For sale: Tape revealing details in aftermath of JFK assassination

New documentation has come to light regarding events following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and it’s for sale.

An Ardmore-based dealer of historic objects, Raab Collection, has put on the market a long-lost audio tape of radio communications between White House officials just hours after the president was killed in Dallas.

The 2 ½-hour tape is a recording of conversations between Air Force One, Andrews Air Force Base, and the White House Situation Room on the afternoon of Nov. 23, 1963. At that time, the president’s body was on Air Force One, along with his widow, freshly sworn-in President Lyndon Johnson, and Kennedy’s traveling entourage.

Many members of Kennedy’s Cabinet were flying over the Pacific Ocean, to a trade conference in Tokyo. Relatively few high-level government officials were on the ground at that moment.

On the tape are frantic radio communications about what to do with the president’s body, and what to do with Jacqueline Kennedy. They also reveal the location of Gen. Curtis LeMay, an adversary of the president who advocated nuclear intervention in Cuba. His exact location had not previously been clear.

“Gen. LeMay is in a C140. Last three numbers are 497,” says LeMay’s aide, Col. George Dorman, on the tape. “He’s inbound. His code name is Grandson. And I want to talk to him.”

The raw tapes of the 4 ½-hour flight are presumed lost or destroyed. A severely edited version of these conversations has been available for decades. Earlier this year, the longer but still incomplete recording was discovered in the estate of Gen. Chester Clifton, who acted as Kennedy’s chief of staff. The tape has 30 minutes of previously unheard conversation.

The content of the tapes probably will not shed light onto who was behind the assassination of JFK. But it does reveal the way top government officials reacted to a national catastrophe.

“Many things had to be arranged in that 4 ½-hour flight,” said history professor emeritus James Hilty of Temple University. “It was the equivalent of what would take place after a presidential election between November and January when a new president would come in. President Johnson had to put his whole operation in place during the flight back from Texas.”

A digital copy of the tape has been given to the National Archives and the JFK Library for public scrutiny. The original reel-to-reel tape has been put on the market by Raab Collection. Asking price: $500,000.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.