What Happened to JFK's Assassination Car?

People are weird about historical stuff.

The hat Lincoln wore the night he was shot at Ford's Theater is on display at the Smithsonian, while Jackie Kennedy's bloodstained raspberry suit is kept in the National Archives, as far from prying public eyes as a suit can get. Someone tried to auction off one of Oskar Schindler's lists on eBay, but Polaroids from that fateful moment on November 22, 1963, in downtown Dallas were auctioned off without much comment.

We've all seen the footage: President John F. Kennedy in the gleaming dark blue limousine, smiling and waving at the crowd, and then the shot rings out in Dealey Plaza, and everything in a relatively mundane presidential moment has become a piece of history.

Jackie's pink suit and matching pillbox hat. JFK's bloodstained shirt and Christian Dior tie. The trauma room where doctors tried to save the president at Parkland Hospital. It all became a part of that day in November, scrupulously preserved in some cases and determinedly kept from prying public eyes in others. But while Jackie's pink suit is still spattered with blood, just as it was that day in 1963, the car they were riding in simply went back into service, according to WFAA.

The limousine, built by Ford, was customized for the president and leased to the country for presidential use. (A bargain considering that the customization, including reinforcing the sides of the car and making it 3½ feet longer, cost just under $200,000.)

After Kennedy's fateful trip through downtown Dallas, the bloodstained car was shipped back to Washington D.C., where it was inspected by investigators for weeks before being released to the White House, where employees were given instructions to do "whatever was necessary" to remove all traces of blood and gore from the car.

You might not recognize the car now. The first thing they did after cleaning it was to install a permanent roof with bulletproof glass all through it, and they also added armor plates to the doors and put on flat-proof tires. (All of which makes you wonder why the hell no one thought to do this, let's say, before November 22, 1963, but that's where the conspiracy theories take over.)

However, Lyndon B. Johnson must have had at least some qualms about the vehicle because he had it painted black, not wanting anyone to recognize his presidential limo as being "that" presidential limo.

The vehicle was returned to service and used by Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter before finally being retired in 1977. You'd think at that point it would have joined the Lincoln hat at the Smithsonian, but the car was taken to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

As the 50th anniversary of the assassination approaches, all things Kennedy are getting lots of attention, so while you won't likely ever see the tie Kennedy was wearing when he was shot or the rest of these random objects that have become entwined in history, you can totally go check out the car. Which they totally stuck in a museum, but only after the government, known for spending $15 on a pencil and $400 for an ashtray, got every possible mile out of it. It's a reaction so normal that it's downright odd.

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Dianna Wray is a nationally award-winning journalist. Born and raised in Houston, she writes about everything from NASA to oil to horse races.
Contact: Dianna Wray