Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

John F. Kennedy Jnr. under the Resolute Desk

with 13 comments

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, a former Look magazine photographer who took many intimate pictures of President Kennedy and his children. Ms. Kennedy was against her children being photographed and used for political purposes, and the above photo was taken when Jacqueline Kennedy was out of the country. JFK invited Tretick over in October 1963 — by this time, JFK had recently lost a child to premature birth and needed all the family affection.

An advance copy of Look magazine with the photos travelled with the Kennedys to Dallas — and hit the newsstands several days after the assassination. The image immediately comes to summarize the myth and memory of Camelot — that of a youthful President running the country with a young family playing at his side in the White House. It would take another Democratic president some forty years to portray a similar image in these photos (here, here).

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. With a few exceptions, it has been used in the Oval Office by every president including Obama. Nixon used the same one he had used as vice president. After the Kennedy assassination, President Johnson allowed the desk to go on a traveling exhibition with the Kennedy Presidential Library and later to be displayed in the Smithsonian. Primary reason was that Johnson found he was too large for the desk, and commissioned a plainer replacement from the Senate cabinet shop. Under President Reagan, the desk underwent a height adjustment so that the President could sit at the desk without banging his knees. The ‘secret door’ dates to an earlier adjustment. President Franklin D. Roosevelt requested that the kneehole be fitted with a modesty panel carved with the presidential seal to conceal his leg braces. (He had to placed a waste basket in front of his desks). FDR did not live to see it installed, but Truman liked the eagle motif and had it installed.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

September 3, 2010 at 5:31 am

13 Responses

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  1. These 2 images are the intellectual property of Aaron Stanley Tretick and require a written license agreement for use. Please remove these images immediately.

    Victoria Ann Rehberg

    September 3, 2010 at 12:32 pm

  2. “Intellectual Property?” What a joke. Just because he took some photos doesn’t mean he forever “owns” JFK, JFK Jr., the Resolute Desk or the Oval Office.

    barnstormer

    September 5, 2010 at 3:08 am

    • barnstormer – I do not mean to be rude, but you need to learn about copyright. You are absolutely right, Aaron Tretick does not own JFK, JFK Jr, etc and when I take a picture of the sky, I don’t own that, either. What i do own, as well as Aaron Tretick, is the image we took however. Unless an unlimited, called ‘work for hire’ release has been drafted, the originators, or the party those rights of the image are released to hold the copyrights. These protections are the basis of free enterprise.

      Peter Grenader

      November 12, 2012 at 3:16 pm

      • It appears, due to graininess etc., that this is a photo of the photo from the magazine. Since the magazine is public property, copyright is not infringed. On the other hand, this is such an iconic image, it belongs to history. The basis of free enterprise is in no way impeded.

        Denree M. Smith

        August 17, 2013 at 4:29 pm

  3. I really love this picture

    debbie hoy

    September 11, 2010 at 7:42 am

  4. CAMELOT AT IT’S HIGHEST POINT

    Ed Rescigno

    June 20, 2011 at 6:47 pm

  5. Such a nice pics i love it.

    johnaiden

    November 1, 2011 at 1:24 pm

  6. [...] for bigger photos: Big Three; FDR in a wheelchair; Truman; Kennedy & Eisenhower; JFK and son; the Loneliest Job; Johnson sworn in; anguished Johnson; the Kitchen Debate; Nixon departs.  Rate [...]

  7. I like how the picture shows the indomitable idiosyncrasy of the predecessor of the rector.

    bob

    December 5, 2012 at 12:28 am

  8. I don’t get this picture

    bob

    December 5, 2012 at 12:28 am

  9. […] John F. Kennedy, including now famous photographs like George Tames “The Loneliest Job” or Alan Stanley Tretick’s “John F. Kennedy Jr. under the Resolute Desk.” Access may have been easier, independent photographers may have taken the shots, but the […]

  10. […] 1963, Look magazine published a series of photos of President John F. Kennedy working in the Oval Office as 2-year-old “John-John” played under […]

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