Horror History Today 75 Years Ago With Dick Nixon And A ‘Pumpkin’

December 2, 2023

In the ripple pool off my 75th birthday last Wednesday — my post here on the ludicrous, noted event — one of the offshoots was Henry Kissinger kicking the bucket that day, too. He joins a small, select group who have passed on my birthday (my most-favorite Beatle George Harrison, 2001; an early crush, Natalie Wood in 1981; also Cary Grant, 1986, among a shitload of lesser beings), but Kissinger was beyond the pale from all the rest.
He was so bad (Slate): ‘In fact, Kissinger repeatedly expressed contempt for Jews and Judaism throughout his career. “If it were not for the accident of my birth, I would be antisemitic,” he said in 1973, according to his biographer Walter Isaacson. “Any people who has been persecuted for two thousand years must be doing something wrong.” That same year, he dismissed American Jews concerned about the fate of Soviet Jews facing persecution as “self-serving” “bastards.” Jewish emigration out of the USSR, he told Nixon, “is not an objective of American foreign policy, and if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.” One of his first actions as secretary of state was to rescind State Department employees’ right to take off Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

And as an ugly aside and countermeasure to the horrifying Kissinger is the original burst of Dick Nixon’s claw to fame on this day 75 years ago — three days after I was born — ain’t that some shit?
Long before Nixon and Kissinger found togetherness in the cruel bombing of Cambodia, the wretched horror of Chile, the genocide of Bengali Hindus, among other atrocity-loaded shit, there was a pumpkin:

Interesting story and weird, unleashing Tricky Dick’s horrible, terrible career — Gordon F Sander at The Washington Post this morning with the details:

Seventy-five years ago Saturday, after most Americans had discarded the shrunken remains of their festive, hollowed-out Halloween pumpkins, a very different hollowed-out pumpkin suddenly burst into view — one that would supercharge the political career of a certain red-baiting freshman congressman from California.

The squash in question belonged to Whittaker Chambers, a confessed former Soviet spy and the star witness in the long-running House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) espionage case against former State Department official Alger Hiss. The pumpkin’s decidedly un-festive contents, which quickly became known as the Pumpkin Papers, consisted of a set of microfilm containing top-secret government documents that Hiss had allegedly passed on to Chambers when they working for the Soviets in the 1930s.

The congressman in question was Richard M. Nixon. And those five cans of microfilm HUAC investigators unearthed at Chambers’s Maryland farm shortly after midnight on the morning of Dec. 2, 1948, made Nixon famous.


Then in his first term, Nixon had joined the committee in 1947. In May 1948, Nixon had won favor with the right-wing crowd by sponsoring the Subversive Activities Control Act, known as the Mundt-Nixon Bill, which would have required Communist Party members to register with the government. The controversial bill passed the House but was defeated in the Senate.

During the Hiss-Chambers hearing that year, Nixon declared that he believed Chambers and pressed his colleagues to follow up on the former Soviet spy’s dramatic allegations, though Chambers lacked documentary proof to back them up. The outraged Hiss proceeded to file a slander suit against Chambers, who had claimed publicly on “Meet the Press” that Hiss “was a communist and may be [one] now.”

But by early December 1948, the episode had faded from view, as had the Justice Department’s parallel investigation. “The Justice Department’s investigation of the Hiss-Chambers affair is about to die for lack of evidence,” reported the New York Times on Dec. 2, adding, “unless something new turns up.”

In fact, something new had just turned up, in the form of Chambers’s pumpkin. Two HUAC investigators had accompanied Chambers to his Maryland farm in the early hours of that morning. There, he led them to his prized pumpkin patch and a hollowed-out specimen, from which they removed five cans of microfilm containing State Department and Navy photographs.


Meanwhile, Nixon — his doubts about Hiss’s credibility vindicated — seized the moment. The 35-year-old Republican was on a ship in the Caribbean when news of the pumpkin’s discovery broke, but a Coast Guard rescue plane brought him ashore and he was flown to Washington, the Times reported. In the days that followed, photos of Nixon triumphantly brandishing the instantly famous Pumpkin Papers were splashed across the press.

The rest, of course, is history. Two years later, in 1950, as Joseph McCarthy had begun his reign of accusatory terror and the second Red Scare was approaching its delirious apex, Nixon was elected to the U.S. Senate, thanks in no small part to the recognition he had gained from the Hiss case.

That same year, Hiss was convicted of perjury in New York and sentenced to five years in prison. Asked for a comment by a reporter, Chambers said: “I hope the American people will realize the debt they owe to this jury and the FBI. Nor should they forget Congressman Richard Nixon of California, who single-handedly forced the House Committee on Un-American Activities to pursue the Hiss investigation.”

Nixon would never forget the Pumpkin Papers and the role they played in jump-starting his political career. The case helped shape his political image, and the reputation it gave him was probably a factor in Dwight D. Eisenhower’s selection of Nixon as his running mate in 1952.

Sander, a journalist and historian based in Riga, Latvia, author of “The Hundred Day Winter War,” also ties the Pumpkin ‘Papers‘ to a shitload of history to follow — what makes a catchy pick-up for a news cycle:

Meanwhile, Chambers’s pumpkin had entered the American cultural bloodstream. At the climax of “North by Northwest,” Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 espionage thriller, Cary Grant alludes to the case when he confides to Eve Marie Saint, “I see you’ve got the pumpkin,” referring to a statue she is holding containing microfilm.

At the same time, the word “Papers,” with a capital “P,” entered the lexicon as shorthand for a set of secret or incriminating documents. The Pentagon Papers, Panama Papers, Pandora Papers and more would follow Chambers’s renowned pumpkin’s lead.

Scenes end, though, whether you have ‘papers‘ or not — Nixon drama-queen break-down resignation: ‘But no more. Now he was in a hidden corner of the White House, sobbing in the arms of Henry Kissinger, who died Wednesday at age 100. Veteran Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein captured the scene in their 1976 book “The Final Days”: the most powerful man in the world, ruined by his own actions, held by a man whose own hold on power would be hailed and condemned in the decades to come.

Until last week without an actual regret — now too late:

History can suck, or not, yet here we are once again…

(Illustration out front: Edvard Munch‘s ‘The Scream,’ lithograph version, found here.)

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