Nixon and a Pigskin Purse

Pigskin coin purse from Mexico c 1949; gift to KLS from Elsie WelchMy original headline read “Stuck in the Sock Drawer,” but I changed it because “Nixon” will score higher with the search engines.

Even that headline was a little misleading, because we’re not going to talk about my exact sock drawer, although there ARE a lot of weird things hiding in there, too.

Many years ago, my grandmother gave me a good wooden¬† box that was probably supposed to hold jewelry. It’s been a catchall for heirlooms of no real value, something that became apparent when our house was burgled a few years ago.

The crooks made off with some of Wife Lila’s jewelry that was rich in sentimental value, but not worth much in dollars. The mopes didn’t even bother to root through my box.

Maybe they feared the curse of the pigskin purse, a souvenir my grandmother, Elsie Welch, brought back from Mexico (the country, not the county seat of Audrain County, MO, where the annual Miss Missouri pageant is held) when I was about two years old.

I never had much money as a kid, so the poor pig was always pretty skinny. Now, nearly seven decades later, he still hasn’t put on much weight.

Elvis Presley and President Nixon

Richard Nixon presidential cufflinks given to KLS by Ollie AtkinsOllie Atkins, President Richard Nixon’s official photographer, was a speaker at a National Press Photographers Association conference I attended. To be honest, I thought Atkins was a pretty pedestrian photographer kept around for dull grip ‘n’ grin shots of dignitaries. His photos perfectly captured the wooden Richard Nixon.

One of his images, though, according to a 2012 story in The Guardian, is one of the most requested images in the National Archives and Records Administration, more popular even than the Bill of Rights or the Constitution of the United States. It’s the photo of Dick Nixon and Elvis Presley shaking hands after a secret meeting in the White House.

Presley wrote Nixon a six-page letter requesting a meeting with the president and suggesting he be made a “Federal Agent at Large” in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. The events leading up to and after the meeting are detailed in the documentation and photographs included at this link, which include Presley’s handwritten letter, memoranda from Nixon staff and aides, and the thank-you note from Nixon for the gifts (including a Colt 45 pistol and family photos) that Presley brought with him to the Oval Office.

Nixon cufflinks

Richard Nixon presidential cufflinks given to KLS by Ollie AtkinsFrom time to time during the conference, the moderator would draw numbers for door prizes. After Ollie’s presentation, he reached into the box and pulled out mine. Instead of some cool photo equipment, I was presented a pair of presidential cufflinks. That prize was especially ironic because, up until I picked Bill Hopkins to run my campaign for student body president of Central High School, I thought I might get to wear a set of cufflinks like these some day.

They have never been out of the box. When I scanned them tonight, I pulled the lining of the box out to see if anything cool, like the nuclear launch codes or something, was behind them. I am sad to report the bottom of the box was empty.

You can click on the photos to make them larger, but ignore all the white specks: I didn’t bother to dust the plush lining in the box.

Matchless Nixon

Nikon Air Force 1 matches given to KLSOllie must have sweetened the pot by tossing in a box of matches from Air Force One.

I beat the devil

Nikon Air Force 1 matches given to KLSWhile I was looking at the unused book of presidential matches, I thought of Kris Kristofferson’s song, To Beat the Devil, about a down-and-out guitar player. It contains the line, “I ain’t sayin’ I beat the devil, but I drank his beer for nothing. Then I stole his song.”

Well, I never got to be President, but I ended up with his cufflinks and his matches.

Other encounters with Richard Nixon

Billy Graham Turns 93

Most newspapers have canned obits of famous people ready to go. When I saw the Rev. Billy Graham was in the hospital several months ago, I remembered that I had shot Billy Graham Day in Charlotte, N.C., on Oct. 15, 1971. I’d better pull out those files “just in case,” I thought.

As it turned out, the Preacher to the Presidents got better and was released from the hospital. I’m happy to use the occasion of his 93rd birthday today as an excuse to run the photos.

Billy Graham Day and Richard Nixon

Billy Graham Day had several political subplots.

President Richard Nixon had appeared with Graham in Knoxville, TN., in May 1970, the first time a president had spoken on the stage with an evangelist, according to reports I’ve read. The mostly sympathetic audience’s reaction to protestors who showed up gave the President’s re-election team an idea. The Watergate hearings uncovered a plot to plant agents provocateur in the crowd to cause trouble, then have pickup trucks of “cowboys” show up to “let things happen.”

Event figured in Watergate Hearings

Apparently those shenanigans never got beyond the frat boy talking stage, but the “fake ticket” ruse WAS employed. An advance man would demand to see a protestor’s ticket, pronounce it “fake” and have him escorted away.

Nixon beams at crowd

I don’t remember anything about the President’s speech. The paper’s religion writer was along with me to cover the event, so I could concentrate on shooting and not have to worry about taking notes.

Published accounts say that he praised the minister’s family, “Let me just say this, we all think of Billy Graham as a strong man. But as I look at the Graham family, if I am asked who are stronger, Billy Graham or the women in his family, I’ll say the women every time…God made man out of the soft earth but he made woman out of a hard rib – the woman is the stronger of the two.”

Ruth Graham ambivalent

Patricia Daniels Cornwell wrote in Ruth, A Portrait: The story of Ruth Bell Graham that Mrs. Graham had her own private ambivalence about Nixon’s appearance on her husband’s platform. “I think to have [presidents] come and sit in the audience is one thing. To have them speak from the platform is another.”

“What is your affiliation, Young Man”

Bill Williams, editor of The Gastonia Gazette, thought it would be a neat story idea to send the religion writer and me over to Charlotte to the rally on a church bus to get some local flavor.

I had no sooner boarded the bus when a blue-haired, primly attired little old lady accosted me. “What is your affiliation, Young Man? she demanded.

Somewhat taken aback by her tone, but raised to be polite to my elders, I replied, “I’m with The Gastonia Gazette, Mam. Would you like to see my identification?”

“I mean your RELIGIOUS affiliation.”

Looking at me like she would look at her shoe if she sensed that she had just stepped in something unpleasant, and speaking slowly and enunciating clearly because it had just become obvious that everything she had been told about Yankees was true, she gave an audible “sniff” and asked again, “Young man, I mean what is your RELIGIOUS affiliation?”

“Well, Mam, to be honest, despite eight years of parochial schooling, I mostly serve as a bad example.”

She didn’t invite me to sit next to her.

I don’t recall the ride BACK on the bus, either. I think I might have called one of the other photographers to drive the 19 miles over to Charlotte to pick us up. I would have had no problem approving his mileage for THAT trip.

Photo Gallery of Billy Graham Day

Here’s a collection of photos from the Nixon / Graham rally. Click on any photo to maker it larger, then click on the left or right side to move through the gallery. Happy Birthday Mr. Graham.