PHOENIX (Reuters) - A car collector who wanted a “piece of history” paid $120,000 at an auction in Arizona for a 1963 ambulance that purportedly carried the body of President John F. Kennedy after he was assassinated, auction officials said on Sunday.
Addison Brown of Paradise Valley, Arizona, was the successful bidder for the gray Pontiac Bonneville despite reports claiming the vehicle being sold at the Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale was a fake, auction president Steve Davis said.
The Navy ambulance was advertised as the vehicle that met Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base and transported Kennedy’s flag-draped casket to Bethesda Naval Hospital for his autopsy and later to the U.S. Capitol to lie in state.
Barret-Jackson officials said they independently verified the authenticity of the vehicle.
Iconic photos from Andrews the night of November 22, 1963, show the newly widowed first lady, Jackie Kennedy, looking dazed, her dress still stained with her husband’s blood, holding the hand of her brother-in-law Robert F. Kennedy as they watched JFK’s casket placed into an ambulance.
Another, posted on the auction website advertising the sale, shows Jackie reaching to open the rear passenger door of the ambulance, with Robert Kennedy just behind her.
But the vehicle’s authenticity was called into question days before the auction in a report from automotive website Jalopnik.com, which said the real ambulance had been crushed in 1986.
Brown, an avid car collector with her husband, Walt, said she is convinced the ambulance is as advertised and feels fortunate to own “a piece of history.”
“(There is) absolutely no doubt in my mind,” she told a throng of reporters following the sale on Saturday. “If they couldn’t find a flaw, nobody will.”
She said she plans to keep the vehicle in her collection for now and will see if the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., is interested in the ambulance.
“It belongs somewhere people can see it and experience it,” she said.
The ambulance was put up for sale by John Jensen, a Kansas anesthesiologist, who bought it for an undisclosed price in 2009. Estimates of the vehicle’s value varied widely, with some projecting it would fetch over $1 million at auction.
Davis told Reuters he was relieved the car was sold and said controversy surrounding the sale would hopefully dissipate.
But like so many things about the tragic November 1963 day in Dallas, Davis said the ambulance that crossed the auction block in Scottsdale will “always be part of that shroud of mystery” connected to the Kennedy assassination.
Editing by Steve Gorman and Jerry Norton