It was on this day 49 years ago — nearly half a century — that the front page of the Washington Post carried a simple large-font two-word banner headline: “Nixon Resigns.”
So ended the last great presidential drama that forever enshrined “Watergate” in history as the disgraced (“I am not a crook”) Nixon slinked back to his home in San Clemente, California to a post-presidential life that lasted for another 30 years. As he’d ungraciously said to reporters after his 1962 defeat for governor of California: “You don’t have Nixon to kick around any more, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.” Yet, even after his resignation, he spoke again, most notably to David Frost in a TV interview, during which he apologized, more or less.
Exulted Gerald Ford, his accidental successor, in his inaugural remarks as the 38th chief executive: “Our long national nightmare is over. Our constitution works. Our great republic is a government of laws and not of men.. Let us restore the golden rule to our political process. and let brotherly love purge our hears of suspicious and hate.”
Now, if you happen to own that historic Washington Post paper, though yellowed with age, it’s an artifact worth keeping. And if you kept the entire paper, you might note another story splashed across the front of the then vaunted Style section. The headline: “Mr. L.G. Broadmore And the Way It Was.” If you get past the headline to the byline (and the photo credits), you might just recognize the name: Eugene L. Meyer.
Somehow, I’d stumbled onto this living relic in the tiny Hudson Valley town of Tivoli, where he rented a small storefront and repaired player pianos, gramophones “and other outdated machinery, and… lives in an old house with no plumbing or central heading,” I wrote.
“Since time immemorial, mankind has striven to achieve new frontiers of knowledge and experience, consigning old theories, technologies and patterns to the junk heap of history. Not Lawrence Gilbert Broadmoore. At the age of 23, he was, as much as he could be, “the authentic obsolete man, frozen inside a protective pre-World War I time capsule. He says ‘Balderdash!’ And, with a restless 3 1/2 year old visitor pounding his parlor piano [my son, Eric], ‘One mustn’t bang too loudly.'”
He dressed like a turn-of-the-century man, his hair neatly parted in the middle. He wore high-neck starched collars. He learned how to dress from old mail-order catalogs, and how to speak from 19th century parlor novels. He lived in a rented 1915 farmhouse without electrical appliances, except for a refrigerator hidden under the basement steps, “the skeleton in his closet–and a 1910 vacuum cleaner.” No central heating. No indoor plumbing.
Why did he carry on in such a fashion? “L.G. Broadmoore is concerned with style, not events,” I wrote, “for events mark the passage of time and that is unthinkable in his world.”
His story–my story–would be forever a feature of this historic newspaper. It would also be reprinted in an anthology, “Writing in Style, from the Style section of the Washington Post. a new perspective on the people and trends of the Seventies.” Along with mine, the book contained pieces by, among others, Sally Quinn, Henry Allen, Michael Kernan, Myra MacPherson, Henry Michell, Joel Dreyfuss, and Judith (Miss Manners) Martin. What an honor to be included in this group of literary luminaries who wrote for the paper’s then most esteemed non-news section.
Somehow, word got around. He was profiled by The New York Times in May 1975, then in Time magazine. The reclusive Bard College dropout had despite his best efforts become a celebrity.
But time did march on, and L.G. Broadmoore eventually dropped the pretense to become Larry Broadmoore. Still, he did not lose interest in old things. He moved to San Fernando, California, where he opened the Broadmoore Piano Company. There for many years he repaired player and non-player pianos. He has a website, a cell phone, and an email address.
After all this time, I caught up with the former fin-de-siecle man the other day. “It’s been a while,” he noted. “A lot has changed. I gave up a lot of the old-fashioned ways, though I still feel pretty much the way I did. I am still deeply interested in the 19th century. I think about everything in that context.” But his reboot “has enabled me to function alongside others and cease being an object of interest. I wanted to have the opportunity to get along with people.”
His return to normalcy was prompted by an invitation to appear on the Merv Griffin Show. It was all just too much, and he turned it down. “I decided to be just as an ordinary citizen.”
Approaching 74, he is mostly retired but still does an occasional job, including a recent assignment to work on a player piano for the Will Rogers Foundation. He used to have so many of them himself. Now he’s down to just one that plays and two others that “all need work.”
Formerly L.G. Broadmoore, Larry Broadmoore carries on.
Today, August 9, is also notable for another event: On this day, the United States detonated a second atomic bomb, on the city of Nagasaki, resulting in an estimated 40,000 deaths and, arguably, convincing the Japanese emperor to overrule his military generals and accept unconditional surrender to end the Second World War. There would be no invasion of the Japanese home islands, with a million estimated casualties. Instead, Aug. 15 was V-J Day, and joyous celebrations erupted throughout the United States and elsewhere. How this came about is detailed by author Evan Thomas in his recently published Road to Surrender: Three Men and the Countdown to the End of World War II. Thomas was on a panel I moderated on politics and history in May at the 10th Washington Writers Conference and has also written on this subject for the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. The panel discussion resonated personally with me. In 1995, for the Post, I covered the controversy over the Smithsonian’s planned exhibit of the Enola Gay airplane that dropped the first A-bomb on Hiroshima and, unwittingly, I became a protagonist in the debate over traditional versus revisionist views of this cataclysmic event.
We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.
In other news, I’ve added two more cartons of files to the Eugene L. Meyer Papers at the Jane C. Sween Library of Montgomery History (formerly the Montgomery County Historical Society) in Rockville. To view the Archive Record (Scope & Content), click here.
For local readers: Takoma Park, Maryland has a new bookstore. It’s called People’s Book, and it’s located at 7014-A Westmoreland Avenue, just off Carroll Avenue, the historic town’s main street. It’s a great space, with a curated stock of great books, and I urge you to check it out! More good news: You may purchase Five for Freedom and Hidden Maryland at the store. If you are unable to do so, the books are still available online: Click on FFF and Hidden Maryland. It helps, too, if you like them, to rate and review these books on Amazon and Goodreads. Thanks!