Sprawled out on the floor of a New England home, surrounded by yellowing photographs and a flag that once rode in the presidential motorcade, appraiser Dan Meader leafed through history.
A folder labeled “Texas Trip” piqued his attention. He opened it and found documents dated the week John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas’ Dealey Plaza in 1963. He scanned the notes taken by Kennedy special assistant David Powers.
“Three shots,” he read, and then, “I carried my president onto the Air Force One in the casket.” He got goose bumps.
“It just takes you to the core,” Meader said. “This was his best friend. His life changed in that moment.”
David Powers’ family unearthed the trove of Kennedy items, which will be up for sale next month, about a year ago when his widow prepared to move out of the couple’s Arlington, Mass., home.
For Meader, who visited the Powers’ home and helped organize the thousands of items into 723 groups for the upcoming auction sale at John McInnis Auctioneers, the sorting process was more than a history lesson.
The items illuminated the close friendship Kennedy and Powers shared.
Lot 503, for instance, includes a book Kennedy planned to give Powers for Christmas in 1963. Instead Jackie Kennedy gave him the book with a note scrawled inside thanking him for the happy times he spent with her husband. The note concludes: “You and I will miss him most.”
The collection also offers a peek into Kennedy’s relationship with both of his parents, with occasional allusions to their Catholic faith.
From a letter his mother, Rose, sent to the White House a few weeks before he and Jackie traveled to Mexico in 1962: “Dear Jack, I am sure you know that the food in Mexico is very difficult for people like you and me to eat. And please remind Jackie to say an Act of Contrition in case of an accident. Much love, Mother.”
“It’s not that that’s worth a lot of money,” Meader said. “But it’s just so cool, it shows you real life. Your mother is always your mother.”
There’s also the gag gift Joe Kennedy Sr. sent his son on his last birthday: a “lease” to the White House and a small note, decorated with a red ribbon: “As a tenant of the White House, you’ve been just fine, not to mention Jackie, John and Caroline. So to show my esteem and appreciation, I’ve extended your lease for a four year duration.”
The gift from his father is expected to sell for up to $3,000, according to the website where people can bid on items even before the actual auction on Feb. 17.
The collection varies. A photograph of Kennedy donning a top hat at Harvard’s 1960 graduation is expected to go for as little as $25. Kennedy’s Air Force One bomber jacket, appraisers predict, could command $40,000.
In Massachusetts, Meader joked, everyone has something tacked to one of their walls that supposedly belonged to one of the Kennedys, or at least to somebody who knew the Kennedys.
“Everybody had something, but they don’t have this,” Meader said. “This is personal, it’s emotional.”
In a different home, 1,500 miles to the west, another sale is under way, this one tied to a Democrat from another era.
It’s the estate sale of George McGovern, the former South Dakota senator and presidential candidate who died at 90 in October.
Jeff Nelson, who sold McGovern his Sioux Falls, S.D., home, was back at his late friend’s residence Friday for a preview of the items at the sale.
“You get his presence here,” Nelson said. “It speaks of a lifetime of a man who should have been president. A man who made a career of feeding the hungry.”
The sale includes campaign buttons, furniture, art work and books.
Among the items is a photograph of McGovern with Kennedy.