Before I get into this, please note that I am fully aware this “discovery” could be nothing more than simply a spectacular coincidence of names and dates, or a result of human error. These telegrams were handwritten decades before the digital, fact checked records kept by institutions today. That said, I’m choosing to indulge the more mysterious, conspiracy laden angle, because it’s fun. I’m also aware that entertaining a Kennedy conspiracy theory puts me in the category of people who, uh, entertain Kennedy conspiracy theories. Woof.
UPDATE: This mystery was solved, with the most boring of outcomes: a simple coincidence in names. A longer explanation is at the bottom, but I’m leaving this entire post because it’s funny to see how far I spiraled out with this.
Some time ago, I came into ownership of a stack of 1960’s telegrams from Hudson River State Hospital. How I got them is not up for discussion, but I can assure you that the papers came directly from the now abandoned asylum in Poughkeepsie, New York. Actually, some demolition and renovation just began there, which I’ll cover another time when I do a full post on Hudson.
The point is, in the middle of the stack of telegrams, I discovered three messages between the asylum and Rose Kennedy, regarding the death of Joseph S. Kennedy. (That S is important later.) Very quickly, if you’re young and don’t know what I’m talking about, Rose Kennedy was JFK’s mother. You should know the rest. After a few weeks of half-assing some research, I came up with a few clues and a handful of crackpot theories, none of which are solid, yet none seem that unreasonable, on grounds of missing information being the best fuel for conspiracy theories.
So I’m appealing to a wider audience now, hoping that those of you who fancy yourselves detectives can shed some light on this. I will tell you what I know and what I found, and my information is very detailed, so please read carefully. If you have more questions, you can contact me at juliajwertz(at)gmail(dot)com. But please do not send me your research that covers what I’ve already done, or loose and dubious hypotheses. Please only contact me if you have new information, relevant questions (make sure you read this thoroughly first, I cover a lot of stuff) if you know anything about this I might not know, or most importantly, if you solve the case.
Let’s start with the telegrams themselves, which I’ll type out since the handwriting is hard to make out.
The first telegram is from Hudson to Rose Kennedy. It reads:
2:10 am on 2-25-1969. To Mrs. Rose Kennedy 146 Manning St, Needham Mass 12194. Regret to advise you of death of Joseph S. Kennedy. Notify relatives. Make funeral arrangements. Have undertaker contact hospital before coming for body. Hospital wishes to study all deaths for scientific reasons. Please give post mortem consent. H.R.S.H
The second telegram is a record of the first being undeliverable. It reads:
11am on 2-25-1969. Re: Rose Kennedy, Needham, Mass. No phone. Unknown at P.O. No such street. Queery destination. RE: Jos. Kennedy death.
The third telegram is from Rose Kennedy to Hudson. It reads:
2:20pm on 2-26-1969. HRSH: The family of Joseph Kennedy is unable to take care of his funeral and burial expenses and respectfully request the state handle all necessary arrangements. Rose Kennedy.
Facts: this is what I know, bullet pointed for your convenience:
-Rose Kennedy was married to Joseph P. Kennedy (not S) and they had a son also named Joseph P. Kennedy Jr, who died in WWII in 1944.
– Joseph P. Kennedy Jr’s remains were never recovered after his airplane exploded.
-The Kennedys are from Massachusetts. The address listed was rendered irrelevant on the second telegram, however no follow up address could be found, although the third telegram confirms that Rose received it.
-Joseph P. Kennedy died in 1969 at his home, the same year of these telegrams, only nine months later. Prior to his death, he’d been confined to a wheel chair for eight years, following a massive stroke.
-Rose and Joseph had a daughter, Rosemary, who underwent a lobotomy in 1941 that left her in a vegetative state, and she was hospitalized for the rest of her life. Prior to her lobotomy, her mental disabilities were kept secret.
-While there were a series of Joseph P. Kennedys (including one who is still alive and active in politics) there is no one listed as part of the Kennedy family under the name Joseph S. Kennedy. Googling it pulls up a boat, and a current business man, but nothing related to the actual Kennedy Family.
-Joseph Kennedy (no middle initial) can be found on ancestry.com, and he is listed as a patient at Hudson in 1940. The only listed family was actually not his family, but instead fellow asylum roommates, as often happened in census listings during that time. I could not trace him further, however the census dates are the lynchpin of the dismantlement of most my theories.
My favorite theory was (emphasis on WAS) that that Joseph S. Kennedy was actually Joseph P. Kennedy Jr, and the S was human error. The theory goes as such: His plane did not explode, and he did not die (which would explain why the body was never recovered) but instead returned home crazy, and his parents, fresh from signing off on a fateful lobotomy for their daughter, simply had him institutionalized at Hudson, just a few hours away from Massachusetts. The Kennedys were known for keeping secrets, and mental illness ran in the family. The public had already found out about Rosemary’s lobotomy, so to hide Joseph’s illness, they simply made him disappear. The telegram sent by Rose claiming the family couldn’t afford to reclaim the body would support the idea that they had to refuse the body in order to keep it secret. Financial difficulties are one of the few unquestionable reasons for not claiming a body. This theory is eradicated by the 1940 census, which puts Joseph S. Kennedy’s age at 59. Had he been the other Joseph, he would have been in his 30’s.
Another theory rendered impossible by the census was that it was Joseph P. Kennedy Sr, and he did not die at home but instead in an institution, and his death was hidden for a few months until the family could create a cover-up. However, Joseph was 81 when he died, so there goes that idea.
One theory that held water for a hot minute was that of a secret Kennedy son. It’d take care of the name discrepancies, and line up with the Kennedy’s predilection for hiding mental illnesses. However, foiled again by the census, which states he was born before Rose Kennedy was born, so, yeah no.
The last theory is the second most likely (and I say that while rolling my eyes) is that Joseph S. Kennedy was a relative of the Kennedys, who’d been kept a secret. Again, the refusal by Rose to claim the body backs that theory up. Perhaps he was a secret brother of Joseph P. Kennedy. What a boring theory.
Even more boring a theory, and the most probable, is simply an entirely different Kennedy family who happened to all be named the same as the famous Kennedy family, who lived around the same time, and were also from Massachusetts. Even though it’s entirely possible, it’s still kind of weird. Another possibility, which I briefly addressed in the beginning, is that of human error. The S could have never been real, which would explain why it’s not on the census. Or perhaps Joseph Kennedy was a transient, and upon his death, someone assumed he must be related to the Kennedys due to his namesake, so they just off and telegrammed Rose. That assumption might explain the incorrect address, however it does not explain why Rose responded the way she did, instead of flat out denying he was part of their family.
So there are holes in all the theories, even the most reasonable ones. I had to stop researching it because I’m not insane and I don’t have time for this noise. But if you can figure out something I couldn’t, by all means, please do, that’s why I’m posting this. And yes, I fully expect to eventually be given a completely logical reason that has nothing to do with the Kennedys or conspiracy theories, and then I’ll feel like an idiot, but if nothing else, A Secret Kennedy is a great name for a book I have no intention of writing, so it’s all yours. You’re welcome.
Solved: When I posted this to facebook, Elijah Edmunds quickly thought to look for a census I did not- the Needham, MA census. It lists a Rose and Joseph Kennedy living together in 1940 in Needham. There’s a slight hiccup though, which is that Joseph is listed as being 14. We know from the Poughkeepsie 1940 census that the Joseph in question was 59 in 1940. Edmunds proposed the most sensible conclusion, which is that Needham’s Rose Kennedy was listed as a widow, but most likely, Hudson’s Joseph S. Kennedy was her husband, and it was common at that time for the wives of committed men to be considered widows. Another possibility is that Joseph S. Kennedy was just another family member. Either way, as I suspected, it was the most unexciting theory that proved true, but it was fun while it lasted.
Disclaimer: If any information on this post is incorrect, if you have more info or would otherwise like to tell me something, feel free to contact me.