Which photo is the most requested from the National Archives in Washington D.C.? Is it the raising of the American flag at the battle of Iwo Jima? Pearl Harbor? Landing on the Moon? Nope…..it is Elvis Presley visiting Richard Nixon in the oval office of the White House, 48 years ago today. Americans love the photo of the two men together who dominated their time, yet also seemed to be polar opposites of each other. There is a bizarre story behind the iconic photo, one worth knowing.
Late 1970 was a good time for both Nixon and Presley. The President was enjoying high favorability numbers in the polls. He had just founded the environmental protection agency, was working to enforce civil rights laws, and promising to end the war in Vietnam. Watergate was in the distant horizon. Elvis was back at the top of the entertainment world after a nine year absence from performing. Momentum was on his side after his famous 1968 comeback special, and he had just performed 10 straight nights of sold out shows in Las Vegas. “The King” was back.
Elvis 1968 Comeback
Photo Credit: The Commercial Appeal
In the days before Christmas of 1970, Elvis was angry. He had spent over $100,000 on guns and cars for Christmas gifts. His father and wife Priscilla both reprimanded him for what they perceived to be irresponsible foolishness. Elvis stormed out to the airport and asked to be put on the next available flight, which happened to be to Washington D.C. He was traveling without body guards for the first time in two decades. He quickly got bored in D.C., and decided to take another red eye flight to Los Angeles. Elvis was a collector of badges and guns, both of which he was traveling with. While in Los Angeles, he decided what he really wanted was a badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. He felt that it would allow him to travel anywhere in the world with his guns. So, he hopped on another flight back to Washington D.C., and wrote a six page letter to President Nixon, explaining that he was a fan of the president and wanted to meet him.
Photo Credit: The National Archives
When Elvis returned to Washington, he went straight to the White House and handed the letter to a guard. Luckily, the guard was a big Elvis fan, and took it to the President. Later that same day, wearing a purple jump suit, Elvis Presley arrived at the White House to meet the leader of the free world. He brought with him a colt .45 pistol as a gift to the President, which was quickly taken by secret service agents.
The December 21, 1970 meeting occurred before Nixon had installed his famous taping system in the oval office. However, Nixon aide Bud Krogh, who was in the room, later wrote about it. According to Krogh, Elvis discussed how he could help Nixon. He said the Beatles made their money by coming over to the United States in increments to drum up anti Americanism, and quickly go back to England, but that wasn’t the game Elvis was playing. He also explained how he didn’t care for hippies or the black panthers. Elvis kept repeating to Nixon that he was on his side, and could help him in the war on drugs. He also explained to the President that he had been studying communist brainwashing for over a decade and could be helpful in the cold war. Presley repeatedly stated that he was just a poor boy from Mississippi who had gotten a lot from the country, and wanted to help restore respect for the flag.
Photo Credit: The National Archives
At the end of the meeting, the President gave Elvis the badge that he wanted so badly, although he probably did not understand that it was just an honorary one. He spontaneously wrapped his arms around the President and gave him a lengthy hug. The meeting was kept secret for two years. Nixon would resign from the office less than four years after the meeting, Elvis would be dead three years after that. Today, the National Archives sells the photo in a variety of forms including magnets and coffee cups, and receives orders for them from all over the world.
You can visit the National Archives virtual exhibit on the meeting by clicking visiting here:
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