Kennedys have suffered more tragedy than the typical family.
Two assassinations, several deaths by plane crash (Joe Jr. and John Jr., to name just a few), botched lobotomies (for their sister Rosemary), suicides, skiing fatalities, rape charges, car crash fatalities, the list goes on and on. Ted Kennedy’s son Edward Kennedy Jr., who lost a leg to bone cancer, doesn’t believe that any such curse exists. “The Kennedy family has had to endure these things in a very open way,” he says. “But our family is just like…every other family in America in many ways.”
Image via Wikimedia Commons
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