Friday, January 15, 2010

Now That's More Like It!


At long last, a favorable front page story in a major newspaper about President Nixon. Praise the Press. Hip, Hip, Hooray. Take that you archivist nattering nabobs of negativisms.

The Los Angeles Times on Thursday, January 14, 2010 had a front page picture and story about the December 21, 1970 Oval Office meeting between President Nixon and Elvis Presley. Faye Fiore, reporting from Washington, says, "The king wanted to meet the president. A famous photo was snapped and the rest is history. But wait, there's more."

That's an intriguing tease. It's a fun read, check it out on

Working as a volunteer in the Museum Store at the Library, I knew that any mementos with pictures of the president and Elvis are big sellers. We have shot glasses, breath mint boxes, playing cards, post cards, coffee mugs, etc. I have often marveled that copies of the photo that shows the president in a suit and the king of rock and roll in his white pointed collar shirt and purple velvet cape are requested more often that just about any other treasures in the National archives, including the Constitution.

To honor Elvis' 75th birthday, Nixon White House staffer Bud Krogh and Presley's friend, Jerry Schilling met for the first time in almost 40 years at the National Archives in Washington. They reminisced about the day "Elvis Met Nixon," the title of Bud Krogh's book. Schilling also wrote a book, "Me and a Guy Named Elvis."

Bud wasn't our only long-time pal involved with this event. Dwight Chapin is probably the one who was most instrumental in getting the meeting to take place in the first place. Elvis and Schilling dropped off a letter requesting a meeting with the President in the middle of the night. They gave it to a White House security guard. It was on Dwight's desk when he came to work the next morning. Dwight sends a quick memo to Krogh, who actually thinks it is a joke. Dwight always did love a good joke, so Bud acted just like most of us would have under those circumstances. Elvis wants to meet with the President. Yea, sure. But Bud decides to play along and call the Washington Hotel, for Jon Burrows in room 505, as Dwight suggested. He is actually quite impressed that Dwight found some one so good at impersonating an Elvis Presley gopher. But as he listens, he becomes convinced it is for real. He fires off a memo to chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, who also thinks they are kidding, but approves the meeting.

What did Elvis want? Why did he request a meeting with the President? The 5 page letter he wrote on American Airlines stationery, reportedly only the fourth letter he wrote in his whole life, states that he wanted to help fight the war on drugs. Mostly he wanted a great, big badge to add to his badge collection. He wanted a badge that identified him as a federal agent-at-large for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. When the President finally says, "get him the badge," Elvis is so excited that he hugs the President. They exchange gifts. Elvis gets presidential trinkets and then the secret service realizes they have a problem. Elvis has brought a gun to give to the President. He presents it to him. The meeting is over.

Elvis spends more time in the White House. He has lunch in the White House Mess. (Wish I could ask another pal, Ron Jackson, who ran the White House Mess for years, what he remembers about that day.) Incredibly, the meeting remained a secret for thirteen months. Can you imagine that happening today?

The letter to the President has been released from the National Archives. The gun is on display in our Library. The badge, with Elvis' name on it, is on display at Graceland.

Elvis registered at the Washington Hotel using the name Jon Burrows. That was supposedly a name he used in one of his movies. Anyone know which movie? Bud Krogh probably does. He is quoted as saying he is a big Elvis fan and "never went on a date without him."

Oh, and of course the reporter did have to get in a few negatives in her epilogue. You know, the usual stuff; the resignation, who went to jail and for how long, and the fact that Elvis died from an overdose. Fourteen prescription drugs were found in his system. (Wish Michael Jackson had learned something besides cool moves from Elvis.) The President later noted that his friend Elvis did not have any illegal drugs in his system.

Thanks Dwight, Bud and Bob for what had to be a fun and exciting day in the Nixon White House.

No comments: