Allen's Blog

Posts tagged ‘Evel Knievel’:

Evel Knievel’s Famous Snake River Canyon Jump

Last month, I wrote about the Watergate hearings in Washington that led to Richard Nixon’s resignation and farewell. I remember being really burned out from the intensity of those final weeks in Washington and needing a complete change of scenery and assignment. That’s how I got to spend the better part of the following month in Idaho with my buddy David Burnett, covering Evel Knievel’s failed attempt to rocket across the Snake River Canyon.

Evel Knievel strapped into his X-2 rocket

Every summer, there seems to be a wacky event or stunt that, by design or not, diverts the public’s attention from more urgent matters. Nixon was gone, but we were still deeply involved in Vietnam, although our combat forces had been withdrawn. And Evel Knievel fit the bill in late August and early September. Known for his stunts jumping motorcycles over ever-increasing numbers of obstacles, and breaking an ever-increasing number of bones in the process, the Snake River Canyon jump came from the Knievel’s collaboration with Bob Truax, a former aerospace engineer who conceived of a rocket-powered vehicle that would send Evel across the canyon.

Evel Knievel being interviewed by the press

Then, as now, it was all about hype and publicity. So that by the time September 8, 1974 arrived, media coverage all over the world was focused on the canyon near Twin Falls, Idaho. Knievel would have like to jump the Grand Canyon, but the National Parks Service put an end to that idea. The Snake River Canyon site was actually leased by Knievel and his backers. The full story of Evel Knievel is very well covered in Wikipedia – definitely worth your reading.

Evel Knievel signing a baby

As it all turned out, the jump failed. After the launch, and at the midpoint of the Skycycle X-2’s trajectory, the vehicle’s drogue parachute deployed and Knievel floated down to the bottom of the canyon. Many reasons were given for the failure, but the one that seemed most believable was that Knievel had his hand on a ‘dead man’s switch’ and that his letting go of it just after launch was what deployed the chute. He always denied that, but any time such a heavily promoted stunt ends in failure, there’s no lack of scapegoats.

Evel Knievel Snake River Canyon launch and abort

In a way, it was 1974’s version of Woodstock – many thousands of people, vast quantities of beer and controlled substances, but no rain and mud. And probably the single greatest number of motorcycles in one place in history. Knievel died in 2007, but lots of people who weren’t even born when he was performing still know the name and what he did.

Not long after, I was on my way to Cairo and other points in the Middle East for the rest of the year. More on that at another time…

“The End of the Story”: Nixon Resigns, Ending the Watergate Scandal

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.

Newspaper reading 'Nixon Resigning On TV Tonight'

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.

Tom Brokaw watching Nixon resigning with the White House in the background

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.

Tom Brokaw watching Nixon resigning on television

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.

Nixon boarding Air Force One

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.