An intimate encounter with JFK's base layer

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Dispatches, June 1998

Camelot Exposed
An intimate encounter with JFK's base layer
By Tizia Garden

For all his virile athleticism, let it be said that John F. Kennedy was no icon of hard-core outdoor adventure. The man never free-climbed a 5.10 pitch or threaded the tube of a monster wave. He couldn't pull an indy grab; he couldn't ride fakie. And he probably didn't know the difference between a Jumar and a set of jumper cables.

These peccadilloes may explain why the allure of his cult has always eluded us. Nonetheless, when we heard that a few hundred items of JFK memorabilia were on the block at a Manhattan auction house, we immediately dashed over. The wares that caught our eye? Two sets of Duofold long johns, size 40, that once cradled the nether purlieu of Camelot.

The whiff of adventure clung beguilingly to these frayed state-of-the-union suits, fashioned by a company whose label has brushed such legendary backsides as those of Sir Edmund Hillary and the 1998 U.S. Winter Olympic Team. Sure, old underwear may seem somewhat (OK, totally) devoid of appeal, but in us they aroused an admittedly odd curiosity. We pictured them warming the derriere-in-chief during yachting forays off Hyannis Port, on the slopes of Mount Mansfield, even in those celebrated Kennedy touch-football battles.

Fun as it might be to own such a piece of history, however, the garments were priced beyond our grasp. So we found ourselves rooting for a gregarious man sporting a blue blazer. Jeff Blumenfeld, a spokesperson from Duofold, had been dispatched to return the skivvies to the company plant in Hometown, Pennsylvania. "We thought," he explained, "it would be an interesting thing to display in the lobby."

Alas, our tawdry age affords little consideration for noble quests. Blumenfeld had been authorized to bid just $2,000 — a sum swiftly exceeded by a celebrity-memorabilia dealer named Richard Wilson, who claimed them for $3,000 and then set about boasting that he also had a pair of "Marilyn Monroe's panties." Apparently Wilson intends to display his and hers en deux — a plan that struck us as staking out a new nadir of decency. Until, that is, we overheard someone whispering in the audience behind us: "Can you imagine what they're going to be auctioning off when Clinton dies?"

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web