nixon mapCaption: A detail of the Richard Nixon biographical map created by Paul Carter, CSUF’s Alumni Association president.

Mapping Richard Nixon

Map Traces President’s Southern California Roots

Richard M. Nixon resigned when Paul Carter was 9.

Carter remembers his father coming home early that summer day in 1974 so he could watch on TV the resignation of the nation’s 37th president.

carter and mapCaption: Paul Carter, left, holds his map of Richard Nixon’s map with Nixon’s daughter and son-in-law Julie and David Eisenhower at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. Below is a photo of Carter more than 20 years ago as a CSUF undergrad, working as a volunteer docent at the museum.carter

“I didn’t understand the magnitude of it all,” said Carter, who as a Cal State Fullerton undergrad more than two decades ago spent two years volunteering at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, where his interest in Nixon’s Southern California roots grew.

“All through school, for the most part, my teachers were negative toward Nixon,” he said. “So, when I had the opportunity to meet him, I expected him to be mean, ornery. Instead, he was disarming, very nice, grandfatherly, and all of my preconceived notions of him evaporated. I found him very intriguing.”

Carter, who completed his CSUF bachelor's degree in political science in 1992 and went on to become an attorney and partner with the Long Beach-based firm Bergkvist, Bergkvist & Carter, LLP, turned his interest in Nixon into a colorful map, tracing the late president’s path from birth to death, emphasizing his Southern California trails.

As a Republican, Carter didn't always see eye-to-eye with one of his favorite CSUF professors, Sandra Sutphen, emeritus professor of political science, but she admired him, nonetheless.

“Paul was very involved with the Political Science Student Association when I was chair of the division, and we would tease each other a lot over our differing politics,” Sutphen said. “Still, when he sent me a copy of his map, I was really blown away by the detail, the thorough research, the story of Nixon’s life itself. It was fun to read his map, and I’m far from being a Nixon fan! I’m proud of his success and glad he’s an alum.”

Carter, this year’s CSUF Alumni Association president, said he now is writing a book that is designed to “breathe life” into his map.

“It is about Nixon from the perspective of his being a Southern Californian,” he said, adding that his aim is to share what he’s learned.

Carter makes public presentations on his findings from years of Nixon research, which, he said, has given him “a perspective of our Southern California history that I find fascinating.”

Most people, he said, “have a one-sided opinion of Nixon, and it is fun to tell them things about him that demonstrate his normalcy. Plus, I run into a lot of people who either knew him or his family, and they share anecdotes and stories, which spurs on more research.”

The 46-year-old recently answered a few questions about his research, which includes examining thousands of pages of documents at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda and listening to hundreds of hours of oral histories of Nixon’s early years from a collection housed in Cal State Fullerton’s Center for Oral and Public History.

Q: What have you discovered about Nixon that has surprised you?

Nixon was generous and a policy wonk, rather than a politician. He never personally profited from his office. After he left office, he never took a speaking fee. If someone sent him a fee, he would donate it to charity.

Q: Any interesting stories to share about Nixon?

In 1960, after he voted in Whittier for himself for president, Vice President Nixon got in his car with his LAPD driver, and military aid James Hughes, and headed to Tijuana. Here is a summary of what Gen. Hughes explained to me: “When we reached the border, we asked a Mexican Border guard where to have lunch and were directed to the Old Heidelberg restaurant. We arrived at the restaurant, where the owner recognized Nixon and opened the restaurant for us at about 11 a.m. We ordered margaritas and Mexican food and soon, the mayor came over. We stayed ’till about 1:30 p.m. Finally, I called Finch. I won’t tell you what Finch called me. But, he asked, ‘you’re where?’ To which I responded, ‘we’re in TJ.’ So, we started back north. ... As we passed through San Juan Capistrano, Nixon told me ‘As one of the Catholics on my staff, I am going to show you a historic Catholic mission.’ As we went to enter the premises, Nixon opened a door, but it led to a classroom. The nun was quite startled. Soon, all the nuns came out. The boss and I then went into the chapel. We just sat there for 10 to 15 minutes. Then, we finished the trip and returned to the Ambassador Hotel. The rest of the evening spoke for itself. We took the news just as you all did.”

Q: What other fascinating facts have you discovered and how did you find them?

Probably the most interesting facts to me, which I discovered through detective work — reading and listening to all the oral histories at CSUF, cross-referencing them with records at the Nixon Library and interviewing various people, such as Bob Dole; Richard Nixon's younger brother, Ed Nixon; and his brother Don Nixon's widow, Clara Jane Nixon, are the following:

  • Nixon was shaped by his Southern California youth. While at Whittier College, Gustaf  E. “Gus” Ostrom, a chemistry professor there, used to give a chapel lecture, “Polish the Heel of Your Shoe,” where he explained that it is the little things in life that matter. This message resonated with Richard Nixon. When I asked Bob Dole for his most significant recollection of Nixon, he told me: “My right hand was mangled in WWII, I couldn't use it. ... Nixon knew I had a bad right hand, and every time I ever met with him, he always jumped up, came over to me, stuck out his left arm to shake my hand. He always did it to make me comfortable.”

  • Richard Nixon was theatrical. He acted in plays in high school, college and as a practicing attorney in Whittier. In high school, he was in “Aenid.” In college, he was in “The Trysting Place,” “Phillip Goes Forth,” “Bird in Hand,” “The Tavern,” “Pirates of Penzance,” “HMS Pinafore” and “The Price of Coal.” He met Pat Nixon at the tryouts for “The Dark Tower” in Whittier.

  • He was elected to Congress at age 33, re-elected by winning the Democratic and Republican primary, elected to the U.S. Senate at 37, and vice president at 39.

  • In 1947, he traveled to Europe on the Queen Mary with the Herter Committee, which was the precursor of the Marshall Plan.

  • Every significant mode of transportation in his life is in Southern California: for foreign affairs — the Queen Mary; the helicopter that took him off the White House lawn, following his resignation is at the Nixon Library; and the Air Force One that flew him to California is at the Reagan Library.

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