Thursday, October 24, 2013

Auctioning Off History - Part III (or IV; I can't quite remember)

If you follow along here regularly, you'll remember that I've written here recently and also farther back about auctions of historical memorabilia, and especially about such items that are connected to some of the darkest parts of history.

Well, I just saw an article here that it's going to happen tomorrow (Thursday, October 25, 2013). In this case, the items to be auctioned are all related in one way or another to John F. Kennedy. The article does not contain anything like a catalogue of the nearly 300 items to be sold, but from what the article does list, it seems like a lot of the items are specifically related to JFK's assassination in 1963.

For example, Lee Harvey Oswald's wedding ring, which he left home on the day he allegedly shot the president, will be up for auction. The ring belongs to Marina Oswald Porter, who was married to Oswald at the time of the assassination. The ring found its way into the files of a Fort Worth, Texas, attorney in 1964 and languished there until 2004. Porter is said to have gotten the ring back "relatively recently". A photo of the ring accompanying the article shows an engraving of what is said to be a hammer and sickle, the symbol of the Soviet Union, where Oswald met and married Marina Oswald Porter.

In a letter written in May 2013 by Porter that details the history of the ring, she says that the does not want the ring anymore because she wants to let go of the part of her past that is associated with the assassination. And that makes sense, I guess. What doesn't make sense to be is why anyone would want to buy the ring, which is expected to fetch upward of $100,000 in the auction, to be held in Boston.

Among the other items to be sold at the auction is a window, said to be the window on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository that Oswald allegedly shot from, and that was apparently removed from the building shortly after the assassination. Also to be sold is Oswald's Marine Corps rifle score book and a hat once worn by Oswald's assassin, Jack Ruby. Not directly related to the assassination but to be sold at the auction is JFK's rosary.

I won't go on again, as I have before, about how I don't understand the compulsion to own the past in the form of such items. Suffice it to say that I think it is an odd thing to do. What I am fascinated with, however, are the items that end up coming up for auction and how they went from whatever point they became a footnote to history to the auction block. In that sense, the letter written by Marina Oswald Porter, that outlines the history of the wedding ring, is more interesting to me than the ring itself.

The auction house made an agreement with Porter not to release the complete contents of the letter, which will go to whoever purchases the ring. But, I would be very interested to read it, to find out what she claims for the history of the object.

Which, I suppose, makes me just as strange as those who will bid on the ring, and as strange as the person who ends up winning the bidding. On the other hand, studying primary documents like that are how history is written, and that is something that interests me very much.

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