JFK’s Wedding Bell Blues in Charlotte, North Carolina

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On Saturday, April 27, 1940, a crowd of people gathered at a historic Charlotte mansion that was once owned by energy baron Buck Duke, in order to witness the holy matrimony of Frances Ann Cannon and John Hersey.

Hersey was an aspiring journalist who would later earn a Pulitzer Prize and Cannon was the daughter of a prominent Carolina family who often opened their home, The Duke Mansion, known as “White Oaks”, to special visitors to the Queen City.

Among the individuals seated in the audience that spring afternoon was a 22-year-old Harvard University senior known to the bride simply as “Jack”; however, the entire world would later call him President John F. Kennedy.

The decision to visit Charlotte, North Carolina’s Duke Mansion, the residence of the bride was not an easy one for the ambitious son of an ambassador.  Prior to the wedding, Kennedy wrote to a friend, “I would like to go, but I don’t want to look like the tall slim figure who goes out and shoots himself in the greenhouse half-way through the ceremony.”

A quarter-century prior to that awful day in Dallas and roughly 15 years before his marriage to Jacqueline Bouvier, John F. Kennedy’s affections were devoted to that of a North Carolina girl named Frances Ann Cannon.

Geoffrey Perret, author of Jack: A Life Like No Other, had this to say about Kennedy’s relationship with the young woman from Charlotte: “Frances Ann Cannon was… witty, outgoing and confident.  Every American housewife or hotel manager who bought a Cannon towel was making a small contribution towards this young woman’s inheritance.”

Frances Ann Cannon being helped with her roller skates by her brother Jimmie Cannon, Photo Courtesy, The Duke Mansion
Frances Ann Cannon being helped with her roller skates by her brother Jimmie Cannon, Photo Courtesy, The Duke Mansion

According to Perret, Cannon came from a family so rich Kennedy never had to question the sincerity of her interest in him and the young President-to-be was so smitten with her that the idea of marriage proved irresistible.

“Even so, there was a problem — the Cannons of North Carolina were rock-solid Presbyterians. Joe and Rose did not like his taking a serious interest in her; the Cannons were equally unenthusiastic about their beautiful daughter getting involved with a Catholic. But Romeo took Juliet to Harvard football games, paraded her in front of his friends and eventually proposed marriage. She turned him down.”

It is not known where or with whom the young Jack Kennedy spent the night that evening following the wedding of the woman many regard as being his first true love.

What we do know, however, is that JFK never forgot the Carolina girl and retained her memory for the remainder of his days.

“He was in love with Frances Ann Cannon,” writes Lesa Holstine, adding, “He proposed to her, but she refused because he was Irish, Catholic, and Joe Kennedy’s son. She sent him a telegram when he left for Europe saying, ‘Stay away from the hay, darling. (Jack would describe himself as having hay fever when he wasn’t well.) Love you, darling. Frances Ann.’ That telegram is in the Kennedy Library. That meant Kennedy kept that telegram for his whole life.”

Roughly a decade following their daughter’s wedding, the Cannon family bequeathed the historic estate and mansion to Myers Park Presbyterian Church.

In the ensuing years, the property would see several changes in ownership and would undergo a series of restoration efforts aimed at restoring the mansion to the splendor seen during the Roaring Twenties.

Coming full circle, the mansion would eventually fall into the hands of The Lynwood Foundation (a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and protecting the estate) and would be renamed The Duke Mansion, after one of its earliest and most prestigious owners.

Today, the mansion features 20 individually decorated luxurious guest rooms, six of which offer shared sleeping porches.

Setting a gold standard in Charlotte hospitality, the Inn lends itself to corporations and organizations needing professional meeting space, as well as brides wishing to get married on the same grounds JFK once attended the wedding of his sweetheart.

With the ability to host events with up 300 guests, an on-site executive chef, culinary staff and state of the art audio visual equipment for meetings and events, the Four and a half acres of beautiful gardens and grounds make this property not only a gem for the Queen City, but truly one of the South’s most treasured properties you’ve never heard about.

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