The author (right) presents a scrapbook in support of President Nixon on April 2, 1974. White House staffer, Robert Genader (left) accepted the gift on behalf of President Nixon.
By Bob Bostock
Forty years ago today I visited the White House for the first time. I remember the date specifically because my visit was incredibly exciting and memorable for a then-16-year-old fervent admirer of President Nixon. But first, a little background.
In 1972, I had worked as a young volunteer for the President’s re-election, manning GOTV phone banks in Hackensack, New Jersey every evening and Saturdays from Labor Day until Election Day. I had the time of my young life, being part of a cause (a very small part) greater than myself. The only disappointment of the entire campaign was that the President didn’t make a campaign stop in North Jersey.
Over the course of the next two years, as the Nixon presidency became ensnarled in Watergate, I remained a staunch advocate. I believed then, as I do today, that the President had not committed an impeachable offense that warranted his removal from office.
During that time I wrote countless letters to the President expressing my support. Many of them asked for the opportunity to meet the President, so I could express my admiration in person. Each request was politely declined, but that did not dampen my enthusiasm.
Then I had an idea. I had seen a photograph in our local paper of the President in the Oval Office greeting a supporter who had collected thousands of signatures expressing solidarity with the President. I thought, “I should do something like that; maybe then I could meet him.”
Not wanting to repeat the effort I had read about, I decided to pull together a scrapbook containing editorials, letters to the editor, and advertisements expressing support for the President’s cause. I wrote several of the letters to our local daily newspaper. Others I had sent to papers on Cape Cod where my grandfather, who had retired there, would clip them out and send them to me.
Finally, the scrapbook was completed and I wrote to the President asking for the opportunity to present it to him. I was going to be in Washington in early April attending a scouting event, and asked for an appointment while I was there.
Before too long I received a letter from a member of the President’s staff, informing me that although the President’s schedule would not allow him to meet with me, a member of the White House staff, Mr. Robert Genader, would accept my scrap book on his behalf.
My excitement at the prospect of actually having an appointment at the Executive Mansion completely overshadowed any disappointment at not being given the chance to meet the President. And besides, I harbored the secret hope that once they saw what I had prepared, I would be ushered into the Oval Office anyway!
The time appointed finally arrived and I entered the White House through the East Gate. I checked in with the uniformed Secret Service agent just inside the entrance and was escorted to what I was told was the First Lady’s Reception Room.
After only a brief wait Mr. Genader appeared and graciously accepted my offering. I thought that would be the end of my appointment, but he then asked if I had time for a special tour. Needless to say, I did.
We left the reception room, walked along the East Colonnade, and stepped out into the First Ladies’ Garden. From there we walked across the driveway past the iconic South Portico, past the Rose Garden, along the West Colonnade and into the West Wing.
When we entered the West Wing, Mr. Genader showed me the press room, the Roosevelt Room, and the Cabinet Room. He took me into the Cabinet Room around to the President’s chair, where I stood for a moment thinking that this all must be a dream.
When we left the Cabinet Room we turned left and took a few steps down the hall. I saw an open door ahead and could just make out the edge of a distinctive blue rug, bordered with gold stars. I knew immediately I was just steps away from the Oval Office.
My heart was racing as we covered the last few feet to the door to the most famous office in the world. A velvet rope hung across the doorway, but Mr. Genader lowered the rope and we entered the office, taking just one or two steps into the office, only barely stepping onto the rug. The office was unoccupied, but the sense of the presidency was palpable. We lingered for a moment or two, so I could drink in the scene.
Much too soon, we turned and headed back the way we had come. Just before exiting the West Wing, Mr. Genader asked me to wait a moment while he ducked into an office. A few seconds later he reappeared, and accompanying him was a White House photographer.
We made our way back along the West Colonnade, past the Rose Garden, and out to the South Lawn. There we stopped, and the photog snapped a few photos of me presenting my scrapbook to Mr. Genader. After this brief photo op, Mr. Genader took his leave, but not before inviting me to tour the public rooms of the mansion.
Less than two weeks passed before I received in the mail the print of my presentation, accompanied by a letter from President Nixon thanking me for my scrapbook. I was deeply honored that my rather modest expression of support had been received in such a gracious way. That photograph and letter remain among my most treasured mementoes.
Following his visit to the White House, the author received a signed letter from President Nixon.
But that’s not the end of this story. Back in 2012, when I was helping to develop President Nixon’s centennial exhibit at the Nixon Library, I shared this story with Olivia Anastasiadis, the National Archives’ supervisory curator, while we were looking at some artifacts for possible inclusion in the exhibit.
Shortly thereafter, Olivia excused herself to go back into the vast artifacts storage area. I figured she was going to bring back some more exhibit-worthy artifacts for us to consider. Instead, she emerged just a few minutes later with something I had last seen 38 years before – the scrapbook I had compiled as an expression of support for the President.
I couldn’t believe it. My scrapbook had been logged in as a gift to the President, right alongside gifts of state and other gifts from ordinary citizens, and had been preserved all these years. Olivia slipped the scrapbook from its protective plastic bag, and handed it to me. I was instantly transported back to that early spring day in 1974.
I could not have imagined it that day when I stood on the South Lawn of the White House to have my picture taken, but I would eventually get to meet – and even know – President Nixon.
Fifteen years later I had the great privilege of working with President Nixon over the last five years of his life, including writing much of the text in the Nixon Library that covers his presidency. More recently, I worked with the Richard Nixon Foundation as curator and author of the Pat Nixon Centennial Exhibit and as co-curator and co-author of President Nixon’s Centennial Exhibit.
As I remember that day exactly four decades ago, I do so with a profound sense of gratitude that I had the opportunity to extend my support of our 37th president long after that special moment at the White House in 1974.
It was a day that I’ll never forget in a journey that I have long embraced – ensuring that President Nixon receive his due for all that he did for our country and for the great cause of peace and freedom in the world.
Over three decades later, the author learned that his scrapbook had been logged by the White House as a presidential gift.