Went out for a lovely autumn evening after-dinner walk. Just a few doors away from the home in the Spring Valley neighborhood of Washington, D.C., where we are staying these days, noticed an old man was out gardening in the bright moonlight. A broad hat brim shadowed his face from illuminating moon beams. How intently he absorbed himself in nocturnal husbandry of the well-kept yard in front of a venerable colonial bungalow.
The next day I mentioned the nighttime gardener to our friends who have lived there since the 1980’s. “Oh,” I was told, “that was Nixon’s house when he was the junior U.S. senator from California. Word in the neighborhood is the illusive night gardener is a heritage preservation volunteer or something like that, been doing it since the 1990’s.”
The first thing that came to my mind was the historic photo of Nixon giving a speech in front of the Laguna Beach city hall, back in the same era when he lived in that house we now pass on our walks. So, I did some research.
Nixon bought the house in 1951, a year before he was nominated as Eisenhower’s running mate in the 1952 presidential election. In that campaign the press accused Nixon of accepting improper gifts. He salvaged his candidacy for vice president in a famous speech refusing to give up the family dog, Checkers, that was a gift to his daughters.
Tasting blood in the political waters, the press next attacked Nixon for signing a “race covenant” in the deed for that very same house. Like similar covenants in some Laguna Beach community homes at the time, it prohibited future sale to “Negroes, Armenians, Jews, Persians, Syrians…”
That was common until the 1960’s civil rights laws ended overt housing discrimination. Ironically, in 1969 some thought Nixon should be excluded from buying a home in Laguna when Pyne Castle was rumored to be on the short list for his western White House!
I have not seen the nighttime gardener again. But I started to think about how the media pundits often reminded us Nixon “came back from the political dead” after losing to Kennedy in 1960 and then being defeated in the 1964 race for governor of California, only to win election as president in 1968.
Scary to think about, but is it really just a coincidence our mysterious gardener who no one actually knows started showing up in the mid-90’s shortly after Nixon died?
Now as the foliage begins to turn fall colors and pumpkins appear in windows and doorways, I’m wondering will the mysterious unknown gardener appear again.
If so, will I have the nerve to go see if the old man raking leaves in the shadows of our neighbor’s yard on Halloween night is really Nixon come back from the dead again?
Howard Hills, Washington, D. C.