A Killing off Kennedy
On Friday at 11:43 a.m. Central Standard Time, someone will be the new owner of the sniper's perch from the Texas School Book Depository from which Lee Harvey Oswald (allegedly, whatever) shot and killed President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. At least, that is how a window and frame are being sold on eBay, where, so far, 200 people have jacked up the auction price from an opening bid of $100,000 to a you-gotta-be-kiddin'-me $3,000,500.01.
This particular piece of grisly memorabilia is being sold to the highest online bidder by Caruth Byrd, son of Col. D. Harold Byrd, who, at the time of the assassination. owned the building located at Elm and Houston streets and leased it to the Texas School Book Depository. Col. Byrd had a worker remove the window so he could keep it in his University Park home, where it rested till his death 21 years ago, after which time it became the property of Caruth. For a while, Caruth kept it hidden -- till, in 1995, he lent it to the Sixth Floor Museum, where it was displayed behind Plexiglass and billed as "The Original Window from the Sniper's Perch."
Last week, Dallas' Only Daily ran a story about the sale of the perch -- and kinda-sorta wondered whether it was the real deal. The Dallas Morning News said, in short, the real window was either in Byrd's possession or in the hands of "Nashville man who bought the building in 1970 and said he took the real sniper's perch when he lost the property to foreclosure." Only it never named that Nashville man or spoke with him. In fact, no one has talked to the "Nashville man" since the window went on sale last week.
His name is Aubrey Mayhew, and he's an 80-year-old former music producer living in Nashville, where, he says, he has the actual sniper's perch in his possession. Mayhew's name may be familiar to longtime Dallas Observer readers with exceptionally good memories: He first appeared in the paper version of Unfair Park in November 1997, when former Observer writer Ann Zimmerman first questioned the authenticity of the perch that was then resting in the Sixth Floor Museum, where millions of museumgoers have seen the window and believed it to be The Real Deal. (Sixth Floor Museum officials, when contacted by Unfair Park, would not comment about the window other than to say they were happy to have had it for 12 years.)
Mayhew's claim of ownership is to be taken very seriously: The man who says he has one of the largest JFK memorabilia collections in the world bought the building from Col. Byrd in 1970, with the intention of turning it into a museum himself, till city leaders forbade him from doing so. He also had a window removed -- the correct one, he has always insisted.
"The window Byrd took out was at the other end of the building, and they only took out half of it, which means they had to replace half of it," he says. "If someone would inspect it, like a master carpenter, he would see the window has been replaced and repaired. I also have a letter from a very wealthy civic leader who was half-owner of the Texas School Book Depository who said he witnessed them taking the window out and told them they were taking it out of the wrong window. He even gave me an affidavit."
Just don't ask to see the documents.
"I don't have anything to prove, so I am not out waving papers," Mayhew says, "With this collection a lot of times people have said, 'How do you know it's authentic?' Well, I know. I don't care if you know. Anything I have is genuine."
Mayhew first found out about the sale last week, when one of his three sons called him to let him know Caruth Byrd was once more claiming ownership and, this time, aiming to make a mint off the memorabilia. Mayhew says he called and wrote eBay officials to let them know he had the real window, and that he hasn't heard from the auction company yet.
"Hopefully the people bidding will not pay the money," he says. "Then it will end up in a big mess, trying to get the money back. I feel an obligation to protect him or her. That's my first intention, and then after that I will sue Mr. Byrd for defamation of character, fraud, conspiracy and anything else I can think of."
See, Mayhew says until last week, he'd been thinking of selling his window. After all, he says, he's getting up there, and his three boys don't want any part of his Kennedy collection -- not even the sniper's perch, which clearly will go for a few bucks if it can be proved his is the real one. But now, well, he's not quite sure what to do. All he knows is he's gonna do something -- and soon.
"I've never had to put forth the truth, because I don't dignify false claims," Mayhew says. "I ignore it. I've been a collector for 40 years, and I don't have anything to defend. I don't buy or sell anything that is not legitimate. I had intended to put it up for sale before this thing happened, only because of my age and health and the fact my sons have no interest and no idea what it's all about. And if they even started with the collection, it would take them a lifetime to dispose of it, much less not knowing the value and what everything means. My collection is well established as a formal collection of Kennedy. There's nobody even close. I've always kept it close and have not taken it on tour or exploited it. Nobody except intimates of mine know what it's all about."
But does he think this eBay sale will make the next one, if there is one, harder? After all, Caruth Byrd is adamant his is the real one, to the point where a couple hundred bidders have raised the price into the stratosphere.
"I don't know if it'll be harder," he says. "I think this is the opportunity for the public to know the genuine window, and the demand may still he there. It may be greater... But [Caruth] stepped over the line. He don't have the window. Never has had it."
All this, over a window. --Robert Wilonsky