DescriptionJohn F. Kennedy: The Last Rocking Chair He Ever Sat In, the Day Before His Tragic Assassination. President Kennedy's trip to Texas was to be a major event, well planned in advance. The itinerary called for the president and Mrs. Kennedy to spend the night of November 21 at the Rice Hotel in Houston. The manager of the hotel, Max Peck, had ordered their best suite redecorated in honor of the president's visit. Kennedy's back problems were common knowledge, and his straight-backed rocking chairs, which seemed to give him some relief, had become an iconic aspect of his persona. Accordingly, Peck included among the new furnishings a straight-backed wooden rocking chair, which is offered here for auction.
The chair comes with outstanding documentation. At the time of the assassination, the Rice Hotel was owned by the Houston Endowment. The consignor's mother, Falvey Jean Allen, worked at the Endowment along with Elizabeth O'Brien and Jody Murphy, who later became vice president of the foundation. The Kennedy rocker originally came into the possession of O'Brien, who then gave it to the consignor's mother. A notarized statement of authenticity from Murphy, the only one of the three who is still living, is provided. Also included are a notarized statement from the consignor confirming the provenance, and a photograph from the archives of the Houston Chronicle showing this chair in the Rice Hotel suite.
Cynics may well inquire, "How do we know, just because the chair was present in his hotel suite, that JFK actually sat in it during his visit?" Fortunately, there is unimpeachable first-hand testimony to confirm that. In his classic book Death of a President, William Manchester devotes four pages, pp. 80 - 84, to the events which took place in the Rice Hotel suite. He confirms that the hotel had redecorated the suite just for Kennedy and goes on to describe the scene: "The president removed his coat and soggy shirt and sat in the rocker, leafing through a pile of newspapers. Jackie retired. Toward the end of the flight from San Antonio she had read a magazine while her husband napped, and now she dozed in her room while he, stripping to his shorts, reworked tonight's speech." Given Kennedy's itinerary for the remainder of the trip, which would last less than 24 hours, it seems certain that the Rice Hotel chair was the last rocking chair in which the president would ever sit.
Over a dozen rocking chairs have been confirmed as having been ordered by Kennedy at different times for placement in various locations, ranging from the White House, to Hyannis Port, to Palm Beach, and even to his favorite Hotel in New York. However, there is no real proof that Kennedy ever sat in a number of those chairs. The rocker on offer here is highly evocative, not only because of Manchester's detailed description, but because he used it on the last full day of his life.
The stop in Houston was a very important element in the president's swing through Texas in an attempt to mend political fences. Manchester describes a huge, enthusiastic crowd which the First Family had to brave in order to get into the hotel, which was cordoned off by 100 motorcycles parked hubcap to hubcap, facing outward. They retreated to their suite to recover from the Houston heat and humidity and to prepare for their appearance at a huge formal dinner of welcome that evening. In the interim, Kennedy had a visitor: Vice President Lyndon Johnson. Politics was the central focus of the Texas visit, and according to Manchester a heated discussion between the two leaders ensued. Observers agreed that, while the two men were alone and their conversation went unrecorded, the meeting did not seem to go well, and Johnson "left that suite like a pistol. Max Peck, watching him shoot into the corridor, long legs pumping, thought he looked furious." The president of course was shot the next day, and so left no record of what was discussed. Johnson's own recollections of the meeting were always vague, but generally referred to an atmosphere of agreement which was rather at odds with the observations of others at the scene. In any case, this would be the last such meeting between the two men before Kennedy was killed.
John F. Kennedy was perhaps a unique figure in modern American history. Few if any presidents were so personally beloved. His assassination seems to have frozen those feelings in time for many, and so it is not surprising that a wide demand has arisen among collectors for items owned by or associated with JFK. Interest, and hence value, seems to be proportional to the intimacy of the object and the circumstances under which Kennedy used or encountered it. By those standards, this rocking chair, used by him during his Texas trip and on the last full day of his life, would seem to be particularly poignant indeed. The chair is in excellent condition. Height 43.5".
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