When Dr. Richard LeJava, 75, moved to Cape Cod, Mass., 45 years ago at the start of a long career in chiropractic medicine, he found he had the cash to indulge in a hobby: collecting historic objects.
He was especially drawn to an assassinated American president, Abraham Lincoln. Having a private letter signed by the 16th president provided him a tangible link to the past.
“He signed it. I’m holding something he held in his hand,” LeJava said.
But when it came to the 35th president, LeJava’s collected papers revolve around that fateful date a half-century ago when John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas.
They encompass a poignant series of “lasts.”
Seated in his living room at his Centerville home, LeJava produced a framed, neatly typed itinerary. He explained that Kennedy’s secretary Evelyn Lincoln put a similarly framed, typed itinerary on his desk in the Oval Office every day. Like many who were closely associated with the president or who had only a fleeting exposure, Evelyn Lincoln held onto the objects that were left in the wake of that tragic life-cut-short.
She eventually sold off some of the memorabilia, and LeJava purchased the itinerary, which reveals an unremarkable day of meetings with minor heads of state, except for the notice of departure by helicopter to Andrews Air Force Base and then on to San Antonio, Texas.
“It’s the only one. It was his last schedule,” said LeJava, who keeps his collectibles in safe deposit box. He has a letter from Evelyn Lincoln, who died in 1995, authenticating the document.
After more than four decades as a chiropractor, LeJava is on the cusp of retirement. Fifty years ago, on Nov. 22, 1963, he was a young man, living in Jersey City, N.J. He was a sales manager for a local dairy, placing phone calls to colleges for their orders when he suddenly found he couldn’t get a dial tone.
“One of the drivers came in and said, ‘Guess what? The president’s been shot,’” LeJava recalled. “My first reaction was, ‘It’s the president; he’s not going to die.’”
Although he wasn’t overtly political, LeJava did vote for Kennedy and, like many young people of the day, identified with the image he projected.
“Up until that time, the president was someone who wore a shirt and tie, and was above the people,” LeJava said. “It wasn’t until Kennedy that you saw a president with no shirt and tie on, in a sweatshirt playing football. He was an ordinary guy. He brought it down to that level.”
It is the grit of life, what exists below the higher plane of history, that fascinates LeJava. Papers, letters and other overlooked communications are the underpinnings of what gets reported. For LeJava and others like him, there is irony in a court document he purchased, signed by Lee Harvey Oswald’s killer, Jack Ruby, in which Ruby asserts that he is sane enough to discharge the two attorneys representing him. The new attorneys he hired then mounted an insanity defense.
Page 2 of 2 - More poignant is a letter from Father Oscar Huber, the pastor of the Holy Trinity church in Dallas in which he describes the events of the day that led him from the joy of witnessing the nation’s first Roman Catholic president and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy go by in their motorcade, to the horror of being the priest giving that same president his last rights at Parkland Hospital. His description packs the understated power of an eyewitness to history that is hard to read without a profound sense of the personal tragedy that gripped the nation in the days that followed.
“I was escorted by a policeman to an emergency room where I found the fatally wounded president lying on a portable table,” Huber wrote. “He was covered with a sheet that I removed from over his forehead before administering the last rites of the church.”
Jacqueline Kennedy was at the president’s side, Huber related, kissed her husband and slipped her wedding ring onto his finger. The somber silence of the corridor outside the emergency room pressed upon him the import of what had just happened, as did the first lady.
“The perfect composure sustained by Mrs. Kennedy was beyond comprehension. I will never forget the blank stare in her eyes and the signs of agony on her face.”
Huber said he extended his sympathy and that of his parishioners.
“In a low tone of voice, she thanked me graciously and asked me to pray for the president.”
Cape Cod Times