JFK’s Pool

By Twan Huys

Each correspondent in WashingtonDC is surprised by the weird little space that passes for the Briefing Room, the press room at the White House. Here, the President or his spokesman is questioned about wars, revolutions, legislative issues or sexual escapes with trainees. Few people know that this claustrophobic space served an entirely different purpose forty years ago. White House correspondents fromABC, CBS, the Washington Post and the New York Times are now standing on what was once the pool of the White House. Here, according to his adviser and historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., President Jack Kennedy swam many laps to take a break from his busy schedule.

But that image of Kennedy is not correct. According to investigative journalist Seymour M. Hersh, the pool at the White House was primarily used by Jack Kennedy for meetings with his mistresses. In his bookThe Dark Side of Camelot, Hersh describes the many sexual adventures Kennedy arranged in his pool. Source for all these stories are the personal experiences of four agents of the Secret Service who had to oversee the safety of Kennedy. They felt powerless when it came to the endless pursuit of women by the president. The women could not be screened, and so the president took the risk that he would be a victim of espionage, extortion or even a murder. ‘Reckless,’ the agents of the Secret Service called Kennedy’s behavior in his insatiable desire for sex. Curiously, all his escapades during his presidency were kept a secret. Kennedy had surrounded himself with extremely loyal friends and advisers. Even journalists such as Ben Bradlee, the later editor of the Washington Post during the Watergate affair, knew of these affairs but never published about it. Everyone was under the spell of this charming and charismatic man. They didn’t realize that Kennedy put himself, his presidency and his country in an extremely vulnerable position. At the height of the cold war, during the Cuban crisis, there is even talk of an affair with an East German spy, Ellen Rometsch. Never confirmed, but according to journalist Hersh this was a dangerous liaison that could have destroyed his presidency even before November 22, 1963.

Kennedy’s successor Johnson would still swim a few laps in the pool, but his successor Richard Nixon made an end to this. This place of Sodomand Gomorrahwas immediately given a new purpose and was now only suitable for that one profession that Nixon hated: the press.

During my first visit as a correspondent in the Briefing Room at the White House, I searched for traces. There’s nothing to see anymore, but a few inches below the floor there is still that legendary pool, Kennedy’s favorite hang out in the White House.