LOS ANGELES — It’s one of the most ghoulish — and overlooked — American artifacts of the 20th century: A modest wooden coffin in a storage room of the Baumgardner Funeral Home in Fort Worth, Texas.
Few people had any idea that the rotting wooden box, with its rust-coated metal ornamentation, held for nearly 18 years the body of Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who shot President John F. Kennedy to death in 1963.
Now it is up for auction, after funeral home owner Allen Baumgardner consigned the coffin to Nate D. Sanders Auctions of Santa Monica, Calif. Bidding opened Tuesday at $1,000. Auction manager Laura Yntema expects it could reach $100,000 by the time the online and phone auction closes Dec. 16.
Baumgardner was 21 and working for the Miller Funeral Home when Oswald himself was killed just two days after he shot Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963.
By the time Oswald’s coffin was dug up in 1981, as part of an effort to put to rest conspiracy theories that he wasn’t buried in it, Baumgardner had bought the mortuary and changed its name.
Oswald’s burial vault had cracked over the years, and water had damaged the coffin and the body. Still, authorities identified Oswald through dental records and reburied him in Fort Worth’s Rose Hill Memorial Burial Park.
Before the burial, Baumgardner traded the Oswald family a new coffin for the old one.