September 8 is Pardon Day

Today is Pardon Day. On September 8, 1974, President Gerald Ford issued a controversial pardon to Richard Nixon, who had resigned on August 9, 1974 (a.k.a. National Veep Day.) What follows is an excerpt. Read the full proclamation here.

As a result of certain acts or omissions occurring before his resignation from the Office of President, Richard Nixon has become liable to possible indictment and trial for offenses against the United States. Whether or not he shall be so prosecuted depends on findings of the appropriate grand jury and on the discretion of the authorized prosecutor. Should an indictment ensue, the accused shall then be entitled to a fair trial by an impartial jury, as guaranteed to every individual by the Constitution.

It is believed that a trial of Richard Nixon, if it became necessary, could not fairly begin until a year or more has elapsed. In the meantime, the tranquility to which this nation has been restored by the events of recent weeks could be irreparably lost by the prospects of bringing to trial a former President of the United States. The prospects of such trial will cause prolonged and divisive debate over the propriety of exposing to further punishment and degradation a man who has already paid the unprecedented penalty of relinquishing the highest elective office of the United States.

Now, THEREFORE, I, GERALD R. FORD, President of the United States, pursuant to the pardon power conferred upon me by Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, have granted and by these presents do grant a full, free, and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from January 20, 1969 through August 9, 1974.

Pardon Day

Gerald R. Ford

The scandal leading up to Nixon’s resignation came to be known as “Watergate” because of the first crime officially attributed to Nixon’s “dirty tricks” campaign. On June 17, 1972, five men were arrested for breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate building in Washington DC, placing wiretaps and stealing records. (An earlier break-in, in May 1972, had been successful but the audio quality of the bugs was considered unacceptable, necessitating another trip.) The burglars were carrying cash from the campaign fund. Two more men were later indicted in the case.

On July 16, 1973, White House aide Alexander Butterfield revealed in a televised hearing that the Secret Service had, at Nixon’s behest, installed a recording system in the White House in February 1971. According to information on file at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, seven microphones were placed in the Oval Office: five in his desk and one on each side of the fireplace. Two more microphones were installed on the underside of the table in the Cabinet Room.

In April 1971, Secret Service technicians installed four microphones in the desk of the president’s private office in the Old Executive Office Building. They also tapped the telephone lines there, in the Oval Office and in the Lincoln Sitting Room, which was Nixon’s favorite room in the White House. In May 1972, they placed a microphone in Nixon’s study at Camp David and tapped the phones on his desk and on a nearby table.

He was not the first president to record meetings; the practice dates back to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s time in office. But Nixon’s system was voice-activated so he wouldn’t have to press a button to capture conversations. His convenient disregard for the need to judge which conversations merited violation of privacy meant that everything he’d said, including self-incriminating statements, had been preserved.

Chief Judge John Sirica of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, presiding over the trial of the Watergate burglars, saw an opportunity to confirm his suspicions that they hadn’t acted alone. He ordered President Nixon to turn over nine tapes of 64 White House conversations to Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor in charge of investigating the allegations of Nixon’s misconduct.

Pardon Day

Richard M. Nixon

Nixon refused, citing Constitutional separation of powers, executive privilege and national security concerns. On October 19, 1973, Nixon proposed that U.S. Senator John Stennis, a Mississippi Democrat, review the tapes and report his findings to Cox as a compromise. When Cox rejected the offer, Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to dismiss him; he refused and resigned.

Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus was approached and also refused to follow the president’s directive, generating such ill will that his firing was announced by the White House while he was in the midst of writing his letter of resignation. Solicitor General Robert Bork became acting Attorney General and immediately fired Cox per Nixon’s instructions.

Bork’s dismissal of Cox was challenged in a lawsuit filed by consumer advocate Ralph Nader and others. Per the New York Times:

On Nov. 14, 1973, Federal District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell ruled that the dismissal of Mr. Cox, in the absence of a finding of extraordinary impropriety as specified in the regulation establishing the special prosecutor’s office, was illegal.

The Justice Department did not appeal the ruling, and because Mr. Cox indicated that he did not want his job back, the issue was considered moot.

In a memoir published a few months after his death in 2012, Bork claimed that Nixon promised him the next available Supreme Court seat in exchange for doing his bidding. This would seem to contradict his repeated assertions that he had acted purely in the interest of the law, believing that Cox did not have the authority to prosecute the president.

Bork was finally nominated to the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan in 1987. His actions of fourteen years earlier were savaged by press and politicians, contributing to his defeat and the addition of his name to the lexicon of English slang.

transitive verb \ˈbȯrk\
:to attack or defeat (a nominee or candidate for public office) unfairly through an organized campaign of harsh public criticism or vilification

Even with Bork’s willing participation, Nixon’s efforts were in vain. After he appointed Leon Jaworski to replace Cox, the new special prosecutor issued a new subpoena for the same tapes, chosen to confirm or refute the damning testimony of former White House Counsel John Dean.

Hoping to mollify the judge and the public, Nixon turned over edited transcripts of 43 conversations, including portions of 20 of the conversations cited in the subpoena. Nixon’s attorney, James St. Clair, moved to quash the subpoena, stating:

The president wants me to argue that he is as powerful a monarch as Louis XIV, only four years at a time, and is not subject to the processes of any court in the land except the court of impeachment.

Sirica denied the motion and ordered the president to turn the tapes over by May 31, 1974. Both Nixon and Jaworski appealed directly to the U.S. Supreme Court to intercede. It began hearing arguments in the case, United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683, on July 8, 1974.

The court wished to reach a unanimous decision on an issue of such gravity so Judge William Rehnquist, appointed by Nixon, recused himself from the proceedings. On July 24, 1974, it upheld Judge Sirica’s ruling 8-0. Nixon was forced to hand over the requested recordings, but there was an 1812 minute gap in a June 20, 1972, audio tape.

Secretary Rose Mary Woods claimed responsibility for up to five minutes of the erasure, although her demonstration of how it could occur, requiring the simultaneous and continuous pressing of controls several feet apart, strained credulity. The press dubbed the maneuver the “Rose Mary Stretch.” The contents of the gap remain a mystery.

pardon day

Wood demonstrates how she could have erased tape.

Nixon had good reason to fear the release of the tapes. In one conversation on June 23, 1972, six days after the arrests, he told Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman to strong-arm Richard Helms and Vernon Walters, director and deputy director of the CIA, and convince them to advance a bogus national security reason for the break-in and advise the FBI to cease its investigation.

The president expected compliance because his administration had, as he put it, “protected Helms from one hell of a lot of things.” He instructed Haldeman:

When you get in these people when you…get these people in, say: “Look, the problem is that this will open the whole, the whole Bay of Pigs thing, and the President just feels that” ah, without going into the details… don’t, don’t lie to them to the extent to say there is no involvement, but just say this is sort of a comedy of errors, bizarre, without getting into it, “the President believes that it is going to open the whole Bay of Pigs thing up again. And, ah because these people are plugging for, for keeps and that they should call the FBI in and say that we wish for the country, don’t go any further into this case,” period!

The Bay of Pigs Invasion was a failed attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro in Cuba. The paramilitary group that carried out the attack on April 17, 1961, had been trained and funded by the CIA. When the operation was exposed, it caused embarrassment to the agency and to President John F. Kennedy, who had approved the action.

Nixon’s reference to the “Bay of Pigs fiasco” was meant to raise the specter of a shameful episode in the CIA’s past while implying that another could be engineered if Helms didn’t cooperate. He refused. On November 20, 1972, the president summoned Helms to Camp David and informed him that his services were no longer required. He appointed him Ambassador to Iran to keep him in the fold.


Three days after the Supreme Court’s ruling, the House Judiciary Committee issued the Articles of Impeachment, which concluded that Nixon maintained a “secret investigative unit,” funded in part by the Committee for the Re-Election of the President (CRP). He used the resources of the FBI, CIA, Secret Service and other executive personnel to conduct surveillance, illegally obtain IRS records, initiate discriminatory tax audits, and harass political opponents and activists.

The existence of the tape recordings turned allegations into fact, proving obstruction of justice and abuse of power. Facing almost certain removal from office, Nixon chose to resign on August 9, 1974, addressing the nation on television the night before.

“By taking this action, I hope that I will have hastened the start of the process of healing which is so desperately needed in America,” he said, adding, “I deeply regret any injuries that may have been done in the course of the events that led to this decision.”

In a final speech to White House staff, Nixon tearfully declared, “Those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself,” wisdom perhaps too bleak for a fortune cookie but well-suited to an unemployable despot.

A total of 69 people were charged with crimes; 48 people and 20 corporations eventually pled guilty. Twenty-five were sent to prison, among them many who had been top officials in Nixon’s administration. President Richard Nixon was, of course, pardoned by his successor Gerald Ford on September 8, 1974, whose decision may have helped cost him the 1976 election. It seems that the hatred of which Nixon spoke destroyed others as well.


We hope you will pardon us for going into so much depth while still only scratching the surface of this issue. We always come back to the same question: Why did this guy get a library?

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

April 3 is Tweed Day

Today is Tweed Day, but it doesn’t celebrate the woolen fabric favored by the British upper class for sporting outfits and by college professors for suede-elbowed lecture hall jackets.

Instead, Tweed Day is named for one of the most corrupt politicians in New York history. William Magear “Boss” Tweed was born on April 3, 1823. He began his political life in 1851 as a city alderman. Five years later, he was elected to a newly-established city board of supervisors and began to consolidate his power in Tammany Hall, the seat of the Democratic political machine in New York City.

tweed day

Tweed once said, “I don’t care who does the electing so long as I get to do the nominating.” Candidates he backed were elected governor of New York, mayor of New York City and speaker of the state assembly. He installed allies in city and county positions as well; the network became known as the “Tweed Ring.”

He opened a law office in 1860 to extort money from corporations under the guise of high fees for his “legal services,” despite the fact that he was not a lawyer. He began purchasing acres of Manhattan real estate, then promoting the expansion of the city into those areas.

Eight years later, Tweed was elected to the New York State Senate and also became the official leader of Tammany Hall. In 1870, he and his ring passed a new charter that placed them in charge of the city treasury. They began to systematically drain the city’s coffers using fake vouchers and leases, padded invoices and other means.

Business leaders like John Jacob Astor turned a blind eye to Tammany Hall, as long as it continued to line their pockets and keep immigrants in line. But by 1871, it became apparent that graft had brought the city to the brink of financial collapse. In July of that year, 60 died in a riot between Irish Protestants and Roman Catholics at a parade. The city’s well-to-do began to feel threatened and blamed Tweed for failing to control the rabble and keep them safe.

Tweed was arrested and, while out on bail, campaigned for and won re-election to the state senate. He was rearrested and forced to surrender his city posts and resign as Tammany leader. In January 1873, his first trial ended in a hung jury. His second trial that November resulted in a fine of $12,750 and twelve years in prison. A higher court later reduced the sentence to one year.

Soon after his release in 1875, New York State filed a civil suit against Tweed in an attempt to recover $6 million in embezzled funds; he was arrested yet again and held in Ludlow Street Jail. He couldn’t post bail but was allowed home visits and took the opportunity to escape to Spain, where he worked as a seaman.

Tweed had long despised political cartoonist Thomas Nast, saying, “I don’t care so much what the papers say about me. My constituents don’t know how to read, but they can’t help seeing them damned pictures!” His hatred deepened after someone recognized him from Nast’s drawings and turned him in. He was detained at the Spanish border and returned to the U.S. on an American warship.

After his return to Ludlow Street Jail in November 1876, Tweed agreed to testify against his former ring in exchange for his release. But after he had done so, the governor of New York reneged on the deal. He remained in the jail, where he died of pneumonia on April 12, 1878. His body was buried in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. In a final insult to the man who had ruled and robbed the city, mayor Smith Ely refused to fly City Hall’s flag at half-mast, traditionally done as a sign of mourning for respected public figures.

We’re not sure who chose this man’s birthday as a holiday, or why. While it’s easy to view Boss Tweed as an outlandish character governed by insatiable appetites, it’s important to remember that his exploits did not occur in a vacuum. They succeeded because of the implicit or explicit approval of all those who profited. 

Of course, greed and corruption didn’t die with him. Perhaps the best way to learn from his life is to value compassion over avarice, to guard against the loss of concern for our fellow man, and to keep an eye out for the Boss Tweeds of today—so we don’t get fooled again.

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

March 29 is Smoke and Mirrors Day

Today is Smoke and Mirrors Day. It is sometimes referred to as National Smoke and Mirrors Day or the Festival of Smoke and Mirrors although, perhaps fittingly, we know of no festival occurring today.

smoke and mirrors day

Magicians have long used distracting bursts of smoke to mask the extension or retraction of mirrors. The props help them make objects seem to appear and disappear. When the illusion is successful, audience members respond with childlike wonder. They may have come, in part, to try to figure out how it’s done but they’ve also bought the ticket hoping to be tricked. They are delighted at the deception.

These days, “smoke and mirrors” refers to the political practice of making unsupported, deflective statements calculated to garner favor, obscure incompetence and discourage serious inquiry. While this also requires showmanship on a grand scale, there is nothing delightful about it, as everyone but its promoters and beneficiaries would agree.

According to Phrase Finder, the latter usage dates back to journalist Jimmy Breslin’s 1975 book, How the Good Guys Finally Won: Notes from an Impeachment Summer. In it, he detailed the process which led to the U.S. House of Representatives’ vote to impeach Richard Nixon. Breslin wrote:

“All political power is primarily an illusion… Mirrors and blue smoke, beautiful blue smoke rolling over the surface of highly polished mirrors… If somebody tells you how to look, there can be seen in the smoke great, magnificent shapes, castles and kingdoms, and maybe they can be yours.”

“The ability to create the illusion of power, to use mirrors and blue smoke, is one found in unusual people.”

By June 4, 1975, an article in the Lowell Sun flipped the words into their more familiar order:

“Jimmy Breslin alluded to with images, of blue smoke and mirrors in his recently published book on an impeachment summer.”

How can you tell the difference between a magician and a politician? The magician will give you your dollar back after he’s done tricking you. Have a happy and magical Smoke and Mirrors Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

March 15 is the Ides of March

ides of march

Caesar was killed on this spot.

Today is the Ides of March, which marks the date in 44 B.C. that Julius Caesar was assassinated.

To learn why it was called the Ides of March, we need to take a look at the Roman calendar in use 2,060 years ago. Days of the year weren’t not numbered sequentially. Instead, each month had three division days: Kalends, Nones and Ides.

Kalends always fell on the first day of the month. The Nones fell on the fifth, except in months that had fewer than 31 days. In March, May, July and October, the Nones fell on the seventh. The Ides occurred eight days after the Nones. Easy, right?

Not so fast. Some histories report that the Ides were considered a time to pay debts and settle accounts. It also appears that the Ides stood not just for one day but the following month. This is important to the understanding the events leading up to the assassination of Julius Caesar.

William Shakespeare studied the writings of Plutarch when crafting Julius Caesar, so even though he used poetic license when penning the famous line, “Beware the Ides of March,” he based the scene surrounding it upon a real occurrence. To wit: there was a soothsayer named Spurinna, who warned Caesar of his rapidly-approaching fate.

Spurinna was a haruspex, one who discovered and interpreted omens by inspecting the entrails and organs of animal sacrifices. He hailed from Etruria, known for its training in divination. Etruscans were accorded high social status in Rome. Spurinna had access to prominent citizens and was undoubtedly privy to gossip and rumors, which could only help him in his occupation.

Caesar was not well-liked. He had brazenly taken a foreigner (Cleopatra) as his mistress. He had declared himself dictator perpetuo, dictator in perpetuity, on February 14th, spurring fears he would declare himself king and do away with the Senate altogether.

On February 15th, Caesar consulted Spurinna. A bull was sacrificed and its innards interpreted. Spurinna announced a bad omen: the bull had no heart. It’s a testament to belief that no one demanded to inspect the body or asked how the animal survived to adulthood, until its sacrifice, without a heart.

Spurinna told Caesar to beware the next 30 days, not just March 15th. Was it sound advice by way of divination, an educated guess or something more? It was common knowledge that Caesar was scheduled to leave Rome on March 18th to lead his army on a military campaign that would last for years. The assassins had to strike before then.

According to historian Barry Strauss, author of The Death of Caesar: The Story of History’s Most Famous Assassination, Caesar took the warning seriously. He had no intention of attending the Senate meeting on March 15th. His wife Calpurnia awoke that morning from a nightmare that he’d been murdered, which strengthened his resolve to stay home.

He almost made it but succumbed to peer pressure when his friend Decimus, whom you’ve probably never heard of, came to his home and goaded him into attending. He told Caesar the Senate would brand him a tyrant, that everyone would laugh at him and think him weak and feeble-minded for allowing himself to be cowed by a woman’s dream and a fool’s omen.

The ploy worked. Decimus persuaded his friend to walk into the arms of his killers. Caesar never cried out in anguish, “Et tu, Brute?” The phrase has become shorthand for the experience of being stabbed in the back–hopefully metaphorically–by someone close. But Caesar and Brutus were never friends.

He must have been shocked to see Decimus stabbing him but didn’t call out his name, either. He was too busy trying to fight back and escape. Of course, he had no chance against the men surrounding him. Many of the 23 wounds occurred after he was dead; they took turns sticking him so they could all claim a role in the assassination.

Even in death, Caesar had a surprise in store, In his will, Caesar bequeathed a large cash payment to every citizen and soldier. He posthumously adopted Octavian as his heir and left him three-quarters of his private fortune to help him purchase the love of the populace and the loyalty of the military.

After years of civil war, Octavian became sole ruler of the Roman Empire. The fight for a new republic, which had driven men to slay their leader, was lost.

It seems all Romans would have done well to beware the Ides of March.

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays