Follow the Stories | Biloxi, Mississippi (2011)
The Honey Fitz
The mahogany chest of drawers that a guest brought to ROADSHOW's event in Biloxi had once occupied the stateroom of the Honey Fitz, JFK's private presidential yacht.
The Honey Fitz on the Potomac River, Washington, D.C., April 6, 1961. (Source: Abbie Rowe, White House, in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.)
Perhaps one of the most iconic photographs of John F. Kennedy, taken aboard the Honey Fitz on August 31, 1963. (Source: Cecil Stoughton, White House, in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.)
President Kennedy and daughter Caroline aboard the Honey Fitz, off Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, August 25, 1963. (Source: Cecil Stoughton, White House, in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.)
Despite its brevity, the administration of John F. Kennedy remains the most iconic and mythologized presidency of the 20th century. The president was young and bright, his wife poised and stylish, and their occupancy of the White House during the tensest moments of the Cold War provided America with a welcome distraction from thoughts of nuclear war. In the years following his death, the Kennedy memorabilia market exploded; to own something that had been in the lives of the Kennedy family was to have direct contact with an era of optimism whose sudden, violent end made it all the more poignant. When a guest named Bobby from Ocean Springs, Miss., brought in a mahogany chest of drawers that had once occupied the stateroom of the Honey Fitz, JFK's private presidential yacht, to the Biloxi ROADSHOW in July 2010, appraiser J. Michael Flanigan valued it at $5,300. The piece showed some signs of use, with a drawer having been replaced, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. "It has led the hard life," Flanigan noted, "which gives us some sense of use, which is what we like to see."
"The Honey Fitz ... was a casual venue for hosting visiting dignitaries ... but of greater significance to the First Family was its value as an escape from the goldfish bowl. Some of the most stirring photos from the last three years of Kennedy's life were taken onboard ..."
Although the Honey Fitz is most closely associated with John F. Kennedy, it had been at the disposal of the White House since World War II, when Franklin Roosevelt commandeered and purchased the vessel, then named Lenore, from Montgomery Ward president Sewell Avery for use as a coastal patrol boat. During the war, it was designated CG-92004 and was outfitted with an anti-aircraft gun and depth charges; afterward, it was permanently transferred to the United States Navy. Roosevelt's immediate successors made only occasional use of the vessel: Truman preferred the much larger and more luxurious USS Williamsburg, whereas Eisenhower used the yacht mainly as a changing room en route from playing golf.
Kennedy, however, had grown up on the water, racing sailboats in Hyannis Port and earning his war hero bona fides as commander of PT-109, an 80-foot torpedo boat. Honey Fitz would have reminded Kennedy of both his war service and his childhood, but perhaps the main reason he chose to spend so much time onboard was that it was too small to accommodate his Secret Service detail, which followed at a distance, affording the president, his family, and his guests some privacy.
The Honey Fitz, which Kennedy named after his grandfather, was a casual venue for hosting visiting dignitaries, such as British prime minister Harold Macmillan and Pakistani president Ayub Khan, but of greater significance to the First Family was its value as an escape from the goldfish bowl. Some of the most stirring photos from the last three years of Kennedy's life were taken onboard during family vacations and cruises: JFK smoking a cigar and reading a newspaper; JFK with his arm around a 5-year-old Caroline, drowsily wrapped up in a blanket; Jackie, pregnant with a boy, Patrick, who would die shortly after birth.
The Honey Fitz has taken on an aura of romance, but, like pretty much everything having to do with John F. Kennedy, an accompanying haze of scandal and conjecture will probably never be dispelled. Did Kennedy in fact have Marilyn Monroe sneaked aboard, as rumors have had it? We’ll probably never know for sure, although the very idea undoubtedly contributes to the mystique surrounding the yacht.
As Kennedy had done, Richard Nixon renamed the Honey Fitz for his wife, Patricia, after taking office, but he disliked the yacht and sold it in 1970. After a long period in which the yacht changed owners somewhat erratically, by the late 1990s it was dilapidated, warped, and falling to pieces. In 1998, the yacht was bought at auction by William Kallop, an oilman whose father had been a schoolmate of JFK, for nearly $6 million. Kallop rechristened it Honey Fitz and it is currently undergoing restoration at Moore Marine Yacht Center in Riviera Beach, Fla., by Jim Moores, a wooden-boat specialist.
At 93 feet and 88 tons, the Honey Fitz, says Flanigan, is not only the largest piece of Kennedy memorabilia, but also the most valuable. Flanigan valued Bobby's piece of Camelot at around $5,000, but that figure came with a caveat: Bobby had not been given an official bill of sale when he purchased his chest of drawers. If he could retrace his steps and shore up the provenance somewhat with official documentation, Flanigan says Bobby could expect to see the value balloon significantly. "The Honey Fitz is a storied boat," says Flanigan, "but like all boats, the longer it lives the less original it is. The owner did a lot of great research, finding photographs of the furniture onboard. But he still needs that final piece of paper."
See the Biloxi, Mississippi (2011) page for a list of all appraisals from this city.
More ANTIQUES ROADSHOW articles from the Furniture category:
A Cabinet Full of Eggs? (Philadelphia, 2007)
A Match Made in Heaven (Or at Least New York) (Milwaukee, 2007)
Honestly Abe's Chairs? (Mobile, 2007)
Getting Your Furniture on ANTIQUES ROADSHOW (Providence, 2006)
A True Roux? (Reno, 2005)
Ben Phelan is a freelance writer in Louisville, Kentucky. He has been a contributor to ANTIQUES ROADSHOW Online since 2007.