5 Unusual Pieces of US Presidential Memorabilia



2015-08-03 11:11:56

From threatening letters to carved coconuts, here are 5 out-of-the-ordinary pieces of American Presidential memorabilia.

Gerald Ford's golf clubs

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

Gerald Ford remains the only person in US history to have held the positions of both Vice President and President, without having been elected to either. In 1973 Richard Nixon's VP Spiro Agnew resigned beneath a cloud of criminal investigations for fraud, and Ford stepped up to the plate. A year later he went one better, when Nixon also resigned under a similar-looking cloud.

Despite being a star athlete in college, Ford was often portrayed by the press (and Chevy Chase) as being physically clumsy. As an avid golfer, Ford made good use of the White House putting green (installed just outside the Oval Office in 1954 by Dwight Eisenhower) and often played in tournaments. He famously out-drove both Arnold Palmer and Gary Player during one such round, but became more famous when one particular shot flew wildly into the crowd and hit a woman in the face on live television.

Years later in 2012, a set of the former President's well-used golf clubs came up for sale at Heritage Auctions, selling for $26,290. - - - - - -

Bill Clinton's space email laptop

(Image: RR Auction)

Long before Hillary set up her private server, husband Bill was making his own mark in the world of emails...

Bill Clinton spent two full terms as US President, and during those eight years sent the grand total of two emails. Bill wasn't particularly enamoured with internet technology during the mid-1990s, despite there being up to 130 websites on the internet when he arrived in the White House in 1993. But at least he made sure his emails counted: not only was he the first sitting President to ever send an email, but he sent it to space.

In 1998 Clinton received a message from John Glenn, the former Mercury Seven astronaut and then-current Ohio Senator who had returned to space at the remarkable age of 77 aboard the shuttle Discovery. Whilst orbiting the Earth, Glenn sent President Clinton an email thanking him for coming to the launch. In turn, Clinton made presidential history with his brief reply: "Thanks for your message. Hillary and I had a great time at the launch. We are very proud of you and the entire crew, and a little jealous." Clinton enjoyed the process so much, he sent one more during his tenure: a test email to make sure he knew the correct button to press.

The email to Glenn wasn't even sent from the President's own computer; he was visiting Arkansas when he heard the astronaut wanted to drop him a line, and used a laptop quickly loaned to him by Navy Medical Corps commander and White House physician Robert Darling.

In 2014, after consulting with the Navy, Darling placed the very same Toshiba Satellite Pro laptop up for auction. It still contained the two emails received and sent by Clinton, stored in Darling's original AOL email account, and sold in an RR Auction sale for $60,667. - - - - - -

Theodore Roosevelt's big game rifle

(Image: James D. Julia)

In describing his style of foreign diplomacy, President Theodore Roosevelt coined the phrase "speak softly, and carry a big stick". In his case, the stick would have undoubtedly had a barrel at one end and a trigger at the other.

After eight years as President, Roosevelt left the White House on March 4, 1909. Just three weeks later he was aboard a steamer headed to Africa, leading an expedition to collect specimens for the Smithsonian's new Natural History museum.

Prior to the well-publicised trip Mr. Ansley H. Fox, President of the A. H. Fox Gun Company, wrote to Roosevelt offering him “the finest gun this company can produce". Upon receiving it, the President described it as "the most beautiful gun I have ever seen", and said it was almost a shame to take it to Africa due to the rough conditions it would face.

Roosevelt was joined on Safari by internationally known African hunter Fredrick Selous and conservationist Edward North Buxton, and the year-long expedition took the group through Kenya, the Belgian Congo and along the Nile to Khartoum in modern Sudan.

The expedition collected an amazing 11,400 specimens, including flora, fauna and small animals. The tally also included 512 large animals, with Roosevelt's book on the trip listing the big game killed as 17 lion, 3 leopard, 7 cheetah, 9 hyena, 11 elephant, 10 buffalo, 11 black rhino and 9 White rhino. In all, it took naturalists at the Smithsonian eight years to catalogue the specimens shipped home by Roosevelt and his team.

In 1913 the shotgun accompanied Roosevelt once more, on his ill-fated 'River of Doubt' Amazon expedition, during which he contracted 'jungle fever' and suffered a serious leg wound. At one point during the trip, with conditions worsening and the situation desperate, Roosevelt had ordered the expedition to abandon their equipment and find the quickest way out of the jungle. The shotgun would have been lost somewhere in the Amazon, had his son Kermit not persuaded him to continue with the journey.

Having passed down to Roosevelt's son, and then his grandson, the historic Fox 'F' Grade double-barrel shotgun sold at a James D. Julia auction in 2010 for a record $862,500. - - - - - -

Andrew Jackson's duelling letter

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) was America's seventh President, elected in 1829, and perhaps one of its most randomly violent. Aside from earning the nickname 'Old Hickory' due to his fondness of suddenly beating people viciously with a hickory cane, he also remains the only US president in history to have once killed a man in a duel. In fact, experts speculate Jackson may have been engaged in anything from 13 to over 100 duels, and seemed to view them as a hobby.

This particular letter, dating from 1803, was sent by Jackson to Tennessee Govenor John Sevier, challenging him to a duel for accusing him of adultery. "My friend and myself will be armed with pistols," he wrote ominously, "you cannot mistake me, or my meaning."

When Sevier failed to arrive at the duelling spot on time Jackson and his second went looking for him. They met up with his party the road, and Jackson proceeded to attack Sevier with his cane before pulling his pistol and chasing him off. The confrontation apparently ended with Sevier hiding behind a tree, as the other three men all pointed their guns at each other in a stand-off. Nobody was shot that day, but Jackson and Sevier's hatred for each other remained for the rest of their lives.

As a classic example of Andrew Jackson's inherent badassery, this rare handwritten letter sold at Heritage Auctions in 2013 for $77,675. - - - - - -

JFK's carved rescue coconut

(Image: Wikipedia)

John F Kennedy's heroic war record is well documented and helped get him elected. But the story of what happened to Kennedy's boat and crew in August 1943 is captured in one remarkable piece of memorabilia: this carved coconut.

During WWII Kennedy was the commander of Patrol Torpedo Boat PT-109, assigned to the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. On August 2 the boat was rammed and cut in half by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri, killing two crew members and badly injuring two more. The surviving seamen clung to the floating wreckage for around 12 hours, before it started to sink in shark-infested waters and they were forced to swim for shore.

However, with the neighbouring islands occupied by the Japanese, they had to make a four-hour swim to the tiny uninhabited Plum Pudding Island. Kennedy, once a member of the Harvard University swim team, dragged his badly-burned crew mate Patrick McMahon behind him by grasping the gunner's life-jacket strap between his teeth.

Once they reached the island they discovered it had no food or water, so Kennedy swam off to search for a better location. He discovered Olasana Island around 2km away, then returned and led his crew to shore where they spent six days hiding and surviving on coconuts.

Meanwhile, an Australian coastwatcher in a secret observation post had seen the explosion caused by the sinking of PT-109 and had sent two local island natives to search for survivors in a canoe. They eventually found Kennedy and his crew, and he sent them back to bring help with a message carved on a coconut. It read:


Help finally arrived, and the crew of PT-109 were rescued. Kennedy received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his efforts, and had the carved coconut turned into a special paperweight. It took pride of place on his desk at the White House, and can now been seen on display at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachusetts. - - - - - -

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