What is easily one of the most extraordinary pieces of JFK-related memorabilia, and hence 20th Century Pop Culture, ever to surface the Presidential Seal cake side decoration from President John F. Kennedy's May 29, 1962 birthday cake, will be sold at public auction in Dallas on Nov. 17. This piece is an unlikely survivor from the famous night Marilyn Monroe famously sang "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" to JFK at Madison Square Garden (MSG) as the giant cake was brought in with great fanfare.
The side decoration, which carries a pre-auction estimate of $5,000+, is being offered as part of Heritage Auction Galleries
' November Grand Format American & Political Memorabilia Auction, taking place in-person at the company's Dallas headquarters, as well as live online at HA.com/Historical.
The auction features an important selection of John F. Kennedy items assembled to mark the 50th anniversary of his 1960 election, including treasures such as a gold presentation watch worn by JFK throughout the campaign, and what may well be the only example of Kennedy's trademark rocking chair to come with an authentication from the Kennedy family.
The decoration is being offered by the family of decorated New York Police Department Detective Patrick "Patty" Larkin. Larkin, who was working security detail the night of the event, took a shine to the piece, and was in the right place at the right time to get it out of MSG and back to his home, where it has been for the last 48 years.
Larkin's widow, Lois, who was dating the Detective at the time, was at MSG with her sister and a friend the night of the party. In fact, the reason Detective Larkin wanted the cake topper was as a surprise for his then-girlfriend.
"I think that (Patty) was probably in and out of the kitchen a lot that night, as he probably escorted some of the stars in and out," said Mrs. Larkin. "It's no surprise that he became friendly with the help, that's the sort of man he was, and he was impressed with the cake decoration. At the end of the night he saw that it was going to be thrown out and he told a worker he really liked it, and wondered if he could have it. The worker said, 'that's between (you) and the garbage,' and the rest is now really history."
The piece could be said to be more than history now, as it is a potent relic of one of the most glamorous and iconic events in modern American presidential history. It was not preserved in a spirit of reverence, however, but merely a curiosity the family shuffled from residence to residence over the years, occasionally taking it out on Thanksgiving or St. Patrick's Day to get a laugh or an astonished shake of the head from friends.
"It actually went from closet to closet in our houses, and finally to a hutch in a plastic bag," said Mrs. Larkin. "One day I was watching some antiques show on TV when they said that plastic was not a good thing to store antiques in. So I put it in a box with tissue paper and that's where it's been for last the 15-20 years."
"It's incredible to think that this delicate creation, nothing but so much sugar, really, witnessed one of 20th Century America's greatest nights," said Tom Slater, Director of Historical Auctions at Heritage. "And thanks to the quick thinking of Detective Larkin it's survived to this day."
The survival of the decoration is a fantastic story in and of itself, considering that the family moved several times over the years. Its sojourn began in Manhattan, and then through subsequent residences as the family grew, to its location on Long Island, New York, before finally making its way to Heritage Auctions, where it will now find a home with the highest bidder.
"The time has finally come for us to get it to someone who will hopefully take much better care of it than we ever did," said Mrs. Larkin. "Over the years I've started to get concerned about it. I would think, 'oh, it's made of sugar,' and that I wished I knew how to preserve it. Every time I would bring it up, my kids would laugh and say, 'just put it back,' so we would. Now it will hopefully go to someone that is really into it."
"To think that this little thing was there the night Marilyn Monroe, in her skin-tight sequined dress, offered her rendition of 'Happy Birthday, Mr. President,' to JFK is simply staggering," said Slater. "Yet here it is; a little sugar, a little artistry and a whole lot of history."