Treasure: JFK signature looks real, but message a mystery

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to the Detroit News

“In 1962, President John F. Kennedy visited Fort Bragg, North Carolina. I was one of the troops who marched in front of the president. I sent him a letter requesting a photo of his visit. I received a photo from his visit. To this day, I can’t make out what was written at the top of photo,” wrote Gerald Ruckert to the column hoping for help solving a 50-year mystery. Brian Thomczek looked at the signature and the photo at the most recent appraisal held at Troy’s Michigan Design Center.

Gerald Ruckert of Southfield poses with an autographed image of President John K. Kennedy from 1962 when the President visited Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

The photo shows the president looking over the troops with bystanders and other military personnel in the background. Six words written on the top left are mostly illegible, with a signature directly underneath. The accompanying letter reads: “Dear Specialist Ruckert: “Thank you for your letter to the President. In response to your request, I am glad to send you the enclosed autographed photograph of the President which was taken during his visit to Fort Bragg.” It is signed by Evelyn Lincoln, Personal Secretary to the President.

Ruckert says he has wondered who signed the photo ever since. “This is my question,” he asked the appraiser. “Is that really his signature and what does it say?”

Thomczek had good news and bad. He doesn’t believe it was signed by Lincoln, the secretary, or with a common auto pen. “I do believe this is indeed JFK’s signature and is authentic,” he told Ruckert. That was the good news. The bad news was that he still couldn’t figure out what the message said.

The president was at Fort Bragg in June and Ruckert received the photo the following month. It is dated July 27, 1962. Thomczek didn’t think it was auto pen because it appeared to be signed with a regular ink pen.

Even though Thomczek couldn’t decipher the message he said the piece definitely had value. “Kennedy was very hands-on,” he said. “These days you never see that because of the Secret Service. He signed a lot of things and anything he touched is definitely collectible.”

“This has both historical significance and a great provenance,” the appraiser added. In recent auctions, similar items signed have brought prices between $3,000 and $6,000. However the example Ruckert brought in would have to be authenticated and confirmed that JFK did indeed sign the photograph.

It’s a good investment, says Thomczek. “Without that, as is, it’s worth about $200 so it’s well worth looking into getting it authenticated.”

Do you have an object you would like to know more about? Send a photo and description that includes how you acquired the object to: The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure?, 160 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime telephone number. You may also send your photo and description to If chosen you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Letters are edited for style and clarity. Photos cannot be returned.

About this item

Item: JFK letter and photo

Owned by: Gerald Ruckert

Estimated value: $200 to approx.. $6,000

Appraised by: Brian Thomczek