Well, is it or isn’t it?
A few weeks ago, the Barrett-Jackson automobile auction company announced that it would be featuring the ambulance that carried the casket of President John F. Kennedy to the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland upon its return to the nation's capitol following his assassination in November, 1963. The car was described as being in unrestored condition, having been kept for nearly four decades by a collector who purchased it as Navy surplus before selling it to current owner, Dr. John Jensen, last year. But now questions of its authenticity have been raised by members of the Professional Car Society (PCS), an organization dedicated to the preservation and restoration of ambulances, hearses, funeral flower cars and limousines.
As first reported by the automotive enthusiast website Jalopnik.com, the PCS, in conjunction with The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, has produced documentary and photographic evidence which indicates that the actual ambulance used to carry the president’s remains was in the possession of the Navy until 1980, when it was given to the museum. There, it was kept in storage until 1986 when it was destroyed with the consent of the Kennedy family, according PCS Vice President, Paul Steinberg. Officials at the museum could not be reached for comment on this story.
At a press conference today at the site of the Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale, Ariz. – where the car is set to go on sale on Saturday, Jan, 22nd –Jensen and officials from Barrett-Jackson presented their own evidence to back up the claim that the provenance of the ambulance is authentic, while admitting that there is some cloudiness surrounding the history of the vehicle. This included documentation matching the U.S. Navy serial number that appears in several places on the car with the one seen in photos of the ambulance carrying the President’s body, as well as a report by Barrett-Jackson on the physical condition of the vehicle that indicates that it is a matching numbers original from the period, and not a clone created from spare parts.
What no interested party has been able to do, thus far, is connect the U.S. Navy serial number of the vehicle used on the day the casket was moved to a specific VIN, which would firmly put the questions surrounding the car to rest. Until such information surfaces, it is unlikely that this mystery can be solved definitively. It’s also possible, as some reports claim, that one or more decoy ambulances were used on that day, and that either the one on sale, or the one that was crushed, could be one of those.
Interestingly, the 1964 Cadillac hearse that carried the President’s body, and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, from Parkland Memorial Hospital to the airport at Love Field for their departure from Dallas is currently listed on eBay for $1.5 million. According to PCS Board Member Steve Litchman, its authenticity is not in question at the moment.