JFK's life and death captured in Overland Park man's extensive collection

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. - He might be more famous for how he died to today's generation, but it's how President John F. Kennedy lived that is the focus for a Johnson County chiropractor.

Rick Kaplan has spent a lifetime collecting memorabilia connected to our 35th president. His elaborate collection fills the entire bottom floor of his Overland Park home.

The 1960s marked the dawn of a new era in our country. Kennedy got America into the space race, he stood up against the Soviets and young people found new inspiration in what would be dubbed Camelot. For Kaplan, it started with the 1960 presidential election.


"My parents took me to a JFK headquarters in St. Louis," he said. "So of course being a 10-year-old boy, I was overwhelmed with all the shoe boxes of buttons, window decals, posters."

He was also drawn to the first couple by their youth. Up until then, the previous three presidents had all reminded him of Washington or Lincoln, or were older, like Truman and Eisenhower.

"What 10-year-old boy didn't love the story of PT 109? A Japanese destroyer destroys his PT 109 boat and he saves everybody."

Kaplan held on to those buttons and posters. Over the years, he added more and more collectibles. Now five decades later, his basement shrine to JFK is museum quality.

"I generally start them over here, kind of how my collection starts," he said as he leads me through the cases. "I started at the Democratic National Convention on Los Angeles in 1960."

There are hundreds of pieces, and many of them rare. Asked to select his top five favorites, Kaplan presented them in this order:

- The Kennedy's wedding invitation from 1953.

- JFK's first magazine cover – Pic Magazine from 1946.

- A rare Kennedy-Nixon debate poster from 1960.

- A pen used to sign the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty on Oct. 7, 1963.

- White House Christmas Greetings produced by Kansas City based Hallmark.

And, of course, there are the assassination items.

"My love of JFK, or my collection, is more of a tribute to his living memory than a memorial to his assassination," Kaplan said. "But I have been able to pick up a lot of the assassination pieces."

Many alive in 1963 held on to the newspaper tributes and Kaplan has hundreds. However he chooses to display just a few. Instead, he focuses on the rare items tied to Kennedy's scheduled events in Texas. There are tickets to the Kennedy's arrival at the airport, worker passes and $3 tickets to the breakfast on the morning of November 22 in Fort Worth. Kaplan marvels at the price.

"You look today, that breakfast would probably be $30,000, or a $50,000 breakfast, and it was $3 for JFK's last speech and his last meal."

There's the invitation for the noon luncheon that day at the Dallas Trade Mart. Of course, Kennedy never arrived. Kaplan also found and purchased a program for the Texas Welcome Dinner scheduled for that evening in Austin.

"These are pretty unique items, in that most of them were destroyed because JFK never showed up at 8 o'clock that night."

Kaplan also puts extra value on anything with a local connection. He has a rare, signed program from JFK's 1958 campaign stump at Shawnee Mission North.

Kaplan declines to say how much he has invested on his collection over the years, smiling at his wife, Liz, standing nearby. Liz is a trooper and supports her husband when it comes to eBay. He says he's not computer literate.

"Well she knew about the hobby, but the hobby was in boxes until eight years ago," he said laughing. "And if you ask me if she'd love to have the lower level of her house back, the answer would probably be yes."

I couldn't leave without asking Kaplan about his personal beliefs when it comes to the assassination and the conspiracy theories.

"There are people much more knowledgeable about the conspiracy than I am," Kaplan said. "I have read many books on the conspiracy. The only thing I truly believe is that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone."

Again, he chooses to focus on Kennedy's life, rather than his death.

"I think he left a wonderful legacy as president. I think he brought youth and vitality and inspired the youth."

It was Jackie Kennedy who summed her husband's legacy with the last lines from her husband's favorite musical:

"Don't let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief, shining moment that was known as Camelot."

Rick Kaplan is one who never forgot.

Watch 41 Action News at 5 p.m. to see Kaplan take anchor Mark Clegg through his collection.

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