Alan Gonick spent about $6,000 at the Amesbury auction of John F. Kennedy memorabilia last month. Among the lots the Haverhill dentist bought were a letter Kennedy signed while serving as a senator and a press pass that belonged to the late Dave Powers, whose collection of keepsakes of his best friend, the 35th president, comprised the sale at John McInnis Auctioneers.
For the small auction house, the event was an unprecedented success, with a full house in attendance on a snowy February Sunday and hundreds of bidders from across the globe staying on the phones and online until 5 the following morning.
“The bidding just didn’t stop,” said appraiser Dan Meader, still overwhelmed days later. “People had their phones under their pillows.” He said the auction took in about $2 million.
Though Gonick is a collector of autographs — he owns an Albert Einstein and a Queen Victoria — this was the first time he had been to an auction. “It was really fascinating just to be there,” he said a week after the event. Witnessing the two final bidders battle over the sale’s showcase item — a leather bomber jacket that belonged to JFK and ultimately sold for $570,000 — was thrilling, he said.
“JFK obviously is always hot,” Gonick said.
For James Daley of Salem, who was born more than two decades too late to experience the JFK presidency firsthand, the auction provided an opportunity to honor his late father, with whom he bonded over stories of the Irish Catholic politician from Boston.
“He was a teenager when JFK was in office,” said Daley, 26, an athletic trainer at Endicott College in Beverly. “He passed down the ideals Jack and Bobby had.”
He brought his brother-in-law, a high school history teacher, with him to the auction, his first. “I know my father would’ve been there with me if he was around,” he said.
Daley was the high bidder on several lots, including a doctor’s letter discussing Kennedy’s back troubles after the sinking of PT-109 during World War II and a photo of Powers and Kennedy at an Opening Day baseball game in Washington in 1961. He framed the picture and gave it to his grandfather, a lifelong baseball fan. They had to clear room for it in his grandfather’s Coventry, R.I., living room, which was already stuffed with Red Sox memorabilia.
“We talked for four or five hours this past weekend,” said Daley.
Powers, who died at age 85 in 1998, was a special assistant in the White House during Kennedy’s years, and was best known as the president’s closest friend and confidant. He spent 30 years, from 1964 to 1994, memorializing JFK’s legacy as curator of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Dorchester. The auction items were collected by his family from his home in Arlington.
The memories the Powers collection has conjured clearly added to the appeal of the event, said Meader, who has since been busy fielding offers to conduct similar auctions. One item, a typed schedule with Powers’s handwritten annotations from Nov. 22, 1963 — the day Kennedy was assassinated — was “one of the most emotional pieces I’ve ever held in my hand,” he said.
At the bottom of the page, Powers wrote, in part:
12:30 3 shots
12:30 J.F.K. - shot
12:36: Carried my President on stretcher . . . raced to operating room
1:00 My President is dead
That artifact, which sold for $65,000, was one of several purchased by a collector based in northern California. Through a curator, Ben Zaricor also made the highest bids on a presidential limousine flag ($50,000) and a presidential seal ($16,000).
“We wanted to compare them from a historical standpoint,” said Zaricor, who has amassed a collection of thousands of flags. “There was information in Powers’s archives that fit perfectly, shoring up part of our collection.”
Zaricor’s interest in flags began when he was a college student in 1969, when he saw a fellow student get beaten up for wearing a US flag design on his vest. After collecting for decades, he produced the 2007 PBS special “The American Flag: Two Centuries of Concord & Conflict.”
“We’re trying to tell the story of American history through these relics,” he said by phone.
The JFK Library already has reached out to many of the winning bidders of the 723 lots to express its interest in acquiring some of the items.
For James Daley, however, the things he bought are a personal reminder of one of his father’s passions.
“I have no intention of reselling,” he said. He understands that the doctor’s letter may be of interest to scholars: “More people would benefit from seeing it in the library than if it was in a box in my place,” he said. “Hopefully I can loan it to them.”James Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.