Conspiracy Corner

The truth behind the Kennedy Curse: What happened to Rosemary Kennedy?

More stories from Alyssa Anderson

Getting Weird
December 13, 2018


Rosemary Kennedy, JFK’s forgotten sister, underwent a disastrous lobotomy after suffering from mood swings. Was this the beginning of The Kennedy Curse?

Spoiler alert: This is not a conspiracy. In fact, it is something much more unsettling. What could be more unsettling than a conspiracy theory, you ask? The truth.

In 1918, Rosemary Kennedy was born to Joe and Rose Kennedy. The third oldest of the eight Kennedy children, Rosemary was often described as “slower” than the rest of her siblings, according to The Guardian.

Although Rosemary had an IQ well above 75 — the threshold usually used to identify children as mentally handicapped — she was subject to mood swings and violent outbursts.

Due to what would now be considered clinical depression or bipolar disorder, Rosemary Kennedy was forced to undergo a lobotomy in 1941 at the age of 23. This operation was nothing short of a disaster.

This “cutting edge” medical procedure was being pioneered in the United States by Doctor Walter Freeman. These early lobotomies involved removing parts of the brain’s frontal lobe or neural fibers connecting the frontal lobes to the parts of the brain that govern emotional response.

These procedures were often seen as solutions to a wide range of mental issues from schizophrenia to depression. Freeman, who performed up to five thousand lobotomies until the 1960s, called the procedures “soul surgeries,” The Guardian said.

In some cases, these procedures did relieve suffering. The case of Rosemary Kennedy, however, is a different story.

In 1941, Freeman and his colleague James Watts performed the procedure on Rosemary. According to Ronald Kessel, author of “The Sins of the Father: Joseph P. Kennedy and the Dynasty He Founded,” Watts remembers Rosemary being awake during the procedure.

“We went in through the top of the head,” Watts told Kessel. “I think she was awake. She had a mild tranquilliser … We made an estimate on how far to cut based on how she responded. He talked to her. He would say, that’s enough.”

It soon became clear the procedure was a disaster. While Rosemary’s mood swings and violent behavior subsided, she was left incontinent and unable to speak coherently. She had the mental capacity of a toddler.

This young woman, who Kessel said had once been described as sweet and good-natured, spent the remainder of her life in a Wisconsin facility called St. Colletta’s, where she died in 2005.

Although no one in the Kennedy family spoke of Rosemary, Kessel said her father, Joe Kennedy, occasionally made charitable donations toward the mentally disabled, and her younger sister Eunice founded the Special Olympics.

Some individuals, myself included, feel that the cover-up of Rosmary’s failed lobotomy kickstarted the chain of bad luck throughout the Kennedy family, otherwise known as The Kennedy Curse.

In his new book, “The Kennedy Curse: Shattered,” Les Williams argues Joe Kennedy’s obsession with success drove the family to its demise.

“Joe Kennedy raised his children to believe that they were better than anyone else and that they had to win, every time and at any cost,” Williams said. “His obsessive, driving ambition would influence the decisions his children made and the way they lived their lives and this controlling, overbearing approach would have disastrous consequences for the family over the years.”

After Joe and Rose Kennedy covered up their failed attempt to “cure” Rosemary, it seems the rest of their children were cursed to die tragically.  

Joe Kennedy Jr. died when his plane exploded while fighting in World War II. Kathleen Kennedy died in a plane crash while on her way to gain her father’s approval to marry a non-Catholic. Robert Kennedy was assassinated and Ted Kennedy served time after failing to report a deadly car accident he caused. We all know what happened to John F. Kennedy, and the list goes on.

The Kennedy Curse is stranger than fiction; I have goosebumps just writing about it. I suppose there’s a price to pay after destroying your own daughter’s life.