David Greenberg

Today is mop-up day. My last day at Yorba Linda. Tons more to see, little time to see it.

One collection I haven’t checked out yet is that of Dana C. Smith, the Pasadena lawyer who administered the famous “Fund” Nixon found himself defending during the 1952 presidential campaign. (Mini history lesson: Smith had collected $18,000 from Nixon’s California backers to help defray costs his Senate expense account didn’t cover. It caused a major scandal, and Nixon almost had to withdraw as Eisenhower’s running mate.)

To me, the Smith papers tell a sad story. The Fund flap seems to have been the high point of his life. The file is full of correspondence between Smith and various Nixon biographers who, years later, wanted to re-investigate the saga. Even into the mid-’70s Smith is writing letters to the editor to the Pasadena Star News defending the Fund–thereby making the case for his own relevance. His daughter, too, falls into the web. There’s a college term paper of hers about the Fund in the file.

I can’t spend too much time on this stuff, though. After brief forays into some other material, I find the folders of early magazine articles about RN. Not just Life and the Saturday Evening Post but also Fortnight, a California magazine, The Rock, the Whittier College alumni magazine, and something called the Methodist Challenge (formerly Robert Schuller’s magazine). Adoring profiles, all.

Strangely, even the physical descriptions of RN are complimentary. “A handsome six-footer with jet-black hair,” “looks good on TV,” “a flashing smile,” and lots more of the same. My favorite: “Nixon just misses being handsome (he has fat cheeks and a duck-bill nose), but he is what women call ‘nice-looking’; he gives an impression of earnest freshness.” So different from the portraits of just a few years later. Those routinely described Nixon’s five o’clock shadow, his sagging jowls (those fat cheeks must have gotten fatter), his “ski-jump” nose. Murray Kempton once wrote that Nixon looked as though he had “a great wad of unmelting butter stuffed next to his lower jawbone.” Ugliness, I guess, is in the eye of the beholder.

Before I know it, it’s 4:45. A disappointment: I didn’t get much of value on my last day. A visit to the gift shop for souvenirs before my departure: Nixon T-shirts, Nixon golf balls, Nixon yo-yos. All of Nixon’s books. Other books too: The Cox report is on display today, piled on the front counter like the latest bestseller at Barnes & Noble; the California congressman is visiting the library next week. Meanwhile, hardback copies of Newt Gingrich’s To Renew America are stacked high on the $5 remainder table. I ask a saleswoman what the best-selling item is. Without pausing, she says it’s Nixon-and-Elvis memorabilia, which features a photo taken the day the King visited the White House in 1970. Appropriate, I think, that this place should feature two masters of the comeback. I buy some Nixon Library and Birthplace drinking glasses and head for the freeways.