Ethel Kennedy selling Hickory Hill

Way Back When

Family's estate holds many memories

April 10, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Sharp-eyed readers of The New York Times Magazine may have noticed a recent advertisement announcing the sale of the Kennedy family's historic Hickory Hill estate in McLean, Va.

The 13-bedroom, white brick Georgian home and surrounding estate is being offered by Sotheby's International Realty in New York City. It sits off Chain Bridge Road on about six acres and has 12 fireplaces, stables for horses, a movie theater, tennis courts, a pool and cabana. The asking price is reportedly $25 million, but Sotheby's officials would not comment for this article.

Robert and Ethel Kennedy purchased Hickory Hill in 1957 for $125,000 from his older brother, future President John F. Kennedy, and his wife Jacqueline, who had owned it for years.

Ethel Kennedy, who still lives at Hickory Hill, is hoping to sell the place and move to Hyannisport, Mass., where Kennedys have lived for generations.

The house was built in 1815 and was headquarters for Union Gen. George B. McClellan during the Civil War. For many years it was the home of Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, the U.S. chief counsel at the Nuremberg war crimes trials after World War II.

But Hickory Hill is best known as the home of the Kennedys - Robert, Ethel and their 11 children. It is a place that conjures up images of the golden years of Camelot before John and Robert Kennedy were assassinated.

There is a photograph showing a youthful Bobby Kennedy going out for a football pass tossed by his brother John. Another, by Jacques Lowe, captured a shirtless Bobby giving oldest daughter Kathleen, the future Maryland lieutenant governor, a donkey ride on a summer's day in 1959.

It was at lunch at Hickory Hill that Robert Kennedy learned that his brother Jack had been shot in 1963. He rose from the table and wandered alone over the estate's grounds for an hour contemplating the tragedy.

In 1967, a United Press International photographer snapped a picture of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. posing with a tegu, a South American cousin of the iguana, from the family's collection of reptiles housed in the reptilium on the Hickory Hills grounds. It was also reported that an alligator was kept in the basement of the house while some seven dogs wandered its spacious grounds.

A sign on the grounds humorously warned: "Trespassers will be eaten."

The Kennedy children and their friends easily mingled with Washington power brokers, athletes, celebrities and members of Congress at dinners or at the numerous fund-raisers held there through the years.

In comments to the Boston Globe last year, Kay Evans, a friend of Ethel Kennedy's for 40 years, recalled the time ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev appeared at a Hickory Hill pet show and sat next to some Washington Redskins. She also recalled a party at which Robert Kennedy, "who could not carry a tune," coaxed a reluctant Judy Garland into a duet of her "Trolley Song."

These days, former Kennedy aide Frank Mankiewicz told the Globe, life at Hickory Hill is "the classic empty nest, and Ethel must be kind of lonely. But it's still a shock; putting Hickory Hill on the market is like selling Mount Vernon."

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