Illinois museum houses largest JFK collection outside National Archives

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by JASON WHITELY

Bio | Email | Follow: @jasonwhitely

WFAA

Posted on November 15, 2013 at 11:00 PM

Updated Monday, Nov 18 at 5:33 PM

ROSCOE, Ill. — Ninety miles northwest of Chicago in a sheet metal building down a dead-end road is a museum that could make any collector envious.

"Well, when people first come here they get a different impression than they do when they get to the inside," said Wayne Lensing.

The museum’s name, Historic Auto Attractions, doesn't adequately describe the treasures inside.

Lensing has assembled what’s believed to be the largest public collection of President John F. Kennedy memorabilia outside the National Archives.

"We have about the most hard artifacts — not writings, not papers [but] hard artifacts," Lensing said.

Items include Lee Harvey Oswald’s getaway car. Oswald hailed the Marathon Taxi #36, a 1962 Checker cab, to get back to his Oak Cliff rooming house on Beckley Avenue.

There's also the printing plate The Dallas Morning News used to stamp out the historic headline, along with the Dallas police uniform that Ofc. Nick McDonald wore when he arrested Oswald at the Texas Theater.

Lensing paid $15,000 for Jack Ruby's size-11 Florsheim Wing Tips, which Ruby was wearing when he shot Oswald.

In the same room is another historic vehicle, the ambulance from the O'Neal funeral home in Dallas. The 1962 Ford rushed Oswald to Parkland Memorial Hospital.

"My favorite piece of the Kennedy [collection] is right behind me, of course the '56 Cadillac," Lensing said with pride. "[It's] so awesome, so big."

The 1956 Cadillac is known as the Queen Mary II. It was the U.S. Secret Service car that was directly behind the president's limousine on Elm Street that day. Agent Clint Hill stood on its running board before jumping off and pushing Jackie Kennedy back into the limousine during the assassination.

Over the years, Lensing has picked up some odd items, including the top of JFK's 45th birthday cake from that famous party in New York City where Marilyn Monroe serenaded him with "Happy Birthday" in a sultry voice.

"A Secret Service man got a small piece of this cake and kept it all those years," Lensing said. "And they decided to auction it off in New York City, and oh that one intrigued me."

Paying $6,500, Lensing was the highest bidder for the cake piece.

He also purchased one of two veils Jackie Kennedy wore during JFK's funeral.

Also on display is Oswald's first tombstone, a 130-pound slab of granite that's at the center of a legal dispute.

He loves talking about each of his artifacts, but he will not discuss how much he's invested in his collection over the years.

“I'd just as soon not say that,” he told News 8.

Lensing makes his money building race cars. He owns Lefthander Chassis, Inc., which is across the street from his museum.

But in 2000, he put up his business as collateral and took out a $3,000,000 loan. He then purchased his first set of historic vehicles and built the museum.

Several years later, Lensing purchased many of his JFK artifacts from the late Robert White, a noted collector from Maryland.

Since then, Lensing said he's picked up other items at auctions across the country. His has about 400 JFK artifacts in his collection right now.

"I don't need money,” Lensing explained. “I need these hard artifacts. I love these things because it's a thing in life I thrive for. It's like an addiction once you get started."

Lensing seems more of a gear-head than a curator. He’s a salty character, who's passionate about history and more comfortable in jeans and a ball cap.

Lensing said he's already planning to double the size of Historic Auto Attractions by adding on to the museum, which means he’ll be shopping more auctions. There’s not one specific JFK item he wants and doesn’t yet have.

Unlike most JFK collectors, Lensing doesn't lock away his artifacts. He wants people to take a look inside that sheet metal building in rural Illinois.

E-mail jwhitely@wfaa.com

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