John F. Kennedy's Diary Is Set For Auction Wednesday, Expected To Top $200,000 As a young journalist seven decades ago, John F. Kennedy witnessed a bombed-out Berlin and Adolf Hitler's bunker. Bidding on his diary starts Wednesday and is expected to top $200,000 Wednesday.
NPR logo Now You Can Own JFK's Personal Reflections On History, For A Hefty Price

Now You Can Own JFK's Personal Reflections On History, For A Hefty Price

The diary that John F. Kennedy wrote during the summer of 1945, in between his military service and first campaign for Congress, when he worked as a journalist for Hearst Newspapers. Courtesy of RR Auction hide caption

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Courtesy of RR Auction

The diary that John F. Kennedy wrote during the summer of 1945, in between his military service and first campaign for Congress, when he worked as a journalist for Hearst Newspapers.

Courtesy of RR Auction

In the summer of 1945, John F. Kennedy traveled across Europe working as a journalist. He kept a diary during those months on the road, which reveals a future president trying to make sense of a rapidly changing postwar world.

The leather-bound diary will be put up for auction Wednesday, after sitting quietly for nearly six decades in the hands of a former campaign worker. Bidding is expected to top $200,000.

Kennedy wrote the diary in between his military service and first campaign for Congress, when he worked for Hearst Newspapers. Deirdre Henderson, then a research assistant in charge of coordinating one of JFK's campaign advisory committees, was overworked by the demands of the campaign and couldn't find the time to read it.

"Sen. John F. Kennedy gave me the diary in 1959 so that I could better understand his ideas on foreign policy," she said. "I shelved it. You had to realize the pace of the campaign.

"I simply said to myself, I'll read that later on."

Later on never came. After Kennedy's election, Henderson found herself with a White House job, and then in a role at the State Department. She was returning to her office on Nov. 22, 1963, when she heard news of the assassination.

After that moment, she says the diary became too painful to consider. But eventually, she pulled the leather three-ring diary from her shelves. In 1995, she published its contents in the book Prelude to Leadership.

The 61-page diary has yellowing pages, some of them typed, others handwritten. Courtesy of RR Auction hide caption

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Courtesy of RR Auction

The 61-page diary has yellowing pages, some of them typed, others handwritten.

Courtesy of RR Auction

The writings reveal a 28-year old JFK sitting in on history. He attends the opening of the United Nations in San Francisco, covers Winston Churchill's re-election bid in England, and reports on the Potsdam Conference, where he watches Joseph Stalin and Harry Truman interact.

"Here he is this war hero, recovered from his injuries, become a reporter, not yet a politician, and he is intersecting with the giants of the 20th century," said Bobby Livingston, executive vice president of RR Auction in Amherst, N.H.

The 61-page diary has yellowing pages, some of them typed, others handwritten. The entries are both formal and personal, including his reaction to seeing a bombed-out Berlin.

Here's what Kennedy writes on July 1, 1945:

"The devastation is complete. The streets are relatively clear, but there is not a single building which is not gutted. On some of the streets, the stench — sweet and sickish from dead bodies — is overwhelming. People all have completely colorless faces — a yellow tinge with pale tan lips. They are all carrying bundles. Where they are going, no one seems to know. I wonder whether they do."

On July 31, 1945, fewer than three months after the Nazis surrendered, Kennedy describes seeing Adolf Hitler's bunker. His writes, "He had in him the stuff of which legends are made," a statement which caused controversy when these texts were first printed.

By the end of the diary, there's a shift from JFK the journalist to JFK the budding politician. He writes of loyalty, ethics and frets over his inexperience.

"The best politician is the man who does not think of the political consequences of his every act," he writes.

Throughout the text, historian and Pulitzer Prize winning author Fredrik Logevall says Kennedy comes across as a passionate observer.

"For me, what the diary shows is an inquisitive mind. I think he has a curiosity about the world around him that comes through, that I think is one of his most attractive qualities," said Logevall, who is writing a biography of Kennedy.

Those gifts would help him launch a political career, the seeds of which are in this diary. Henderson says it's time to give the document its due.

"This diary is relatively unknown to the world, and I think through this auction, it will become known, and it will find a home that is worthy of its value intellectually," she said.

The diary, of course, also has financial value. Bidding starts at 1 p.m. on Wednesday.