JFK's children denounce auction, demand return of items They say his secretary took advantage of position

March 17, 1998|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,SUN STAFF

Denouncing a planned auction of JFK memorabilia as "offensive," President John F. Kennedy's children demanded yesterday that Robert L. White of Catonsville relinquish a number of valuable pieces in the sale and in his vast private collection.

"They once belonged to our father. They now belong to our family, to history, and to the American people," Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg and John F. Kennedy Jr. said in a strongly worded statement released just two days before some of the items were scheduled to be sold by Guernsey's auction house in New York.

RTC The siblings requested items their father had with him at the time of his assassination, such as the black Hermes briefcase expected to command among the highest bids in the auction. They also want two journals from his overseas travels and objects from the Oval Office, as well as private correspondence and gifts exchanged by John and Jacqueline Kennedy.

Schlossberg and Kennedy, whose own auction of their mother's possessions at Sotheby's two years ago made $34.5 million, went public with their previously private wranglings with White after he repeatedly refused to give up the items. They say that White's source for the artifacts, JFK secretary Evelyn Lincoln, had no right to the items in the first place.

"Robert White's refusal to return even the few items we have singled out, while at the same time professing his deep respect for our parents, compels us now to speak out, in advance of the auction so that the public is on notice," the two said. "Mrs. Lincoln never owned the vast majority of the items that Mr. White received from her, and neither he nor Guernsey's has any legal right to sell them."

White was not available for comment. A spokesman for Kennedy and Schlossberg left open what action they might take if White proceeds with the auction of the disputed items.

"All options are on the table," said Paul G. Kirk, chairman of the Kennedy Library Foundation. Among them, he said, is legal action to attempt to prevent the sale.

The dispute puts White, 49, and Lincoln, who died in 1995, on the opposite side of a squabble with the family that both long revered.

"It is now clear that Mrs. Lincoln took advantage of her position as our father's secretary. The number of items she took for herself, and the intensely personal character of many of them, is overwhelming," Schlossberg and Kennedy said in their statement.

They also want items that are not in the sale but in White's private collection, such as a St. Christopher medal money clip that their mother had given their father as an anniversary present.

The public tug of war is the latest flare-up for White. Last week, the National Archives and Records Administration, which oversees all presidential libraries, inspected the auction inventory for items that they say may belong to the American people or contain national security information and thus should not be sold. Three items were removed from the sale to determine whether they contain classified information, and negotiations are continuing over other materials in the sale.

Pub Date: 3/17/98

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