It's a story as familiar to him as the legend of King Arthur itself, but Bill Page II is still astonished at the rewards his small furniture...
ASHEBORO, N.C. — It’s a story as familiar to him as the legend of King Arthur itself, but Bill Page II is still astonished at the rewards his small furniture company reaps from its Camelot connection.
The tale repeated itself again last month. One of the rocking chairs that President Kennedy purchased nearly a half a century ago for his aching back sold for $96,000 at auction in New York City.
Inevitably, the telephone began to ring at P&P Chair, and the Asheboro company that has changed little since Page’s grandfather founded it in 1926 received a windfall of new business.
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“We’ve gotten calls from Maryland and Virginia and up in the New England area,” Page said. “They all want to know where they can find this chair.”
Oddly enough, the golf course is one place. P&P is shipping 550 rockers to Pinehurst, N.C., where the U.S. Open will be played in June. They will be placed around the course for golfers.
Page said event organizers also liked the look of the chair, known as the Carolina Rocker. “They felt it gives the tournament a nice Southern touch,” he said.
Over the years, the oak and rattan rockers have become mainstays in airport terminals nationwide.
Although the Carolina Rocker appears no different from other porch rockers, the connection to a beloved president makes them special, Page said.
“The president made some very important decisions sitting in those rockers,” he said. “Pictures of JFK in the rocker are in the history books.”
The chairs, which retail for about $240 to $320, are still crafted from red oak harvested from Appalachian peaks in western North Carolina and Virginia. The design has not changed since the first one was manufactured in 1926, except now they are offered in green or white.
In fact, some of the lathes, saws and other tools used to make the Kennedy chair that sold last month are still used at the tin-roofed factory on the outskirts of downtown Asheboro.
In 1996, the business also benefited after two of the rockers that Kennedy brought with him to the White House sold for more than $440,000 each at Sotheby’s. The auction house had predicted that each would sell for less than $4,000.
Business wasn’t always so good. In the 1950s, sales were soft and Page’s grandfather, W.C. Page, seriously considered shutting down.
About the same time, however, a young U.S. senator from Massachusetts named John F. Kennedy went to see Dr. Janet Travell about intense, recurring back pain from injuries he suffered serving in the Navy in World War II.
On his first visit to Travell’s office, Kennedy sat in a Carolina Rocker, which the doctor had seen in a trade publication and ordered for some of her patients.
“When Kennedy left, he told Dr. Travell he wanted to buy that rocking chair,” Page said. “She told him he couldn’t have that one, but she could tell him where he could buy his own.”
The Carolina Rocker became a fixture at Camelot, and sales boomed at P&P Chair after photos of Kennedy conducting business from his rocker were printed in newspapers and magazines around the world.
Kennedy so loved the chair that his aides brought one on Air Force One when he traveled. The president also furnished Camp David and the Kennedy estates in Palm Beach, Fla., and Hyannis Port, Mass., with the chairs.
Page seems bemused by the chair’s enduring popularity, and says he has no plans to change his grandfather’s design.
“Dr. Travell told my grandfather she liked this chair because it had just the right angle for someone with a bad back,” he said. “The arm rests are at the right height and you can rock in it and your feet don’t leave the floor.”