This coming weekend, an auction house in Dallas hopes to sell a rocking chair that John F. Kennedy used in the Oval Office, along with two flags that hung behind his desk. Minimum bid prices for the chair and pair of flags? $50,000 and $100,000, respectively. Next month, the watch worn by the doctor who signed Kennedy’s death certificate is going up for auction and could sell for $150,000 or more. These items are among the scores of Kennedy-related memorabilia on the auction block this year, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of America’s 35th president.
In recent months, buyers eager to own a piece of history have snatched up everything from Kennedy’s Air Force One leather bomber jacket (sold price: $570,000) to a set of presidential golf balls ($30,710.40) to the pen he used to sign the 1961 Peace Corps Act ($17,400) to one of his cigars ($900). Learn the fascinating facts about some of these auctioned artifacts, and find out about one iconic item that failed to find any takers.
On the morning of November 22, 1963, in the ballroom of the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth, Kennedy gave what would be his last speech. Afterward, he and his wife, Jackie, along with Texas governor John Connally, rode in a white 1963 Lincoln Continental convertible through the streets of Fort Worth to Carswell Air Force Base, where they boarded Air Force One for the short flight to Dallas. In October 2013, the Lincoln Continental sold at auction for $318,000. The buyer was Jim Warlick, a North Carolina native and major collector of Kennedy memorabilia, who also plunked down $210,000 for another auction item: a black 1960 Mark V 6 Lincoln Continental limo that was at the president’s disposal for non-White House business.
Neither car was the one Kennedy was riding in when he was shot in Dallas. That vehicle, a 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible leased to the Secret Service for $500 annually by Ford Motor Company, was impounded after the president’s assassination. In 1964, the car, code named the X-100 by the Secret Service, underwent a major revamp to the tune of some $500,000. It was used periodically by presidents Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter before being taken out of service in 1977. It’s now on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan.
In February of this year, Kennedy’s Air Force One leather bomber jacket sold at auction to an anonymous bidder for $570,000, well beyond the $20,000 to $40,000 it was expected to fetch. Sometime in 1962 or 1963, JFK gave the size 44 jacket, featuring the presidential seal on the front, to Dave Powers, his close friend and aide. Powers, who met Kennedy in 1946, worked on his political campaigns then served as a special assistant to him in the White House. Powers, who was in Kennedy’s Dallas motorcade when he was killed, died in 1998 at age 85. Years later, when his family was preparing to sell his Arlington, Massachusetts, house, they discovered the bomber jacket, along with other memorabilia, and decided to put it up for auction.
Some of JFK’s accessories and grooming items also have been on the auction block this year, including a black necktie he owned that went for $8,710 in November, and a monogrammed shaving kit that belonged to him sold for $27,600 in October. That same month, an 18 carat gold ring given to the president by his wife in 1963 and engraved on the inside with “J.B.K. to J.F.K.,” sold for $90,000.
Not up for sale are the clothes worn by the president and his wife at the time of the assassination. These items are preserved at the National Archives facility in College Park. While the president’s clothing can be viewed for research purposes, according to rules established by the Kennedy family, the first lady’s famous bloodstained pink suit cannot be seen by the public until 2103.
One other Kennedy-related clothing note: In 1999, the one-of-a-kind, rhinestone-encrusted gown that Marilyn Monroe wore when she sang “Happy Birthday” to JFK at a May 1962 event in New York City in honor of his 45th birthday sold at auction in 1999 for $1,267,500.
Lee Harvey Oswald artifacts
Items related to Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, also have sold at auction this year. In October, an anonymous buyer from Texas paid $108,000 for Oswald’s gold wedding band, purchased in Minsk before his April 1961 marriage to Marina Prusaakova. Marina later said that on the morning of November 22, 1963, Oswald left the ring next to her bed at the Irving, Texas, home of a friend with whom she and her children were staying at the time. Following Oswald’s arrest, the ring, engraved with a tiny hammer and sickle, was confiscated by the Secret Service. It later ended up in the files of Forrest Markward, a Fort Worth attorney, where it remained for many years before finally being returned to Marina Oswald in 2012.
Also included in the purchase price of the ring was a five-page, hand-written note from Oswald’s former wife stating that she didn’t want to have “Lee’s ring in my possession because symbolically I want to let go of my past that is connecting with Nov. 22, 1963.”
Other Oswald items sold at auction this year include his official Dallas Police Department mug shot ($21,600) and his U.S. Marine Corps rifle score book ($54,000). Oswald enlisted in the Marines in 1956 and was discharged in 1960. In October, a hat owned by Jack Ruby, the man who shot Oswald on November 24, 1963, sold at auction for $4,200. It was a different hat than the gray fedora Ruby had on when he killed Oswald; that one was auctioned for more than $53,000 in 2009.
The “grassy knoll” photo
One item that went up for auction in November but failed to sell was the iconic photo showing almost the exact moment when the first bullet struck the president, at around 12:30 p.m. local time. It’s the only known photo to capture Kennedy’s car and the area now referred to as the grassy knoll (where conspiracy theorists believe a second gunman fired at the president). Mary Ann Moorman Krahmer, a then 31-year-old housewife, took the photo while watching Kennedy’s motorcade with a friend. Krahmer’s son had wanted to join her that day but because she didn’t want him to miss school she promised to take some Polaroids for him.
Krahmer tried to sell her famous photo through Sotheby’s in New York earlier this year, but the Kennedy family intervened and the image was deemed too sensitive to auction. When a second auction house put the photo up for sale in November, it was expected to generate $50,000 to $75,000 but instead did not meet its reserve price.