Easter at Camp David
by James Rada, Jr.
Anyone with eyes knew just where President Richard M. Nixon and his family were Easter Sunday morning in 1971.
It was pretty widely known through town that the Nixons would be spending the weekend at Camp David, a favorite retreat for the president. Since it was also Easter weekend, speculation was on whether they would attend church on Sunday and which church they would choose.
“Gold Cadillacs, television cameras, photographers, newsmen, and Secret Service agents do not stand outside of a church in Thurmont for the average person,” the Catoctin Enterprise reported.
The church was the Thurmont United Methodist Church, where the Reverend Kenneth Hamrick was pastor.
Prior to the Easter service, Mrs. Hamrick had received a call from Camp David asking for her husband.
Rev. Hamrick was officiating at another church, but when he returned home, his wife had him to return the call. That is when he found out that he would have special guests during his service that day.
This visit apparently came about because of Mrs. Hamrick.
“Rev. Hamrick, a part-time White House employe[e], attended a staff reception last Christmas at which time Mrs. Hamrick had asked Mrs. Nixon to bring the President to her husband’s church sometime in the future,” The Frederick Post reported.
Not only did the president and first lady attend, but they were joined by Julie and David Eisenhower, former First Lady Mamie Eisenhower, and Tricia Nixon and her fiancée Edward Finch Cox.
“I didn’t mention their presence to others attending the services,” Hamrick told The Frederick Post. “I did mention the President, as well as other world leaders, in my prayers at the end of the service.”
Rev. Hamrick’s sermon dealt with the rejection of both Christ and Christianity in biblical and modern times.
Afterwards, Hamrick told the Catoctin Enterprise, “The President said the sermon was ‘very good, very pertinent’ and it appeared that I ‘had done my homework’.” He added that the first lady told him, “It made my Easter Day.”
The Nixons and their guests then returned to Camp David for an Easter dinner. Two months later, Tricia Nixon and Edward Cox would return to Camp David to spend their honeymoon there after their June 12 wedding.
President Nixon enjoyed spending time at Camp David. It was a place where he could think, relax, and get work done. He had worked on his first acceptance speech as the Republican presidential nominee there as vice-president. Although John F. Kennedy won that election, Nixon would return to Camp David in 1968 as president.
W. Dale Nelson tells a story in The President Is at Camp David that Nixon speechwriter William Safire tried making a case to Nixon’s appointment secretary, Dwight Chapin, that the president should spend more time in the White House, not on an isolated mountain.
“Do you want to be the one who tells the president he can’t go to Camp David? Because it sure as hell isn’t going to be me,” Chapin said.
According to Nelson, when former President Dwight D. Eisenhower died in 1969, Nixon wrote his eulogy at Camp David. He made the decision to order troops into Cambodia during the Vietnam War there. He wrote his 1972 presidential nomination acceptance speech there.
The Nixons also spent Easter 1972 at Camp David. They also celebrated David Eisenhower’s 24th birthday during that Easter weekend.