WASHINGTON One of the stops on this year's popular White House tour of holiday decorations is the collection of Christmas cards from previous presidents and first ladies. But noticeably missing is the card from 1963.
It is the rarest and most tragic of the presidential cards because it was not sent out after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas that November 22.
The display features Christmas cards from Dwight Eisenhower through George W. Bush but some visitors on the White House holiday tour have noticed the Kennedys' card is missing. The White House has a copy of it but first lady Laura Bush's office said the 1963 card was not included because it was never sent.
Boxes of the 1963 card, featuring a color photo of a nativity scene in the East Room of the White House, had been delivered to President Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline for their signatures before he was killed. It was the first time a religious image was put on a White House Christmas card.
Five hundred of the 750 Christmas cards ordered from Hallmark with the engraved message "With our wishes for a Blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year" were at the White House. There also were 150 cards ordered with the message "With best wishes for a Happy New Year."
However, fewer than 30 of the cards actually were signed by the president and Mrs. Kennedy before they left for Dallas.
"They are the most rare pieces of presidential Christmas memorabilia today," said Mary Seeley, author of "Season's Greetings From the White House."
Another 1,500 identical Christmas cards also had been ordered but with the Kennedys' printed signatures included.
Less than two dozen of the 1963 dual-signed Kennedy cards are known to exist. One sold last year at an auction for $45,000. It came from the estate of Kennedy's personal secretary, Evelyn Lincoln, who had reportedly destroyed the rest of the cards.
"At such a traumatic time in our history, when taking over the reins after the assassination the Johnson administration requested that things moved quickly so the country would continue to go forward," Seeley said. "Desks had to be cleaned out in a short time."
Lyndon Johnson, who became president after Kennedy's assassination, was not planning to send an official Christmas card that year but the State Department's protocol officer insisted he carry on the tradition started by Calvin Coolidge in 1927.
A very simple white card with the presidential seal on the cover and a thin red strip on the bottom was quickly printed for the new Johnson administration. Seeley said they were mailed to foreign ministers, heads of governments and the top ranking officials who attended Kennedy's funeral.
The White House said it does not have a copy of Johnson's 1963 card. Hallmark has donated a full set of presidential Christmas cards from Dwight Eisenhower through Ronald Reagan, including the Johnson and Kennedy 1963 cards, to the Smithsonian Museum of American History.
(Editing by Bill Trott)