Presidential artifacts on display in JFK Exhibition
Countless airplanes have flown over the Strip, but only one has ever stayed inside the Tropicana Las Vegas. It’s actually the fuselage from a Boeing 707, but it’s been remodeled to resemble a Kennedy-era Air Force One, complete with mid-mod furniture and period typewriter. It’s part of The JFK Exhibition, curated by collector Jim Warlick and currently displayed inside the Tropicana’s Pavilion.
Two presidential Lincoln Continentals, one of which carried President and Mrs. Kennedy to their final flight to Dallas, are also major features of the exhibition, along with a replica of the Oval Office, gowns, personal items and one of two rotary phones from the presidential suite at the Hotel Texas.
That’s where John Fitzgerald Kennedy made his final phone call before his assassination on Nov. 22, 1963. Sixth-grader Warlick was transfixed by the event, watching television reports for days. He also started collecting presidential buttons as a kid, which became the start of a lifelong interest and occupation. “I have more than a million and a half buttons and posters, so obviously I don’t sell a lot of things I collect,” Warlick told guests gathered for the Nov. 22 grand opening of the JFK Exhibition. “I hate to give them up, so they’re stored in Washington D.C. and North Carolina. Hopefully all of these items will be donated to a library somewhere or a museum, because I don’t collect to sell. I collect to share with people.”
Warlick stood at a replica of a presidential podium in front of his Air Force One as he explained the roots of the exhibition to the guests. Some of the items had been in storage for 50 years, while the cars had been in a garage for a decade before Warlick purchased them last fall. “I don’t think they should be stored away so people can’t see them,” he said. “I think they should be shared, and that’s what I wanted to do, and that’s what we’re doing here with the exhibition. This show gives adults and children a once-in-a-lifetime chance to participate in experiencing John F. Kennedy’s history.”
Air Force One is probably the highlight of the 30 exhibits. Entrance is through the rear of the fuselage, and guests are led past a bedroom area with pillowcases and towels bearing the presidential seal as a mannequin modeling a pink wool suit and pillbox hat stands nearby. The cream-colored convertible Continental that transported the Kennedys to the airport dominates the floor space along with a black hardtop member of the Kennedy-era presidential fleet. The exterior of the Oval Office recreation is ringed with First Lady-appropriate gowns of earlier eras, while artifacts such as a chair similar to one Lincoln sat in at Ford’s Theater and a Franklin Delano Roosevelt wheelchair round out the exhibits.
The exhibition was on display at Rockefeller Center in New York City during the last presidential election. More than 300,000 people saw the collection, according to Warlick. “After that I decided to just travel with it,” he said after the dedication. “Because more people could see it.”
Tropicana, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. daily, $24.95, $19.95 seniors, Nevada residents, military and first responders with proper ID, free for children 12 and under. 800.829.9034