Charley McDowell on Richard Nixon

Today marks the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon’s resignation from the presidency of the United States. To commemorate this event, A+A is running a passage from a column by the great Charley McDowell, which originally ran in the Richmond Times-Dispatch just hours before the resignation. It is a political travelogue of sorts, chronicling the impact of the news of the day on the Shenandoah Valley. Here, McDowell proves himself a master of both words and symbols. In his final paragraph, he makes a sly reference to Benjamin Disraeli’s announcement that when at last he assumed the office of Britain’s prime minister, “I have reached the top of the greasy pole.”

The first copies of the afternoon Waynesboro News-Virginian came off the press at 1:47, just two minutes late. A traveler bought a stickily fresh one at the front counter of the newspaper office.

The streamer headline said: Nixon to Quit. It was printed in red ink.

Pat Velenovsky, the managing editor, was sitting at a desk in the newsroom looking at the red headline. It was the first red one he had ever used. The type was the largest he could get, 72 point, and it had been doubled in size by a photographic process.

Velenovsky had written the headline early in the morning, and decided about noon to use it when a wire service reported that the Republican leader in the House, John J. Rhodes, had said the President definitely was resigning.

Edward P. Berlin Jr., the editor of The News-Virginian, walked in looking at the red headline and said he hoped Velenovsky would like it as much after the President’s speech as he did right now.

Velenovsky said he was not coming to work Friday if the red headline was wrong.

Berlin went back to his office and resumed drafting an editorial for today. Gazing at the paper in the typewriter, he said, “I have never known a man who wanted to be remembered by history as much as Richard Nixon. I have a sympathetic feeling for the man. Maybe Ford will have a chance to pull things back together.”

There was sunshine on Afton Mountain, puddles beside Interstate 64. The big No. 1 [a local radio station] had an announcement at 2:15: at the Greater Shenandoah Valley Agricultural Fair there would be a greased-pole-climbing at contest at 10 p.m.