Easter at Camp David

The Nixons leaving Easter services in Thurmont in 1971.

The Nixons leaving Easter services in Thurmont in 1971.

Anyone with eyes knew just where President Richard M. Nixon and his family were Easter Sunday morning in 1971.

It was pretty widely known through town that the Nixons would be spending the weekend at Camp David, a favorite retreat for the president. Since it was also Easter weekend, speculation was on whether they would attend church on Sunday and which church they would choose.

“Gold Cadillacs, television cameras, photographers, newsmen, and Secret Service agents do not stand outside of a church in Thurmont for the average person,” the Catoctin Enterprise reported.

The church was the Thurmont United Methodist Church where the Reverend Kenneth Hamrick was pastor.

Prior to the Easter service, Mrs. Hamrick had received a call from Camp David asking for her husband. Rev. Hamrick was officiating at another church, but when he returned home, his wife had him return the call. That is when he found out that he would have special guests during his service that day.

This visit apparently came about because of Mrs. Hamrick. “Rev. Hamrick, a part-time White House employe[e], attended a staff reception last Christmas at which time Mrs. Hamrick had asked Mrs. Nixon to bring the President to her husband’s church sometime in the future,” The Frederick Post reported.

Not only did the president and first lady attend, but they were joined by Julie and David Eisenhower, former First Lady Mamie Eisenhower, and Tricia Nixon and her fiancée Edward Finch Cox.

“I didn’t mention their presence to others attending the services,” Hamrick told The Frederick Post. “I did mention the President, as well as other world leaders, in my prayers at the end of the service.”

Rev. Hamrick’s sermon dealt with the rejection of both Christ and Christianity in biblical and modern times.

Afterwards, Hamrick told the Catoctin Enterprise, “The President said the sermon was ‘very good, very pertinent’ and it appeared that I ‘had done my homework’.” He added that the first lady told him, “It made my Easter Day.”

The Nixons and their guests then returned to Camp David for an Easter dinner. Two months later, Tricia Nixon and Edward Cox would return to Camp David to spend their honeymoon there after their June 12 wedding.

President Nixon enjoyed spending time at Camp David. It was a place where he could think, relax, and get work done. He had worked on his first acceptance speech as the Republican presidential nominee there as vice-president. Although John F. Kennedy won that election, Nixon would return to Camp David in 1968 as president.

Dale Nelson tells a story in The President Is at Camp David that Nixon speechwriter William Safire tried making a case to Nixon’s appointment secretary, Dwight Chapin, that the president should spend more time in the White House not on an isolated mountain.

“Do you want to be the one who tells the president he can’t go to Camp David? Because it sure as hell isn’t going to be me.”

According to Nelson, when former President Dwight D. Eisenhower died in 1969, Nixon wrote his eulogy at Camp David. He made the decision to order troops into Cambodia during the Vietnam War there. He wrote his 1972 presidential nomination acceptance speech there.

The Nixons also spent Easter 1972 at Camp David. They also celebrated David Eisenhower’s 24th birthday during that Easter weekend.

The boys of Arendtsville Vocational High School stopped at Lake Erie on their return trip to Alaska in 1937. Photo courtesy of Gary Weikert.

The boys of Arendtsville Vocational High School stopped at Lake Erie on their return trip to Alaska in 1937.

The boys of Arendtsville Vocational High School had already seen so much during the summer of 1937. They had traveled across the United States, down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and upon an ocean to reach Alaska. It was almost too much to take in fully, and yet, their journey wasn’t complete.

From Vancouver, British Columbia, they climbed aboard a half-ton truck that they had specially outfitted to carry the 25 boys and their teacher, Edwin Rice.

“Most of the roads in British Columbia are dirt and not very good at that,” Rice wrote in a letter to The Gettysburg Times. “We were saturated with dust when we got to Asveyoos.”

They drove into Washington State where they watched the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam.

“Today it is one of the largest dams in the world, but then it was only about 50 feet high under construction,” Wayne Criswell said in the unpublished article, “The Journey of a Lifetime Summer 1937” about Criswell’s memories as told to James Wego.

The boys also stopped in Yellowstone National Park where they tried to take a swim in the hot springs. Criswell noted in the article, “a mistake, really hot!”

Whereas, their trip to the West Coast had followed a southern route across the country, their journey home took them along a northern route. They passed through the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. They crossed into Canada to travel to Niagara Falls and traveled south into the United States and over to Erie, Pennsylvania.

They returned home on August 3, having been gone for a little over six weeks.

“It was a fantastic trip, but it was good to see little, but beautiful Arendtsville,” Criswell wrote. “I had enough of travel for awhile.”

They had visited two countries and 24 states and territories as they traveled more than 9,000 miles. It truly was the adventure of a lifetime.

Criswell also recognized that it wouldn’t have happened it not for Rice, a teacher who went beyond the call. “Arendtsville High School and our group of students were lucky to have a teacher like Professor Rice,” Criswell said. “One who was interested and dedicated to broadening the experience and interests of so many young people. We all recognized, no doubt much later, just how much effort and hard work that he had expended to give us the very special experience and how much it had contributed to our knowledge and awareness of the world around us.”

Students from Arendtsville High School aboard the Prince Rupert on their way to Alaska. Courtesy of Gary Weikert.

Students from Arendtsville High School aboard the Prince Rupert on their way to Alaska. Courtesy of Gary Weikert.

Few of the boys of Arendtsville Vocational High School had traveled beyond the borders of Adams County, but in a short time during the summer of 1937, they had visited two countries, traveled through 19 states and territories, swam in two oceans, and were getting ready to sail on an ocean.

They boys had traveled a southern route across the country with their teacher, Edwin Rice, but now they were in Vancouver, British Columbia. There, they boarded the steamship, Prince Rupert. Since the group was traveling on a shoestring budget, they had booked passage on the freight deck. It was cramped quarters. The boys slept in bunk beds and the rooms had no windows, “but we could see out when the doors opened,” Wayne Criswell said in “The Journey of a Lifetime Summer 1937” an unpublished article Criswell told to James Wego.

The ship sailed up the inside passage headed toward Alaska. At times the sea was rough and some of the boys realized that they were prone to seasickness. Rice wrote in a letter to The Gettysburg Times, “’Bud’ McDonald says he does not wish me any bad luck but he wishes that I would get sick so he and the others could laugh.”

By and large, the boys enjoyed the voyage. “The ship had a real theater where we saw a live program of singing and readings. Fancy stuff!” Criswell wrote.

The first stop on the voyage was at Ocean Falls where they toured the Pacific Paper Mills and saw how paper was made from the trees being cut down until the finished produce came out of the machines.

In Alaska, the Prince Rupert docked among Navy destroyers at Ketchikon. “The immigration officer made us prove that we weren’t foreigners trying to sneak into a United States Territory,” Criswell wrote. Alaska wouldn’t become state until 1959.

The Prince Rupert’s next stop was in Juneau. This town amazed Criswell who noted that a portion of the town was built over water on wooden pilings because there wasn’t enough room at the base of the mountains.

He delighted in how long the days were in Alaska. “It was funny to be awake late in the night (like 11:00 P.M.) and have enough daylight for reading the paper,” Criswell said. It was only dark for three or four hours a day.

The third Alaskan stop was in Skagway where all of the streets were dirt roads and the sidewalks were boardwalks. Being agriculture students, the boys took note of the fruits and vegetables displayed in shop windows, which were “two or three times the size of those we grow at home.”

Sighting a nearby glacier truly let the boys know that they were in a foreign land, despite the fact that it was part of the United States. “The steamer blew its loud and sharp whistle, making part of the glacier break off and fall into the sea,” Criswell said.

Another new sight was the influence of the Eskimos that could be seen around Skagway in totem poles, carvings, and brightly colored outfits.

The boys also took a short ride out to where gold was shipped from the Alaskan mines and miners purchased new supplies.

“The gold rush must have been exciting,” Criswell mused.

While there, they decided to stretch their legs and take a hike. Skagway is surrounded by mountains and they were told that a beautiful lake could be found midway up.

“We walked up to this lake and it was pretty nice,” Rice wrote. “Back of the lake was a high water fall with a lake high up above, we wondered what it looked like from the other lake.”

They started up the mountain again. Five of the boys tired too quickly and turned back. The rest made it to the second lake after about 90 minutes of climbing. They were now above the tree line and there was snow on the ground.

“Looking to the north we could see the sea with the little town below,” Rice wrote. “The shore line is covered with trees and above the trees are snow-capped mountains stretching away to the north and east.” He added that it was the second-most-beautiful sight that he saw on the trip.

As the boys sailed back to the Vancouver, they boys visited the Frazer River Valley and watched the Indians there dry salmon on racks in preparation for the winter.

They took some time to fish and Rice even caught his first fish. “The fish seemed very willing to be caught. Almost as fast as a line was thrown in, a fish was on it,” Rice wrote.

The group once more boarded the truck they had specially equipped for the journey and set off once again across the United States, this time taking a northern route.

Students from Arendtsville Vocational High School had to dig their truck out of mud during their trip to Alaska in 1937.

Students from Arendtsville Vocational High School had to dig their truck out of mud during their trip to Alaska in 1937.

Twenty-six students from Arendtsville Vocational High School set out on a cross-country journey to Alaska and back on June 18, 1937. The trip had been years in the making and for the boys, many of whom had barely ventured to the furthest reaches of Adams County, no matter what happened, it would be well worth the wait.

They first headed east in their Ford half-ton flatbed truck, which had been specially outfitted to carry all of the boys, their teacher Edwin Rice, and everything they would need for their journey. Rice had taken his students on a number of summer trips over the years, but the 9,000-mile trip planned for 1937 was by far, the grandest trip that he had undertaken.

The traveled along the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Delaware, and down into Virginia. They stopped at Virginia Beach where the boys went swimming in the Atlantic Ocean. Many of the boys had never seen an ocean before, let alone swim in one.

Each evening the group stopped somewhere near a freshwater source so they had water to drink and wash with. They prepared their supper on the hand-made stove that they carried on the truck and performed different duties that they had been assigned. They camped out overnight and in the morning, cooked their breakfasts. Then they hit the road again stopping somewhere along the way for lunch.

Their southern route them through North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.

“The vastness of the country was mind-boggling and the experiences came so fast that they are hard to recount,” Wayne Criswell, a former student at the high school, told James Wego in the unpublished article, “The Journey of a Lifetime”. “In Oklahoma we were in a terrible dust storm. This was the period of the famous Dust Bowl climate in the west and mid-west – crop failures that devastated countless farmers and their families.”

In Texas, they traveled along the famous Route 66, which at the time was little more than a dirt road, according to Criswell. For the most part, that was not much of a problem, but the group ran into heavy rains in New Mexico. They pulled a tarp over the open bed of the truck to keep the boys dry, but the dirt road turned into “gumbo road” that mired the truck. It forced the boys to get out and push the truck free.

In Arizona, the group visited the Grand Canyon and stood at the edge in awe of what they saw before them.

“There were nothing but cliffs, gorges, the river, and it went on forever,” Criswell said.

The boys hiked nearly eight miles along a narrow trail that wound along the sides of cliffs down to the Colorado River. Their joy at reaching the bottom of the canyon was interrupted when one of the boys had an appendicitis attack and had to be taken back up the canyon and driven 90 miles to the nearest hospital in Flagstaff, Arizona.

From Arizona, they visited Bryce Canyon in Utah and then traveled to Salt Lake City where the State Director of Education met them and introduced them to Governor Henry H. Blood, who spent about 10 minutes talking with the boys.

They also attended a concert at the Mormon Tabernacle, which apparently put some of the boys to sleep.

They had more fun floating in the Great Salt Lake and driving across the salt flats. The salt in the flats reminded the boys of snow.

“One of the boys suggested, I think it was John Lynn, that if his imagination were a little stronger he would have frozen to death. It would have taken some imagination for the thermometer stood around 105 degrees,” Rice wrote in a letter to The Gettysburg Times.

From Utah, they drove into the Nevada and the American desert.

“We had practically all the types of weather the desert has to offer,” Rice wrote. “In the morning, it was so cold that it was uncomfortable; by noon it was so hot it was worse than uncomfortable; by 4 o’clock in the afternoon, thunder stormed could be seen in the horizon and a cloud that looked like the worst kind of hail storm was directly in front of us.”

Out of the desert, they traveled up into the mountains and over Tioga Pass, which is nearly 10,000 feet above sea level.

“The road was so steep that we had to get out and walk next to the truck; otherwise it would not make it and overheat the motor,” Criswell said.

At the top of the mountain, the boys took a break and had a “terrific snow ball fight.”

Once in California, they headed down the mountain to Yosemite National Park.

“There were steep narrow roads with hairpin turns,” Criswell said. “It would take make times of backing up, turning, backing up, turning, etc. to finally find a straight road.”

They spent the night in Yosemite and got to see a “waterfall of fire.” In a practice that ended in 1968, a huge bonfire was set afire and then pushed over a high cliff.

From the park, they headed toward San Francisco, anxious to travel across the Golden Gate Bridge, which had opened to traffic just three weeks earlier.

“On our way to California we saw a truck carrying fresh apricots,” Criswell said. “Our truck was so close to it that we were able to “pick some off’. Maybe that is why they tasted so good.”

When they reached San Francisco, they were disappointed to find that they would not be allowed to drive their truck across the bridge. They had to take use the older Oakland Bridge instead.

They drove up the coast from San Francisco, passing through Oregon and Washington and into Canada. They stopped in Vancouver where they would leave the truck for a while to travel aboard the Prince Rupert of the Canadian National Steamship Line.

During this first part of their journey, the group from Arendtsville had driven through 19 states and territories, but now they were about to experience sailing on an ocean.

The students of Arendtsville High School preparing to set out across country in 1937 in their specially outfitted half-ton truck.

The students of Arendtsville High School preparing to set out across country in 1937 in their specially outfitted half-ton truck.

Arendtsville is a small town in south central Pennsylvania 3,800 miles from Alaska. In 1937, a group of teenagers set out from their little community with Alaska as their destination.

The teenagers were students of Arendtsville Vocational High School. The school had first opened as a two-year high school in 1911 on the second floor of the elementary school. Enrollment quickly grew and within a couple years the students moved to the second floor of the fire house on South High Street, according to the National Apple Museum web site.

The students got their own building in 1914 when the school board voted to build a high school on South High Street. The course work was expanded to a three-year program.

This was due to the urging of Edwin Rice, who was a student a State College. His arguments convinced people and support grew for a vocational school. In 1917, Butler and Franklin Townships joined together to establish the Arendtsville Joint Vocational High School.

Rice eventually became a teacher at the new school and every few years, he organized a summer trip for students. “Some teachers, it seemed, taught the subject matter in a very formal way; you either understood the material and passed or, for whatever reason, failed. Mr. Rice went far beyond the subject matter and was truly interested in broadening the horizon of education to the real world,” Wayne Criswell, a former student at the high school, told James Wego in the unpublished article, “The Journey of a Lifetime”.

During the summer of 1937, he planned to take 26 students on “a 9,000 mile journey in six weeks on the road to places only known from textbooks, stories by adults, or perhaps a rare movie,” Criswell said.

Rice had been taking his students on summer trips roughly every other year for the previous 15 years. So the idea of a summer trip was familiar with people in the community, but many, including staff at the high school, thought taking a 9,000-mile trip to Alaska and around the county was too much.

Rice didn’t think so. He’d been thinking about it for years. He knew that financing a trip was going to be hardest part. Each student would need to raise around $1,500, a princely sum during the heart of the Great Depression. Most families couldn’t afford to contribute much. Rice met with the families a few times to explain his plans and how each family could afford the trip.

However, the students were agriculture students so Rice arranged to lease about 30 acres of farmland.

“Every boy had to work on the fields, as part of his share of the expense. The harvested crop, done by the boys, was sold to a canning plant in Gettysburg (Burgoon and Yingling) and, of course, had to be transported to the facility,” Criswell said. The students going on the trip did this for three years prior to the trip.

Students also sold shell seeds during the winter.

By the summer of 1936, enough money had been raised that Rice purchased a half-ton truck with an open bed. It was a new 1936 Ford truck, but it was a demonstrator model. The truck was outfitted to hold all 26 boys and Rice. The open bed had benches installed along the sides and up the middle where the boys would ride. Each bench had a flip-top so that items could be stored inside. There was a clothing rack over the cab and a tarp was stored there that could be unrolled over the bed if it rained. Between the wheels on the driver’s side of the truck a handmade stove and cooking utensils. On the other side of the truck between the wheels, food and a keg of water were stored.

In addition to the money that needed to be raised, each boy had to take $50 dollars in order to purchase one meal a day. Each family also to supply 16 quarts of canned foods, which would be used to feed the boys at other times.

Each boy was assigned a duty that he was expected to do during the trip. For instance, Criswell’s job was to check the oil and water in the truck daily and top them off if needed.

Once the truck was outfitted and the parents’ questions answered, the group was ready to set off as the summer of 1937 began.

The students participating in the trip were: Paul Tate, Lester Carey, Donald Warren, Robert Knox, Roland Orner, Russell Barber, Blair Fiscel, Sterling Funt, Paul Cole, William Oyler, Wayne Criswell, Edgar McDonnell, Glenn Bream, Bruce Hartman, Joseph Redding, Warren Bushey, Orville McBeth, Jesse Fiscel, Rodney Taylor, John Andrews, Fred McDannell, Ralph Cooley, John Linn, Glenn Kime and Samuel Rice (the youngest member of the group at age 11).

image_681x432_from_275,3664_to_2509,5082I bought The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City & Sparked the Tabloid Wars awhile back. It finally worked its way to the top of my “to read” pile. I wish I had read it sooner because I really liked it.

The main story involves the identification of a dismembered corpse. Once the body is identified as William Guldensuppe, which leads to two suspects, Augusta Knack, Guldensuppe’s lover, and Martin Thorn, Knack’s lover. However, it is much harder for the police to figure out which of the two suspects committed the murder and whether the other was a willing participant or a dupe.

While the pursuit of the murderer makes an interesting story in itself, the secondary story of how the newspapers played up the story to the point of actually becoming part of the story is just as interesting. Reporters planted evidence, interrogated witnesses, and enlisted their readers in the search for missing body parts.

This was the age of “yellow journalism” with the newspapers of William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer competing against each other to be number one.

The story flowed like a bestselling mystery and kept me interested throughout. I kept bouncing back and forth over which of the two suspects committed the murder.

Collins also does a great job of setting the scene. He puts you in the period with colorful descriptions of life in the city.

I found after reading the book that I was searching the Internet looking for the newspapers and books mentioned in the book.

The U.S.S. Princeton burning after she was hit by a Japanese bomb during the Battle of Leyte in WWII.

Before Francis J. Menchey could fight for his country amid the islands of the Pacific Ocean during World War II, he first had the win the battles against the draft boards at home that didn’t want him to fight.

When Menchey graduated from Gettysburg High School in 1943, the U.S. had been at war with the Axis Powers for about 18 months. Like many Americans, the young man wanted to do his part to help his country. Shortly before his graduation, he traveled to Baltimore to try and enlist in the U.S. Navy.

The U.S. Navy rejected him because the physician at the enlistment center said Menchey had a hernia. That was news to Menchey who felt perfectly fine and had never had any indication that he had a hernia.

“Returning to Gettysburg, Menchey consulted his family physician who declared that he was physically fit for service,” the Gettysburg Times reported.

He tried to enlist locally and was told the same thing. He was unfit because he had a hernia. Then the local draft board called for him to enlist, but he was again rejected for a third time as being unfit.

After graduation, Menchey took a job with Eastman Kodak in Rochester, N.Y., but he didn’t give up on his hope of serving in the military. He had the plant’s physician examine him.

“There just isn’t anything wrong with you,” the doctor told him.

So Menchey tried to enlist in Buffalo, N.Y., and was turned down for a fourth time.

When he returned to Gettysburg for Christmas with his family in 1943, he was called up for induction by his draft board again. He traveled to Harrisburg where he was examined and finally, on this fifth attempt to join the military, he was accepted. However, he was told that he would be leaving on January 4, 1944, for army boot camp. Menchey wanted to join the navy. He asked to be reassigned to the navy but he was turned down.

“He then appealed to a Navy Commander who ‘changed’ the induction paper after he confirmed Menchey’s statements that his Navy enlistment papers of several months previous were still on file,” the Gettysburg Times reported.

Menchey reported to boot camp at Great Lakes and was then sent to corpsmen’s school in San Diego and onto Radium Plaque Adaptomter’s school on Treasure Island off San Francisco.

“Six months after his induction Menchey was at Pearl Harbor and a few weeks later he was aboard a task force flagship en route to his first engagement at Angar in the Peleliu group,” the Gettysburg Times reported.

He also participated in the battles of Leyte, Luzon and Iwo Jima. One time a Japanese bomber strafed Menchey’s ship, wounding 17 men and barely missed crashing into the ship.

The Battle of Leyte was a two-month-long battle against the Japanese in the Philippines. It was the first battle in which the U.S. forces faced Japanese kamikaze pilots. Menchey’s ship was the acting general communications ship for the attack force. It was under an air attack 85 times in 30 days and general quarters was sounded 149 times during that month. Menchey was part of a medical group of six doctors and 27 corpsmen who took care of the wounded and dying who were brought aboard the ship. At one point, they were caring for 215 men with serious injuries and 375 ambulatory wounded. When the fighting was finished, nearly 53,000 soldiers had been killed.

Menchey was given a month-long leave in early 1945 and returned home to visit his family.

“Rejected three time by the navy and turned down once by draft board examiners Francis J. ‘Dick’ Menchey, Pharmacist Mate Third Class, is home from the Pacific wars with four battle stars and an extra star for having survived 85 air attacks in thirty days while his ship was laying off Leyte Island, 13 of his 18 months were spent in the Pacific war zone,” the Gettysburg Times noted.

He was discharged from the Navy in in February 1946. When he returned home, he brought his new wife, Della C. de Baca, whom he had met in San Francisco.

This local hero died in 2002.


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