Cynthia Norwich: “The Secret Sharer”

bb4bec3a-226f-40ed-9b84-59b47a2e3a3a_kindlephoto-261765469“Cynthia Norwich. Photo for the ‘Domestique’ Sunday color supplement of the Sidbury Times, Sidbury, Connecticut, September 4, 1966. The story noted her election as President of the prestigious North Maple Home and Garden Club.

But she also had another life. She was a special confidante of Mary Pinchot — “the secret sharer,” Mary called her — from their student days at Manhattan’s exclusive Brearley School.

Pinchot, a journalist, later married Cord Meyer, originally a leading left-wing pacifist who morphed into a dedicated anti-Communist operative for the CIA. In the 1950s, the Meyers became good friends with their next-door neighbors in Washington: John and Jackie Kennedy. Mary became more involved with her painting, and with exploring various avenues of expanding and altering the consciousness (she was a close friend of Timothy Leary, for example), even as she continued to move in the highest social circles in Washington. Her sister married Ben Bradlee, later editor of the Washington Post during Watergate. A few years after her divorce from Cord, she and Jack Kennedy, now president, became lovers.

By all accounts, she was the most serious of Kennedy’s extramarital partners, an intellectual sparring partner who influenced him with her still-fervent pacifist views and her ideas of altering consciousness for the betterment of the world. Her affair with JFK was tracked by the CIA and other agencies. She had, perhaps foolishly, let several people know she kept a diary of her relationship with Kennedy. Several months after his assassination, Mary Pinchot Meyer was shot dead while taking a walk along the canal in Georgetown. Bradlee, informed of her death by CIA friends, hastened to her house to retrieve her diary, only to find James Jesus Angelton, CIA chief of counterintelligence, already there, jimmying the door. Together, they found the diary and burned it — which Bradlee admitted 30 years later in his autobiography. An African American man, Ray Crump, was picked up a quarter mile from the scene and charged with her murder, but was acquitted due to a total lack of evidence. The murder remains officially unsolved.

Throughout these years, Cynthia Norwich had made frequent visits to Mary, especially after the divorce, enjoying the bohemian side of Mary’s life, then returning to staid Sidbury. In September 1964, she received a package in the post: a set of photocopied papers and a note from Mary: ‘A little secret for the sharer.’ When she heard of Mary’s death a month later, Cynthia buried the photocopy of the diary in one of the beautiful flower beds that adorned her award-winning garden. She never spoke of it as long as she lived. She died in 2014 at the age of 86. The papers are still buried where she left them.” Pencil sketch, digital paint.

About Chris Floyd

Tennessee. Moscow. Oxford.
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