Tuesday, December 20th, 2011
The white 1964 Cadillac Hearse that transported the body of slain president John F. Kennedy from Dallas’ Parkland Memorial Hospital to Love Field Airport will be sold at the Barrett-Jackson Auction in Scottsdale, Arizona, on January 21.
The hearse was built by the Miller-Meteor company as a display vehicle to introduce the new model year body at the National Funeral Directors Association Convention held in Dallas in October of 1963. At the end of the convention, the O’Neal Funeral Home bought the hearse. Just a month later, on November 22, President Kennedy was shot in Dealey Plaza. The Secret Service announced at 1:00 PM that the President was dead. They enlisted the funeral home closest to the hospital — the O’Neal Funeral Home — to carry the president’s body and the First Lady to Love Field. They asked O’Neal to provide the finest conveyance possible and a suitable casket. This hearse was the newest in O’Neal’s fleet and the only one with swag drapes (the curved, bunting-style drapes at the top of the windows) rather than simple airline drapes.
Vernon O’Neal, the owner of the funeral home, drove the casket and hearse to Parkland. O’Neal Funeral Home employee Don W. McElroy happened to be at Parkland Memorial when the President and Texas governor John Connally were brought to the emergency room (funeral homes also occasionally provided ambulance service back then; he had just transported a patient). He helped load the bronze casket the home had provided into the hearse, and then helped First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy into the back with the casket. She had sat in the front seat at first, but then decided she wanted to be in the back with her husband. A Secret Service agent got in the back with her and another agent drove them to Love Field where Air Force One waited to take the president’s body back to Washington, D.C.
Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was waiting for them on Air Force One. Ninety-nine minutes after President Kennedy was pronounced dead was pronounced dead, Lyndon B. Johnson, a stricken Jacqueline Kennedy by his side, would be sworn in as President on Air Force One while it was still on the tarmac at Love Field Airport.
O’Neal traded the hearse to another funeral home a few years later who sold it to a third firm and then got it back in a later trade. Then funeral home owner and collector Ardeen Vaughan bought it and restored it. He kept it for decades before selling it a few years ago to Desert Autosport who are now selling it at the January Barrett-Jackson auction.