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Votes

Auctioning JFK’s Premonition

Potomack Company session will feature American political treasures and oddities.

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New York State convention badges.

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An official voting machine, chads and all, registered for the election of November 11, 2000 from Palm Beach County in Florida.

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Letter from then Sen. John Kennedy (D-Mass.) written in 1959.

Reading the text of Sen. John Kennedy’s 1959 letter to California journalist Harry Squires, it’s easy to wonder about the time invested in responding to the correspondence. Did an aide draft the document? Was the senator trying to seek media exposure? Was it some kind of strange premonition? The answers may be unknowable, yet the piece of paper seems to illuminate its own story.

In the letter, which will be auctioned on Nov. 1 by the Potomack Company, Sen. Kennedy (D-Mass.) was obviously trying to be responsive yet ambivalent about the journalist’s inquiry about some numerical bit of obsessive-compulsive fixation. Yet an air of detachment is evident in the yellowed-piece of Senate stationary. The premise of Squires’ original letter to Kennedy, which will not be part of the "American Historical and Political Session" was apparently this: "since 1840 every man who has entered the White House in a year ending with a zero has not lived to leave the White House alive," a phrase Kennedy chose to quote verbatim.

This is a class of presidents suggested by the curse would include the following: William Henry Harrison, elected in 1840 and died of pneumonia in 1941; Abraham Lincoln, elected in 1860 and assassinated in 1865; James Garfield, elected in 1880 and assassinated in 1881; William McKinley, re-elected in 1900 and assassinated in 1901; Warren Harding, elected in 1920 and died of a stroke in 1923; and Franklin Roosevelt, re-elected in 1940 and died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1945. Apparently, the numerological curse did not apply to Thomas Jefferson, elected in 1800, or James Monroe, elected in 1820. Looking into the future, the circumstance seems to have missed Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980 and (so far) George. W. Bush, elected in 2000 and current occupant of the White House.

Nevertheless, it’s a distinctly haunting letter.

"He’s talking about his own death in an abstract way, said Susanna Brockman, director of gallery relations at the Potomack Company.

<b>THE AMERICAN HISTORICAL</b> and Political Session is one of the three groups of items that will be part of the November Catalogue Auction. Others sessions include political memorabilia and decorative arts. Items range from an 1876 centennial flag to a 1909 inaugural plate commemorating the election of Secretary of War William Howard Taft (R-Ohio) and his running mate, Chairman of the House Indian Affairs Committee Rep. James Schoolcraft Sherman (R-New York). Those in attendance will also be able to purchase a Theodore Roosevelt calling card or a signed Kennedy photograph.

The value of the items is, of course, a matter of supply meeting demand. Everything is for sale at some price, and these items are no exception. Take, for example, the prescient Kennedy letter. The auction house estimates the letter to be worth anywhere from $4,500 to $6,500. But the real value is a matter of who shows up in November and what price points seems reasonable during the head of the session.

"It will go for what people are willing to pay for it," explained Brockman.