Wednesday, May 7, 2008

From the Nixon Files: Great Moments on the Campaign Trail

During the 1960 presidential campaign, Vice President Richard Nixon, who was running against Senator John F. Kennedy for the highest office in the land, stopped in the small town of Sullivan, Illinois. At the time, Steve Jenne was a 14-year-old Boy Scout assigned to "stand guard" over the Vice President while he chowed down on a barbecued bison sandwich. As Jenne recalled, "Our community is famous for raising bison, and bison barbeque is a staple in the area." Nixon ate about half the sandwich before leaving to deliver a speech. According to Jenne, Nixon repeatedly commented on how good it was and how much he enjoyed it.

Jenne saved the half-eaten sandwich. His mother carefully wrapped it in cellophane, then placed it inside a large applesauce jar, then it went directly into the freezer. It has been in the freezer ever since, and it helped kick off Jenne's lifelong passion for collecting -- you guessed it -- the half-eaten sandwiches of famous people. But his most famous half-eaten sandwich will always be the Nixon barbecued bison sandwich.

"This is a story that just won’t die," Jenne said. In fact, a full-page spread about Jenne in USA Today that appeared during the 1988 presidential campaign sparked renewed nationwide interest in the famous half-eaten Nixon sandwich. Jenne was flown out to California, where he appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. (Apparently, on the plane flight to California, Jenne kept the sandwich on ice in a portable cooler.)

As Jenne recalled of his Tonight Show appearance: "They treated us — me and my sandwich — like royalty. I told them that as long as I had a freezer handy for my sandwich, I'd do whatever they wanted. My sandwich and I were chauffeured in a limousine, and we stayed at the best hotel. Neither me or my sandwich has ever lived so well prior to or since."

The sandwich remains in Jenne's freezer. And Jenne is still a local legend where he lives in Illinois. Collectors have offered to buy the sandwich from him, but he simply won't part ways with it. "I never get tired of it," Jenne said. "It's all fun."

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