Today marks the 36th anniversary of of Richard Nixon’s resignation from the presidency. I was in Washington, working for The New York Times Magazine on what was to be the last in a series of long-form stories dedicated to Watergate and its aftermath. I remember that the issue was to be called “The End of the Story,” and that while most journalists (and most of the country) felt that resignation, rather than an impeachment trial, would be the outcome, the exact timing was in doubt.
I was on Capitol Hill, photographing one of the members of the House Judiciary Committee, when he took a phone call indicating the resignation would come that evening. He suggested (and I already knew) that the White House was the place to be. From that moment, things played out very quickly. I remember taking a moment to shoot the picture of the young man in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue just because it tied the event to the location.
When President Nixon addressed the nation that evening, I chose to be in Lafayette Park, across from the White House. It probably should have been a more somber occasion, but Nixon was such a polarizing figure that, in the park and other public places, the atmosphere was festive. After all, the illegal activities that were denied for so long had now been confirmed, and millions of Americans felt vindicated in their dislike of the man and his closest associates.
These two pictures from the park were not published the next day (or ever) but I think tell the story. Tom Brokaw, then 34 and the White House correspondent for NBC News since 1973, watched and reported on Nixon’s speech from Lafayette Park, with the White House as his backdrop and surrounded by crowds who could see Nixon on the same TV set that Brokaw was using as a monitor. The hand-lettered signs were all anti-Nixon (the one that still stands out: Jail to the Chief.) I do remember taking a published picture later that evening on Pennsylvania Avenue — a jubilant crowd carrying a long white banner: Happy Days Are Here Again.
Anyway, the resignation officially took place at noon the following day, and I had a great position at Andrews Air Force Base as still-President Nixon boarded Air Force One with his wife, family members, and aides for the flight to California. No big wave as he entered the plane, just the image of a disgraced president slowly climbing the stairs with Pat. At the bottom of the frame, his daughter, Tricia Nixon Cox, and her husband, who boarded after her parents.
From there, it was a very quick drive back to the White House and the swearing-in of Gerald Ford as our next president. The next big story of the summer? Evel Knievel and his failed attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon in Idaho. More on that later.
This post concludes our three-part series on the Watergate scandal. Click here if you missed our earlier posts on Watergate, with photos from the Senate Watergate hearings and Nixon’s televised address on Watergate.