Auction of vial that held Reagan’s blood is called off


This undated image released by PFCAuctions shows a vial containing Ronald Reagan's dried blood residue. (AP)
May 24, 2012

The controversial auction of a vial that contained President Ronald Reagan’s blood has been halted, and the valuable glass tube is being donated to the former president’s foundation.

In a statement issued Thursday morning, the executive director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation said he was pleased by the outcome. “We are grateful to the current custodian of the vial for this generous donation to the Foundation ensuring President Reagan’s blood remains out of public hands,” said John Heubusch, the foundation’s director.

The vial in question contained residue of blood drawn from Reagan while he recovered from a near-fatal gunshot wound in 1981. It was being sold by an online auction house based on the island of Guernsey, an autonomous British protectorate, in the English Channel. With only hours left in the auction, the vial had garnered bids exceeding $30,000.

The provenance of the vial can be traced back to just days after Reagan was shot as he left the Washington Hilton Hotel on March 30, 1981, and rushed to George Washington University Hospital, where he underwent life-saving surgery.

The president was treated there for 13 days. During that stay, a vial of blood was drawn to test for lead and sent to a laboratory in Columbia, Md. A laboratory worker was given permission to keep the old vial and its paperwork, according to a statement by PFC Auctions, which was selling the items. When she died, her son sold the vial at a U.S. auction in February for $3,550 to a collector of presidential memorabilia, the auction site said in a statement.

That collector, who has not been identified, then contacted PFC Auctions, which put the vial up for sale on his behalf, saying it contained “dried blood residue from President Reagan.” Reagan’s former doctors told The Washington Post that they believed the item was authentic.

The auction was scheduled to conclude at 2 p.m. Thursday. In a statement released by the auction house, the collector said he did not think the Reagan Foundation was interested in the vial. PFC Auctions called the collector’s donation to the Reagan Foundation a “considerable financial gesture.”

The auction generated intense publicity, which prompted the collector to rethink the sale.

“The publicity generated by PFC Auctions for their current Auction has clearly highlighted the importance of this historical artifact and I would personally be delighted to see this important artifact on public display by the Foundation,” the collector said in a statement issued by the auction house.

Reagan’s presidential library in Simi Valley, Calif., has an exhibit dedicated to the assassination attempt that includes the suit the president was wearing that day. It still has a small slit just under the left armpit — evidence of the round that struck the president. The would-be assassin unleashed six shots in 1.7 seconds, hitting Reagan and three other men — Secret Service Agent Tim McCarthy, White House press secretary James Brady and D.C. Police Officer Thomas Delahanty. All survived. Reagan was hit by John W. Hinckley Jr.’s final shot; it ricocheted off the side of the presidential limousine, slipped through a small gap between the door and door frame and then hit the president as he was being shoved inside the car by an alert Secret Service agent.

The limousine hurtled from the scene, and the Secret Service agent, Jerry Parr, directed the car to GW hospital, not the White House. Parr’s quick actions and decision are credited with saving Reagan’s life.

The vial was not the only memento of the shooting kept by medical personnel. One doctor hung onto Reagan’s stitches, and others kept copies of reports. FBI agents spent weeks fruitlessly hunting for one of Reagan’s “Golden Bear” cuff links — a keepsake from his time as California’s governor — that vanished, most likely after his clothes were cut off of him in the trauma bay. It has never been found.

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