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Two Presidents:Gale Interviews JFK and Nixon at the Ghost Town: A Time Travel Story
Kennedy with Khrushchev
Now I’ve figured out that the “Ghost town” where I have met so many unlikely people must be some sort of space/time thing. There was a science fiction book I saw once titled Crossroads of Time . This seems to be more a crossroad in time. Yeah, crossroad describes it fairly well. In some ways I enjoy the visits but regret I can’t write about them. Who would take me seriously as a journalist if I claimed these adventures as true?
This time I happened into the ghost town when I was on assignment to cover some town hall meetings in outstate Illinois, meaning other than Chicago. As a Chicago based station we cover the bigger centers, but once in a while I like to pick a meeting off the beaten path. The one I showed up at was held in the gym of one of those old brick two story schoolhouses that still are used in some places. Along with a camera operator I took a place a bit away from the main group so as not to draw attention to ourselves. As I scanned the crowd, I thought I saw someone who looked like President Kennedy. Couldn’t be him, he’s been dead for over half a century.
No Kennedy look alike, when we reviewed the footage later. At that point we decided to get a bite to eat and strolled over to an establishment that had a sign just saying ‘Saloon’ and pictures of beer and food. Once again I crossed a threshold into the time crossroads. Inside the saloon were a couple of faces I did recognize. People form the late 18th Century, Ed the Irish bartender from Carbons Creek and my own ancestor, Sarah who was publisher of the Carbons Creek Sentinel.
“Glad it is to see you Gale. I can barely tell you and Sarah apart.”
“Well, Ed. A lady’s clothes tell a lot about her. Take Sarah in her sunbonnet and long skirts and me in a plaid shirt and jeans. You should be able to tell us apart from that, I should think.”
Ed chuckled and said. “I should have thought of that. Do you see anything unusual about the two men sitting at the table over there?”
Looking in the direction that Ed pointed to, I swear I went weak, or as Ed would say swooned. “Have you ever read Alice in Wonderland?”
“Is that the story about a little girl who walked through a mirror and met weird things and characters?”
“That’s the one. Well since I’ve been coming to this ghost own, I’ve been feeling more and more like Alice. I’ve run into people, like you, who lived over a hundred years before I was born. I’ve seen people from different places and times together like it was normal...”
“Now you mention it,” Ed sort of fussed with cleaning the bar. “I always have a strange feeling of something not quite real about being here. I feel like I’m in Carbons Creek and here at the same time.”
“Maybe it’s because not much time really passes while we are here. We might be here for hours, but the clock only moves a few minutes in our own world.’
Gale Meets the Presidents
“What about the men over there, Ed?”
Sarah had been listening to our talk, but hadn’t joined in until now. “One of the men that look like Pinckertons referred to them as presidents... Neither of them looks like President Grant.”
“I got to kind of recognize guard people when I was in the Union Army,” said Ed. “They probably aren’t the Pinckerton detectives like guard President Lincoln, but they sure enough look like hired guns of some sort.”
“Do you know how strange that really is, Ed?” I mused.
“Those two men are both presidents of the United States. They are both dead. At least they were dead in my time.” It does seem to be a time crossroad.
Well, I wanted to interview these presidents, even if I couldn’t write about it. As it might be considered too forward for a lady, even a journalist, to introduce herself in this time and considering what male chauvinists the Kennedy families are, I asked Ed to introduce me as a visiting journalist to Presidents Kennedy and Nixon.
“You can call me Jack,” Kennedy smiled and took my hand.
“Thank you, Mr. President.”
I shook hands with him and then with his friend with the five-o’clock shadow. “The press has not always been kind to me, Miss Neilson.”
I thought Kennedy was coming on to me and Nixon, as always, was tone deaf to modern usage by calling me ‘miss.” He did look more relaxed than in the pictures I have seen of him. Both appeared middle aged, about what they would have looked in the famous 1960 presidential contest.
I introduced my cameraman and two of the “bystanders” came over to check out his equipment. Jason demonstrated how the camera worked and could play back a clip for the presidents. “Wonderful,” Nixon commented. “Technology gets better and better.”
“Truthfully Mr. President, the camera was not always kind to you. Remember the first debates? You didn’t understand the effect of the camera and the need to wear make-up. “
“Yes, that was an error on my part. I did learn about image projection later.”
“Indeed, you did,” Kennedy injected. “And you did get to be president later.”
“I did, and I intended to be a good one but I turned out to be a weaker man than I should have been and things got out of hand. I guess, like all people, we both had our strengths and weaknesses.”
I shifted the interview back to Kennedy. “How about you, President Kennedy? You and President Nixon worked together in the senate and were reportedly good friends.”
“We were. We both had weaknesses and failures in our own ways. My biggest blunder was the “Bay of Pigs” incident. It had been planned in eh previous administration. I got nervous about the American footprint on the operation and withheld air support. It is something I don’t think Dick would have done.”
“At least, Jack, you owned up to it, “Nixon interjected.
“I’ve read that the incident led the Russians to judge you as a weak leader and led to the “Cuban Missile crisis,” I said
“Thank God, I got us by that one without starting World war III.”
“That you did, Mr. President, but didn’t that lead us to involvement in Viet Nam? That war tore at the fabric of our society.”
“Yes, felt the need to draw a line in the sand and Viet Nam was it. Later, I saw it was getting unmanageable without escalating it more. I decided to back out, but thought it best to wait till after the elections. Then a sniper shot me in Texas.”
“So, you think it was Lee Harvey Oswald that killed you. There has been a lot of controversy over that.”
“I know everyone from my vice-president, Castro, the mob and maybe a few jealous husbands could have done it. I think usually the least complicated theory, in the end turns out to be true. I never worried too much about security because I figured when your time has come, it has come. I could have died in the war like my brother did, but I didn’t. Somebody always takes a potshot at a president, this happened to be my time.”
“Might you be a bit fatalistic because of the illnesses you had,” I asked.
“Well, President Kennedy, you had a share of successes, like the space program and handling the economy.”
I turned to Nixon, ”There is much belief that the 1960 election had voter fraud connected to it. Possibly from the mob. It was a close election, why didn’t you challenge it?”
“I did consider that, but decided that it would be bad for the country to have a fight over the election.”
“Think about it,” I said,” you had challenged it and won, there might have been a successful Bay of Pigs invasion, Cuba might be free, and there might not have been a Viet Nam War. “
“True, it might have happened as you say and Jack would not have been shot. Maybe I would have been who knows. I don’t think there would have been a Watergate either.”
“From what I’ve read I recall that the times around the 1960 election were rather good times. The two of you were seen as being pretty much alike—both former Navy officers, about the same age, policies pretty much the same. It seems it would have been a close election whatever the case. What were your individual strengths and weaknesses? How about you first President Kennedy?”
“Well, Dick had the obvious advantage of being VP. He’s articulate, logical, patriotic and many radio listeners thought he had the best of the debates. I think I had a better advantage in relating to the people on television.”
“Jack is right on a lot of that. He came from a prominent family, intensely motivated to have a family member become president. He’s handsome, very personable and able to project that to the audience. On the negative side he had severe health problems that were not generally known. His impulse to sexual liaison was unsettling, especially as he was a risk taker. If he had lived to a second term, some of those might have come back at him. A reckless streak, I dare say.”
“Come on, Dick. You’re being a bit stiff and puritanical. Maybe it’s your Quaker upbringing” Kennedy quipped.
.”I have a question for the two of you,” I interjected. “Why do you think the two of you are here together?”
Nixon responded first with his familiar scowl and then smiled. “I think Jack and I were somehow destined to be linked. This does seem to be a time crossroad of sorts, as you have mentioned. We are both men who came out of World War II, been Navy officers, been presidents during the Viet Nam war. Jack, after seeing how out of control the situation was and our worries about China or Russia getting further involved, he made plans to end it.”
“Dick may be right,” Kennedy said.
“We both had our moments of screwing up, but in our own ways tried to serve the country. Dick tried to wind down the war but lost control of his administration and resigned in disgrace. But later he became something of an elder statesman. I had some luck with applying tax cuts to the economy. I suppose I’ll be best remembered for the space program.”
Richard Nixon with Soviet Leonid Brezhnew
Time for reflection
The two presidents left, followed by the men surrounding them. “Well Gale,” Ed the bartender came and sat with me. “What I heard was astonishing. Great wars in the future, great or maybe not so great men falling in disgrace. What do you make of it?”
“I’m just a reporter Ed but it appears that every age has its heroes and villains. But they are all human. They have strength and weaknesses. In your time, President Lincoln was killed by an assassin’s bullet. Closer to my time, President Kennedy was also slain by such a bullet. In the popular mind they both became martyrs. President Nixon was a complex man. I personally think the pressures of a very unpopular war broke him down. I don’t think any of us know who will be weak or great at the time of a crisis.”
“Well Gale, I’m not a philosopher but a bartender sees a lot of people, big shots and ordinary folk. Trouble is that nobody wants to tell the big shots what they don’t want to here. President Lincoln tried to keep in touch with ordinary people to keep himself humble. But you tell me in your time the president is surrounded by mostly his own people who want to tell him any bad news.”
“Your right, Ed. I remember the congressional hearings about President Nixon. One of his chief persons testified about the fact that they seldom saw anyone that didn’t agree with them, they were practically all in the same profession and they were intoxicated with being at the seat of immense power. The trappings of the presidency could be intoxicating. The ruling class is very subject to pride, I think.”
“Ah,” Ed said. “That’s the problem. They need to be knowing what’s going on to be leaders. The need people who tell them the facts.” Ed put down the glass he has been polishing. It would be good if they went back to the old idea of having a court jester, like in the old days. The jester could tell the king anything without fear of reprisal.”
“Well,” I said, “we have had people such as Mark Twain who made critical and satiric remarks about the government.”
“That’s true, Gale but not the same thing. There should be someone in the system that talks directly to the leaders, maybe a cabinet post for a satirist, or a clown.”
Who knew that Ed was such a philosopher?
© 2013 Don A. Hoglund