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46 years ago today: A look the most requested photograph from National Archives

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One may assume the most requested image from the National Archives would be from a day which will always be remembered in American history. Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, or maybe even the assassination of John F Kennedy on November 22, 1963?

But 47 years ago today, the most requested picture was taken. For many millennials, the question which first comes to mind in seeing the image is “Who is that guy standing with Elvis?”

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The story as to why President Nixon met with the Rock legend Elvis Presley is an interesting one. It begins as the father and wife of Elvis both complained that he had spent too much money on Christmas presents that year. He purchased 32 handguns and ten Mercedes-Benz vehicles. The total cost amounted to over $100,000 (almost $650,000 adjusted for inflation).

After becoming frustrated with his wife and father, the rock star went to the airport and caught the first flight he could, which was going to Washington DC. Upon arrival he checked into a hotel but decided he wanted to go to his mansion in Los Angeles, California. He was chauffeured by Presidential aide Jerry Schilling.

Presley had a collection of police badges and decided he wanted a badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, which was located in Washington. In her memoir, Priscilla Presley explained, “With the federal narcotics badge, he [believed he] could legally enter any country both wearing guns and carrying any drugs he wished.” Elvis stayed in Los Angeles for one day and then requested to return to Washington.

On the return flight to Washington DC Elvis wrote a letter to the President saying, “Sir, I can and will be of any service that I can to help the country out,” All Elvis sought in return was the federal agent badge. He added, “I would love to meet you.” In the letter Presley explained he would be staying in the Washington Hotel, under the name of Jon Burrows, explaining, “I will be here for as long as it takes to get the credentials of a federal agent.”

After landing, at about 6:30 am Elvis Presley dropped off his letter to the President. He then went over to the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs offices, where he was able to get himself a meeting with a deputy director, although he could not get himself a badge.

The letter to the President was delivered to an aide, Egil “Bud” Krogh, who was a big fan of Elvis. He thought the meeting between the “King of Rock” and the President would be an awesome idea. Krogh was able to convince the higher ups, including Nixon’s Chief of Staff to organize the meeting.

Entering the White House, Presley came with a gift for the President. A Colt .45 pistol in a display case which had originally been featured in the Los Angeles mansion of Presley. However, the Secret Service seized the gift before it could be given to the President.

Upon arrival, Korgh recalled, “When he first walked into the Oval Office, he seemed a little awe-struck,” the chief organizer of the event added, “but he quickly warmed to the situation.”

During their conversation, Presley told the President he believed the Beatles fueled significant anti American backlash. Nixon responded by saying that anybody who does drugs is anti American. Elvis responded by telling Nixon “I’m on your side.” Elvis added he had closely studied the drug culture and Communist brainwashing. He then asked the President for the coveted badge he had been seeking.

“Can we get him a badge?” Nixon asked his aide, the answer was immediately “yes”. With the news, Elvis spontaneously “put his left arm around the President and hugged him,” the aide explained.

Elvis Presley asked that the meeting be kept a secret, as it was. But one year later the story was broken by writer Jack Anderson. It was not until the year 1988 that a newspaper in Chicago reported the Archives were selling the famous image of President Nixon and Presley, just one week after the reporting 8,000 copies had been requested of the image. With that it would become the most requested image from the National Archives, ever.

(h/t Smithsonian)

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