JFK ‘Relics’ Stir Strong Emotions
When Jeff Underwood gives tours of the Air Force plane that carried President Kennedy's body to Washington after his Nov. 22, 1963, assassination in Dallas, "people get real quiet. It's a highly emotional place," he says.
Underwood, historian and curator at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, says the plane's interior was modified, but he shows visitors where the casket was and where Jackie Kennedy stood in her bloodied pink suit as Lyndon Johnson took the oath of office.
Places and objects linked to John F. Kennedy's death still stir strong feelings 46 years later. "It's not just the assassination," Underwood says. "It reminds people of the last spurt of innocence before the death of a president."
Some artifacts from that day in Dallas are displayed in museums. Some are locked in vaults. Some are in private hands. The fedora worn by Jack Ruby when he shot Lee Harvey Oswald was sold at auction to an anonymous buyer this month for $45,000.
Kennedy "was kind of a saint, and these are his relics," says David Lubin, a Wake Forest University art professor and author of the 2003 book Shooting Kennedy: JFK and the Culture of Images. Objects owned by historic figures impart "a direct physical connection . . . that you can't get in any other way," he says.
Some items had fates that fuel the mysterious aura that still surrounds the assassination. On Feb. 18, 1966, the casket that held Kennedy's body on the flight to Washington was dropped by an Air Force plane into the Atlantic Ocean in an area where test weapons firing left the sea bottom littered with munitions, making it dangerous for anyone to try to recover it. Robert Kennedy, the late president's brother, requested the coffin's disposal.
The coffin's fate was described by Steve Tilley, a senior archivist at the National Archives and Records Administration who was in charge of its Kennedy collection from 1993-2004. He says people are fascinated by the assassination because "there was something about Jack Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy that people just took to" and their saga "never ceases to amaze, to be interesting."
Where other artifacts are:
Parkland Memorial Hospital Trauma Room No. 1@: Contents of the room where Kennedy was declared dead, including equipment and a gurney, were sold to the federal government for $1,000 in 1973 and stored at an archives branch in Fort Worth, Tilley says.
The boxed items were moved in 2007 to a caged area in an underground Archives facility in Lenexa, Kan., called "The Caves." No one can see them at this time.
Clothing worn by John and Jackie Kennedy and Oswald@: All are stored in a secure, climate-controlled area of an Archives building in College Park, Md., Tilley says. The first lady's pink suit was delivered anonymously to the Archives soon after the assassination. Deeds from the Kennedy family set rules for access. One says the suit cannot be seen until 2103, 100 years after the date of that deed; requests to view Kennedy's clothing, the autopsy report and X-rays go through a family representative.
Oswald's rifle and pistol, bullets and bullet fragments, the windshield of Kennedy's limo and Oswald's diary also are stored at the Archives.
The 1956 Cadillac used by the Secret Service in Kennedy's motorcade@: It's at Historic Auto Attractions, a museum in Roscoe, Ill., which showcases other artifacts, including the shoes Ruby wore when he shot Oswald.
Owner Wayne Lensing, who bought the shoes at a recent auction for about $15,000, says people will always be enthralled by the assassination. "It's like a crime not solved," he says.
Kennedy's limo@: The 1961 Lincoln Continental is at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich. The car was modified after the assassination and was used until 1977.
Ruby's hospital slipper@: One slipper worn by Oswald's killer before he died in 1967 was part of a collection of Kennedy materials donated to Baylor University in Waco, Texas, says Ben Rogers, director of political materials.
It hasn't been authenticated, Rogers says. "You never know about these things."
The Sixth Floor Museum in the Dallas building from which Oswald fired allows visitors to see the assassination scene from his perspective. The museum gets about 325,000 visitors a year.
The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum shows TV coverage of his murder and funeral, but spokeswoman Rachel Day says the museum is "focused on his life."
Arlan Ettinger, founder of Guernsey's Auction House in New York, has sold many Kennedy items - including the toe tag from Oswald's corpse, for $83,000. The tragedy, he says, will "stay forever in the American psyche."