Fortunately, it’s been more than 48 years now since a U.S. President has been assassinated. It’s hard to believe for those of us who remember that it’s been that long since that dark day in Dallas when President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed.
I remember sitting in my first grade class that day when the principal came on the intercom to tell us that school would be letting out early. I recall the joy at the thought that we were going home early. That joy changed to confusion when I got home to find my mother and sister glued to the black and white TV set, watching the developments from Texas. It didn’t take long for me to get the word that something terrible had happened. As the days went by, I realized the gravity of the event as schools were closed and television coverage was non-stop, first from Texas, then from Washington.
I was fortunate to get to visit Sam Kinney at his home in Palm Springs, Fla., a couple times in the last few years before his death in the 1990s. Sam had a very special view of the JFK assassination that day in Dallas. Sam was a Secret Service agent from Truman through Nixon, and was driving the car immediately behind JFK’s limo in Dallas. Was there a conspiracy to kill JFK? Sam said it was possible, but he really didn’t know. Was there more than one shooter in Dallas? Sam would say he really couldn’t tell about that either. Everything happened so fast that no one in the motorcade was thinking about how many shooters there were, they were simply trying to get the president out of there. Sam was in charge of White House cars, and at the hospital, while putting the bubbletop on the car to protect any evidence, he found a small piece of JFK’s skull in the back seat of the car. He put it in his pocket, he told me, only to find it later when he was on the plane with the cars flying back to Washington. I feel very fortunate to have met Sam and his wife before they both passed away.
JFK is extremely popular among political collectors. He is probably the most popular president from 1950 until today for collectors. While some collectors will only collect campaign items for presidents, collecting Kennedy memorial items can be rewarding and lighter on the wallet than other JFK collectibles.
Most folks, even school kids, know the story of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. With the North’s victory in the Civil War assured, Lincoln took in a play in Washington with his wife, Mary. Southern sympathizer and well-known actor John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln in the back of the head, jumped from the presidential box and escaped, only to be shot and killed days later. Lincoln would die by the morning light.
While JFK was the most recent U.S. President to be assassinated, and Lincoln was the first, the two in between can stump many folks.
Republican James A. Garfield was elected president in November 1880 by defeating Democrat Winfield Scott Hancock by less than 10,000 votes out of nearly 9 million votes cast. He took office in March 1881, but on July 2 that same year, he was shot by an attorney who was upset over not receiving a government appointment. Garfield rallied and it looked like he would pull through. But eventually he died of the wound on Sept. 19.
Just 20 years later, William McKinley had just started his second term a few months before when he was shot at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. He was shaking hands in a receiving line at the Temple of Music when an anarchist approached with a handkerchief covering a gun in his hand. McKinley was shot twice. He lingered for eight days before dying from infection and catapulting Theodore Roosevelt into the White House.
Many political collectors like campaign items, so assassination-related items can still be bought at a reasonable price for McKinley and JFK, certainly. It’s a good place to start for beginning collectors.