The Day I Shot Richard Nixon


Or My Most Historic Photograph 
Forty-two years ago on April 2, 1969 at the tender age of 20 I made what may be the most historic image of my career as a photographer. I photographed President Richard Milhous Nixon on the streets of Abilene, Kansas following the funeral and interment of President Dwight David Eisenhower.

President Richard Milhous Nixon signs an autograph following the funeral and interment of President Dwight David Eisenhower in Abilene, KS.

 At the time I was a journalism major at Baker University in Baldwin City, KS. Armed with only a 35mm Pentax camera, one lens and a few rolls of Tri-X film I set out for Abilene early in the morning on the not really knowing what to expect, but hoping to capture some images of the activity in this little town of about 8,000 residents which was about to be swarmed by a crowd of nearly 100,000.

When I arrived I found the U. S. Army had taken control of the town and had set up a command center in the local National Guard armory. Somehow I found my way to a desk where an officer was handing out passes to members of the press. With no documentation to back up my assertions that I was there to represent the Baker Wildcat, my university’s student newspaper, and the Baldwin Ledger, my hometown daily, I managed to persuade him to give me one of the coveted passes. I was informed the Army would deliver me along with other members of the media to the appropriate press stands when the time arrived.

As the casket bearing President Eisenhower arrived at the chapel which is his final resting place I had a prime vantage point where I could clearly view and photograph the activities of various family members and dignitaries arriving and departing. The service itself was private, was in the chapel and the press was not allowed in.

Following the departure those who had been in the chapel for the ceremony I started back, along with other members of the press, to the bus that had brought me . I was ready to get back to my car and home to begin processing film, or so I thought. Before making it back to the bus I saw the presidential limousine pause in the midst of the throngs that lined nearby streets. President Nixon exited the car and walked into the crowd where he was shaking hands and signing autographs. Naturally the mass of humanity, including most of the press, surged toward him to get a closer look.

I wanted to get close to him too, but I quickly saw how futile it would be to run toward him. I turned and saw, aside from a few men in trench coats and dark glasses, there was no one near the president’s car. I made my way to it and firmly planted myself close to the door I had seen President Nixon come out of. My strategy worked.

As the president started back toward the limo, the crowd followed. When he was close they rushed in near where I was, and I was shoved until my butt was against the rear fender. I began taking pictures, one after another as quickly as I could with a manual camera. As President Nixon was about to enter the now open door next to where I was standing, I had a clear view and was close enough I could have touched him. I continued to shoot film even as I felt the hands of two Secret Service agents slide under my armpits and begin dragging me away.

As the president disappeared inside his car the agents released me in the street, and I headed back to the bus that was waiting to return me to the armory. Once there I made my way back to my, car and began the journey home where I worked into the night processing and printing the images I had captured that day, including the close up of President Nixon posted above.

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Images and text Copyright 2011 Dave Michael.  No portion of this article may be reproduced without permission of the author.

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4 Responses to “The Day I Shot Richard Nixon”

  1. George Lenard Says:

    Great photo and story, Dave. So sharp. I wonder what lens you had. The standard 50 or 55 I guess?

    • Dave Michael Says:

      George, It was the 55 mm f1.8 Takumar lens that was standard issue on Pentax cameras of that era. I believe the body was an H1a which was just like the Spotmatic except it had no metering system in it.

  2. George Lenard Says:

    I had one of those cameras, or one very similar, that I bought used with babysitting earnings in 1972, when I was 14.

  3. Dave Michael Says:

    The Spotmatic, which was the first SLR with an internal meter, came out while I was in college, sometime in the late 60’s. It was a great rugged design. They made it for a long time before switching to the K-1000 which was really the same camera with a polycarbonate body instead of a metal body and a bayonet lens mount instead of the old screw mount.

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