Saturday, November 7, 2009

Items tied to Kennedy assassination to be auctioned in Dallas

by AVI SELK / The Dallas Morning News

Calling all Kennedy connoisseurs.If you've got John F. Kennedy assassination fascination (and money to burn), Heritage Auction Galleries wants you to come down today and get yourself some souvenirs from Dallas' "weekend of destiny," as they call it.

The gallery's got a decade's worth of Jack Ruby remnants – from the hat he lived in to the chains he died in.

They've got the autograph Kennedy signed just a few hours before he was shot. "Chillingly historic," as the gallery's entertainment director put it.

Opening bids for the 1 p.m. auction are already sky-high – and expected to go higher.

Fashionistas can bid on the full Ruby ensemble – fedora, shackles and an X-ray of his skull – for an opening price of less than $25,000.

Literati who'd like to curl up with an original police report of Ruby's arrest might get it for as little as $6,000 – though the gallery doubts that price will last.

And for the cost of a Camry (or two), you might even walk away with a special edition of The Dallas Morning News – signed by Kennedy on his way to that fateful motorcade.

So if morbid memorabilia's your thing, get out your titanium credit card and get ready for some mid-holiday shopping: costly like Christmas – and kind of creepy like Halloween.

1 hat: $21,000+

Before Ruby became infamous for gunning down Lee Harvey Oswald, the nightclub owner was already famous for his trademark gray fedora.

"That was his thing," said Joyce Gordon, a former stripper who would see her boss with the hat over his head whenever a roof wasn't.

The fedora was so distinct that when Gordon heard it described in a breaking news report, she realized immediately that Ruby had gone rogue.

"They said over the radio a man in a gray felt hat had just shot Oswald," she said.
"I said, 'Oh my God, he did it.' "

The hat has been around the block. Today's anonymous seller got it in Las Vegas last year for a high bid of $61,000.

At least one collector in Beverly Hills says he will be sizing up the hat today, though he didn't want his name used – lest a rival spoil his chances.

It would complement his private collection, he said, which already includes Oswald's bloody toe tag. ($83,000, if you're wondering.)

1 X-ray: $657+

If 20 grand seems steep for Ruby's hat, a few hundred bucks might get you a peek inside his head.

January 1964 – Radiological technologist Shirley Davis suspected it wouldn't be a normal day at her Dallas clinic when the doctor told her she needed to be at work before dawn. And don't tell a soul, he said.

An hour after she arrived, in walked the sheriff and three armed deputies, towing a handcuffed Jack Ruby in need of an X-ray.

Davis was a little nervous but mustered her courage and ordered the police out of the room during the procedure – for their own safety, she told them.

The killer turned out to be a lousy patient.

Even though he was ordered to lie still during the scans, Ruby couldn't resist raising his head, ruining an X-ray. The doctor gave it to Davis as a souvenir.

Four decades later, Davis, now Shirley Harter, had nearly forgotten about the skull shot when her husband read about the auction in the newspaper – and saw how much the fedora was worth.

"Do you still have that X-ray?" he asked.

1 chain: $3,000+

Harter doesn't know why Ruby needed X-rays that day. It might be related to his lawyers' attempts to argue that a rare form of epilepsy made him shoot Oswald.

If he'd come in a few months later, there's a chance the scan might have caught the cancer growing inside him.

Three years later he lay dying in Parkland Memorial Hospital, his leg chained to the bed. But even before his death, the killer was already a commodity.

The shackles weren't to stop Ruby from escaping, according to the guard who first put them on the market.

They were in case someone tried to steal his body.

1 front page: $24,000+

At a hotel in Fort Worth, Kennedy spared a minute from his last morning on earth to autograph the front page of the day's newspaper for a maid.

"I think she caught him off guard," said Doug Norwine, the gallery's entertainment director.

She might not have caught him at all if the president had opened the paper before he signed it.

When Kennedy finally did so on his way to Dallas, he was dismayed to read a full-page ad accusing him of selling corn to Communists, among other evils.

According to the historian William Manchester, the president looked up and asked his aide: "What kind of journalism do you call The Dallas Morning News?"

The pricey kind, it turns out. Norwine said the maid's newspaper, worth a nickel before it was autographed, shot up by $10,000 in the first three days of advance bidding.

7 digits: priceless?

Not everything Ruby nets riches, alas.

Gordon still carries around a business card her boss gave her when they met, with his number scribbled on the back.

She called Heritage a couple weeks before the auction, hoping to cash in on the card, but the gallery didn't want it.

With an autograph, "it would be worth thousands," she said.

"But because Jack didn't sign the back of it, they said it was probably worth little or nothing."

Lucky for Gordon, this isn't the 1960s.

"They told me I'd probably get more by putting it on eBay."


About 700 pop-culture items, including the JFK memorabilia, are up for bid today at Heritage Auction Galleries.

Location: 3500 Maple Ave., 17th Floor, Dallas
Time: 1 p.m., today
Online information and bidding:

Source: Dallas Morning News

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