WHITE HOUSE UPHOLSTERER, CAPE CODDER and CREATOR OF THE “KENNEDY ROCKER”
In consultation with White House Physician, Dr. Janet Travell, the White House upholsterer, Larry Arata is credited by many, including Senator Ted Kennedy with creating the “authentic upholstered Kennedy rocking chair used by President Kennedy” to ease his ailing back.
Larry Arata was quoted as saying “He (JFK) always liked a rocker, but when I first went down there (to the White House) he would sit all slumped over in it, and that wasn’t good for his back. Dr. Travell went all over the country looking for the best type, and then came to me and asked what I thought. I decided to add 1 ½ inches of rubber all around the wood to give his back firm support. I made this chair, and the President liked it! ”
Larry Arata was asked to come to the White House early in 1961 from Hyannis, Mass. where since 1937 he had a small upholstery shop. Mrs. Paul (Bunny) Mellon had recommended his services to her friend, Jackie Kennedy, who was so pleased with his work that she asked Larry to come to the White House “for a few weeks “ to help her in its restoration. Larry ended up living and working at the White House for two years. While there, he also met his wife, Norma, who was a secretary to Larry O’Brien on the President’s staff. It was Larry and Norma who draped black cambric fabric over the windows, mantels and chandeliers in the East Room of the White House where President John F. Kennedy’s flag-draped casket lay in repose in November, 1963.
Larry and Norma Arata both continued their work at the White House through the Johnson Administration and into the early Nixon era. After retiring from government service, they continued making exact duplicates of the JFK Rocker in the garage of their home in McLean, Virginia for many years. Larry died in 1979, but Norma continued Larry’s legendary work until her death in 2000.