David Morehouse and Dan Meader are our guests this week.
Show produced by Katherine Caperton.
Original Air Date: February 9, 2013 on SiriusXM “POTUS” Channel 124.
Polioptics airs regularly on POTUS on Saturdays at 6 am, 12 noon and 6 pm.
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Helen Herzog, this one’s for you.
Mrs. Herzog was my first grade teacher at the Albert Edgar Angier Elementary School in Waban, Mass. At some point during our school year 1971-1972 (I don’t remember when), Mrs. Herzog’s class was treated to a special outside speaker: Dave Powers, curator of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and, as I found out, the assassinated president’s best friend.
I remember the Powers visit well. He was a sad and sweet figure. To a bunch of six-year-olds, a president who had been dead for eight years seemed, and was, more than a lifetime away. But Powers brought back the early sixties in vivid Super 8 color. Even through Powers’s melancholy — which you can experience in this old interview — I also sensed the joy that stayed with him from the long stretch spanning his friend Jack’s triumphal climb from representing the 11th District of Massachusetts in the U.S. House of Representatives to planning the beginning of his 1964 presidential reelection campaign with a late 1963 trip to Texas.
Thank you, Mrs. Herzog, for opening our eyes to history by opening your classroom to Dave Powers.
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David Morehouse, like Dave Powers, has spent a considerable portion of his adult life around presidential politics. I believe we met in Waco, Texas in 1992. I was doing a site on the Clinton-Gore Texas Bus Tour and Morehouse — we all called him “House” — was managing the crowd. After the campaign, we both made our way to Washington and found ourselves in the White House.
I left in 1997, but House stayed on. Vice President Gore made him trip director for the 2000 campaign, setting him up for an almost-historical moment when he made like Mike Webster and anchored himself between the candidate and the stage, preventing a televised concession that would have neutered the Florida Recount before it could begin. House was also in the bubble in 2004 as one of John Kerry’s senior advisers, again coming one state’s electoral votes away from a return trip to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
House didn’t let defeat in two big contests derail his John Facenda-style rendezvous with destiny. When the Pittsburgh Penguins came to the White House on September 10, 2009 to visit President Obama as Stanley Cup Champions, House led the delegation as the team’s president.
It was long way from construction sites of Pittsburgh, where House once worked as a welder, to the East Room of the White House. But if know a few things about David’s character, resilience, passion and creativity, the story all fits together like a classic business success narrative.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette — God bless ’em — has two stories on David, this one and this one, that together offer anything more your might want to know about House beyond our 30-mintue conversation on Polioptics this week.
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So why did I write that little squib about Dave Powers above?
No lie: on my little crib sheet of creative projects I someday wanted to tackle, near the top of the list is written “Dave Powers book,” based on my exposure to him back at Angier. It’s one of those things that a day job, a weekend radio gig and two kids — and a pile of other adventures — never allow you to do.
Great books are written about presidents. Great books are written about presidential family members (I’ve just finished David Nasaw’s incredible book on Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. called The Patriarch). Great books are sometimes written about and by senior presidential advisers. But never, to my knowledge, as a great book been written about a largely behind-the-scenes White House aide, the kind of role that Dave Powers or David Morehouse or me,, or many of the people we’ve had on Polioptics played, while working for the president.
I always kept that note, that someday I’d like to do a book on Powers as a metaphor for the kind of power wielded by those behind-the-scenes players. I thought a project like that would have a lot of daylight because, really, what serious author would be interested in the intricate mechanics of managing the presidential entourage. The problem was, where could a writer get his hands on sufficient source material to make the early-1960’s White House come alive — sort of a DOWNTON ABBEY meets THE WEST WING.
Everything needed to cobble together that story is going up for auction on February 17 in the form of 723 intricately curated lots at John McInnis Auctioneers. The Estate of David Francis Powers will soon be spread to the highest bidder, from JFK’s iconic Air Force One bomber jacket to the single page of Power’s handwritten annotated presidential schedule from November 22, 1963.
Alas, if I only had a few months alone with all of those lots I could turn out a classic. Now, I fear, that while the estimates for many of the lots appear quite low — in the $150 range for a collection of administrative papers and photos — the actual sale prices will put a hole in McInnis’s ceiling and the treasures from Dave Powers’s closet will be consigned to new owners among the millions who harbor deep fascination with Kennedy ephemera and have the deep pockets to procure it.
So, while the Powers book is going to have to go to the back burner, I’ve done the next best thing. On the show this week, we go in-depth into the auction process itself with Dan Meader, the historian, appraiser, auctioneer assigned by John McInnis to burrow into the Powers family home and create that three-part Dave Powers story narrative on which the auction rests. The story of how a small auction house on Boston’s North Shore beat out the big guys — Christie’s and Sotheby’s — to win the assignment of one of the most important presidential memorabilia sales of the century is itself a page turner.
Who knows? Maybe there’s a book in there after all.
In addition, for any of you who enjoy auction-related programming in non-scripted television, you can actually participate in the Powers Auction on President’s Day Weekend, even if you can’t make it to Amesbury, Mass. for the event. The full catalog of the auction, which is like a book itself, may be viewed at mcinnisauctions.com. On Game Day, you can participate in the auction in real time from anywhere in the world through LiveAuctioneers.com.
If you get the Kennedy bomber jacket, drop me a note. I’d be happy to take it on permanent loan for proud display in the Museum of Polioptics.
Bid high and bid often!