Wrong place, wrong time

Monday 15 February 2016 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — President’s Day

In my last column, dear readers, I made passing reference to having had a chance encounter with President Richard Nixon and also of having been forcibly ejected from a George Wallace rally.

I’ve been asked by countless readers (OK, one) to tell the stories. Responding to popular demand, therefore — 

During the late 60s I was a seminary student in Baltimore. Organizers planning a massive demonstration in Washington came to the seminary, with faculty permission, to recruit seminarians for crowd control. It was for me a way to get out of the seminary for an afternoon, so I signed up. I was given an armband signifying I was not one of the half-million demonstrators but an usher. 

I was assigned to the front steps of the U.S. Treasury Building. After a few boring hours I spied a bunch of lunatic hippie-types gathering across the street. They belonged to the notorious group of bomb-throwing anarchists known as the Weathermen. You don’t need a Weatherman to know which way the wind blows. I discretely removed my armband and slipped quietly away. 

AWOL from my post, I made my way over to the Washington Monument to get lost in the crowd gathered there. It was not a good idea. That evening President Richard Nixon decided to mingle with the protesters. He caused quite a stir. I was again in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

Another foray into politics involved Governor George Wallace (then a candidate for President of the United States). He came to Baltimore for a rally. A buddy of mine and I decided to go see what a political rally looked like. George Wallace appeared on stage, surrounded by armed guards. The presidential hopeful repeatedly hurled insults at the audience. The crowd became increasingly agitated. It was all very interesting to watch from the safety of the highest balcony.

I decided to use the men’s room. I stood up. The audience of several hundred stood up with me. A riot was beginning. I was immediately seized by four state troopers who carried me down the stairs and out into the street. I tried to explain that I was simply trying to find a restroom, but to no avail. In the street there were officers mounted on horses. They were whacking people with their batons. Guard dogs were off-leash, attacking people. Yikes! I jumped on a passing bus and returned to the seminary unharmed. I had again been in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

My buddy, by the way, didn’t return to the seminary for two days. He was in the hospital with a broken jaw. Somebody shot George Wallace a few days later.

Besides Richard Nixon, I did have another encounter with a sitting president. It was my day off-duty and I decided to go to the Science Museum in Boston. Unknown to me, while I was in the planetarium viewing the stars, the museum closed in order to prepare for the arrival of President Gerald Ford. He was scheduled to sign some bill or other. None of the security people thought to check the planetarium. 

Finished with my star-gazing, I left the planetarium. I noticed there were people everywhere wearing official-looking identification badges. One man asked me, “So, how is Ma Bell?” It seemed a strange question. He was presuming I was with the telephone company. I wandered around the building for a bit and decided, for no particular reason, to open a random door. A few feet away was President Ford delivering a speech. I had crashed a national presidential press conference. Yikes!

The Secret Service people were very understanding when I told them that I was a simple parish priest on his day off. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. They smiled as I explained that it seemed to be becoming the pattern of my life. What they said to each other after I was released I have no idea. 

The Secret Service people were equally as nice when they identified me as a potential threat to the Emperor of Japan, Hirohito. The emperor had landed at Otis Air Force Base on his way to the Oceanographic Institute in Woods Hole. I had been personally invited by the bride and groom to say grace that day at their wedding reception in the Officers’ Club. I was, unfortunately, not on the written invitation list. I explained that I was a simple priest at the wrong place at the wrong time. They allowed me to proceed, but did assign an agent to shadow me just in case I was an assassin. 

In my various encounters with the FBI they, too, have proven to be just as nice as the Secret Service. But those are stories best left for another time. It seems I may always be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but it sure makes life interesting.

I may be a simple Cape Cod pastor, but some now call me the “Forrest Gump” of priests. Go figure.

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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