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She was the baby who captivated a country in mourning. On Nov. 22, 1963, a young mother and her 15-month-old daughter were photographed among a throng of admirers greeting President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, at Love Field airport in Dallas. Just 40 minutes after their pictures were taken, the president was assassinated. In the months that followed, an image of the unidentified child greeting the First Lady memorialized the lost hope of a presidency in newspapers around the world.
Now the women who appeared in those historic photographs, Kathleen Vaughan and her daughter Peggy — called by the press at the time "the baby in the picture" — have come forward to share their account of a day that would change their lives — and the nation's history — forever.
“I decided on the spur of the moment, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to go see a president?’” Vaughan, now 75, told the Dallas News. She—along with the rest of the nation—was captivated by the young, handsome family in the White House and the fairytale image of Camelot. “We got there about one and a half hours before their plane landed. We were right up by the fence. The crowd started filling in, and I began to feel a little pressure.”
More on Peggy's dream meeting after the jump.
Jacqueline Kennedy walked up to little Peggy and patted her on the cheek. A moment later, the president shook Vaughan’s hand. Stunned, she managed to stutter, “Welcome to Dallas.” Meanwhile, the television cameras were rolling and photographers were jostling each other to snap pictures.Vaughan, who was pregnant with a second child at the time, was surprised when the president and the first lady approached the crowd.
“And who could have imagined that about 30 minutes later, [the president] would be dead?” said Vaughan.
Vaughan and her daughter left quickly after meeting the Kennedys so that they wouldn’t get stuck in the crowd. On their drive home, she turned on the radio and heard the shocking news that the president had been assassinated. “An announcer broke in on the radio and blurted out something about shots being fired,” she said. “I never will forget how that announcer sounded. He literally gasped out the words. It sounded like he’d run 2 miles.”
When she returned home, a neighbor said that she and Peggy had been on television. Over the years, they never located that footage, but a photo of the first lady and Peggy appeared in Life, and while she was never identified by name, the little girl became famously known as “the baby in the picture.” Vaughan kept the red-and-white-striped sailor suit the baby had worn that day as well as her own dress. “I just couldn’t get rid of it,” she said.
Recently, the Dallas News approached the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, which is dedicated to the legacy of JFK, about finding the television footage of Vaughan and her daughter. While curator Gary Mack couldn’t locate it in the archives, he did discover that a photographer working for a local paper captured the exact same moment—but from behind. “I recognized the photographer in the Life picture standing up in the background at the left as the Times Herald’s Eamon Kennedy,” Mack told Yahoo! Shine. “So I studied our high-res scans of the original Herald negatives and found three showing Peggy and her mom.
It’s not the first time the Museum has located people who were captured on film on that historic day. When actor Bill Paxton was 8, he caught a glimpse of the president on his stopover in Fort Worth when a stranger in the crowd hoisted him up onto his shoulders. Decades later, Mack examined archival footage taken by a local television station. “Lo and behold, three views showed Bill, who was stunned by seeing himself all these years later,” said Mack. “The impact got him thinking about that day in a way he never had before. The result was the partnership that eventually led to the upcoming film [about JFK's assassination] 'Parkland'.”
Such moments can have great impact for people and for all sorts of reasons,” said Mack, “so I’m especially proud that the museum has been able to find and preserve so much of the visual historic record."
- Sarah B. Weir