Inside Nixon's Archives

Angela Drews and her colleagues at the National Archives have been packing for months.

Plain cardboard boxes with odds and ends from the Nixon White House, including gifts given to the president — both priceless and worthless.

"The gemstones in here are pink sapphires, which are very rare," Drews, a museum specialist, told CBS News correspondent Richard Schlesinger. On the other hand, "this is just an ordinary beach rock that a donor found on the beach and they thought it looked like Richard Nixon."

Congress ordered all this stuff held here while all sorts of legal issues were settled.

More than 30 years later, almost all of it will find a permanent home at the Nixon Library.

"This is the Nixon White House taping system," said National Archives and Records Administration archivist John Powers, who has looked over and looked after a warehouse full of doodads and documents detailing the Nixon years.

"This is the tape box for the 18 1/2-minute gap," Powers said.

The tapes are also kept here in a vault that's off-limits to the public to preserve them and protect some still-classified conversations.

Powers knows as much about the inner workings of the Nixon administration as you can without ever having been indicted.

How well does he think he knows President Nixon?

"I know him pretty well," Powers said.

But does he like him?

"At times," Powers said.

There are roughly 42 million pages of documents stored here, plus 500,000 photographs and 30,000 presidential gifts. It is a comprehensive record of history, not just as it was, but as it might have been.

It turns out Nixon was prepared for anything when the Apollo 13 spacecraft was severely damaged by an explosion.

The astronauts made it back to earth. But if they hadn't, the president would have said this: "They dared greatly, they died bravely. The world will remember the searing human drama of Apollo 13," Powers read from Nixon's backup speech.

And along with the most famous speech Nixon ever delivered — "Therefore, I shall resign the presidency" — he also had one within that would have stunned the nation. He was prepared to announce he would not resign.

"He says, 'Therefore I shall see the constitutional process through, whatever its outcome,'" Powers read.

Of course, those dreams of fighting on to vindication were just words on a piece of paper, now one of millions of documents researchers will soon start poring over to help render history's judgment on the legacy of Richard Nixon.

  • Elizabeth Curlee

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