June 2, 2020


The Story of the Really Weird Night Richard Nixon Hung Out With Hippies at the Lincoln Memorial (HOWARD MEANS, MAY 17, 2016, The Washingtonian)

Nixon, it turned out, couldn't sleep Friday night--and couldn't stop talking, either. Between the end of his 10 pm press conference and 3:30 the next morning, the White House logged 50 phone calls from the President, eight to national-security adviser Henry Kissinger alone. Shortly after the last call, Nixon roused his valet, Manolo Sanchez, to ask if he wanted some hot chocolate. Sanchez declined, but Nixon wasn't discouraged. Had Sanchez ever seen the Lincoln Memorial, the President persisted. The valet apparently had not, and with that, the Night of the Weird began.

"I said, 'Get your clothes on, and we will go down to the Lincoln Memorial,'" Nixon said in a version of events he dictated for the record several days later. "Well, I got dressed, and at approximately 4:35, we left the White House and drove to the Lincoln Memorial. I have never seen the Secret Service quite so petrified with apprehension."

With cause. Protesters had already gathered at the memorial in advance of Saturday's demonstration against the war, against the Kent State dead, against, most personally and viscerally, Richard Nixon himself. But a man on a manic high, as the President almost certainly was, and the commander in chief of the world's largest army and his own Secret Service, as he constitutionally was, is not easily dissuaded.

A famous photograph captures the next scene: Nixon in suit and tie, the ski-nose profile tilted slightly forward, a handful of sleepy-eyed demonstrators listening in shock and dull amazement, maybe wondering what drug could have produced such an apparition, as the President reprised his press-conference triumph for an early-morning audience who, stranded on the Mall, hadn't watched a moment of it.

"I said I was sorry they had missed it because I had tried to explain in the press conference that my goals in Vietnam were the same as theirs--to stop the killing, to end the war, to bring peace...There seemed to be no--they did not respond. I hoped that their hatred of the war, which I could well understand, would not turn into a bitter hatred of our whole system, our country, and everything that it stood for. I said, 'I know you, that probably most of you think I'm an SOB. But I want you to know that I understand just how you feel.' "

That's the President's official account. The protesters would tell an alternate version to the press who descended on them that morning. Nixon mentioned Vietnam, but when that drew a tepid response, he moved to other topics. What college were they attending? One student was at Syracuse University, a chance for the commander in chief to talk about football. Another was from California--on to surfing.

Both accounts are in keeping with a President obsessed with war matters, battered by Kent State, challenged by small talk (aides commonly fed him three-by-five cards for such moments), and physically brave, but as the sun began to rise and word of the night visitor spread, even Richard Nixon had to acknowledge that it was time to leave.

Haldeman caught up with the presidential party at about 6:15, but not back at the White House. Manolo Sanchez had never seen the famous "well" of the House of Representatives, either. Having roused security there, the President was sitting at one of the House desks as his valet took to the same podium used for State of the Union addresses.

From there, and now also with press secretary Ron Ziegler in tow, the presidential entourage proceeded to the Mayflower Hotel on Connecticut Avenue for breakfast. Back at the White House finally and still unable to sleep, Nixon wandered over to the Old Executive Office Building to greet the soldiers who were just waking up in their sleeping bags on the fourth floor. 

Posted by at June 2, 2020 12:00 AM