Friday, April 14, 2017

Famed Nixon family dog Checkers subject of strange Yorba Linda rumors through the years

Although Checkers, the famed Nixon family dog whose namesake is Yorba Linda's first-ever canine playground, never lived here, the pooch has had an unusual relationship with the city that began 33 years after the dog's passing in 1964.

The story involves nationwide speculation and years of hearsay that eventually resulted in several “fake news” items – to use the terminology employed today – related to the cocker spaniel's alleged reburial at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.

Speculation about moving Checkers from the Bide-a-Wee Pet Cemetery in Wantagh, N.Y., began seven years after the then-private library and museum opened in Yorba Linda in 1990. First mention of a reburial was in the May 5, 1997, U.S. News and World Report.

The article was picked up by newspapers nationwide, with the rumor appearing in the New York tabloids, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and dozens of others, but the transfer, supposed to occur sometime in the fall, never took place.

The next mention of the matter came when Julie Nixon Eisenhower was interviewed by Larry King at the library for a CNN broadcast Aug. 11, 2001. According to a CNN-posted transcript, Eisenhower told King about Checkers, “Some day we're going to bring her to the library.”

King's response: “Why not?”

That less-than-a-minute snippet from an hour-long program resulted in a new flood of stories about the coming transfer of the dog's remains from New York to Yorba Linda to rest near the graves of the former president and his wife.

However, an Associated Press reporter contacted the Bide-a-Wee people and was told by a cemetery spokesperson, “We haven't been informed by anyone that they wish to remove the dog.”

Soon the story morphed into “fake news,” with Bill Press noting in his 2001 book (ironically, about manipulating truth) “Spin This!”: “the Nixon family repaid Checkers by exhuming him [actually, Checkers was a her] from his burial plot on Long Island and repotting him at the Nixon Library....”

I read the book in 2005, after picking it up from a Barnes & Noble 99-cent sale table, so I wondered if a burial had taken place. I emailed then-director John Taylor, who replied, “Yep, that sounds like Mr. Press. His statement is incorrect. Checkers reposes in Long Island still.”

But this story won't die. The 2016 edition of “White House Confidential: The Little Book of Weird Presidential History” by Gregg Stebben and Austin Hill maintains “there is a movement by the Nixon Library to have [her] exhumed and reburied next to the president in Yorba Linda, California.”

Now, with the Checkers Dog Park expected to open this summer, Yorba Linda has an ideal location for a new grave site. Moving Checkers' remains and above-ground granite marker from Bide-a-Wee, which touts more than 65,000 pet interments since 1916, to Yorba Linda would add to the city's Nixon lore and be a modest tourist draw.