Friday, April 10, 2009

A cross to bear

My wife was watching the 10 o'clock hour of the Today Show this morning, with Kathie Lee and Hoda when I walked into the kitchen. (This is to make sure no one thinks I watch this instead of SportsCenter in the morning.) They started talking about a new DVD documentary about the life of Arthur Blessitt.

I snapped to attention and blurted out, "Hey, I know that guy."

Flashback time:

In 1976, one of my better college assignments was to go to New Hampshire and cover the primary with a bunch of other Syracuse University students. The people that were hoping to make news a career got to cover the big-names in the race, like Ford, Reagan and Carter. Me, the instructor wisely figured off that I'd be better off doing the off-beat stuff. For example, I spent a day volunteeer as an unpaid worker for the Fred Harris campaign. I slept on the floor of the Harris campaign, ate peanut butter and banana sandwiches, dropped off literature and made phone calls.

If you know New Hampshire politics, you realize that it takes only a small amount of money to get on the Presidential primary ballot. So everyone in the world makes the investment, hoping to see a lightning strike. Someone thought it would be a fine idea for me to cover one of them.

You got it, Arthur Blessitt.

It's fair to say the Blessitt campaign staff was thrilled to have a reporter tag along for a day. So early one morning, a van pulled up, and I hoped in. The candidate and about three others greeted me warmly.

Blessitt's major piece of notoriety was that he had a 12-foot cross that he had toted around the world over the years. I had trouble figuring out exactly how that worked until I saw it in person -- the cross had a wheel at the bottom to make it easier for travel. For the rest of the day, Blessitt walked the streets of Manchester, I believe, shaking hands while the rest of the staff passed out campaign literature.

While he obviously wasn't qualified to be President of the United States, Blessitt did tap into something in that particular year. We were coming off Watergate, and he argued that a better sense of ethics was needed by government officials. Jimmy Carter used that same theory in a slighty different way, but I think it helped him get the nomination and election that year.

Blessitt dropped me off at the hotel late that afternoon. Before we arrived, though, he launched into a prayer for the country, and the voters of New Hampshire, and for the bright young reporter who had joined us. That felt a little odd -- a reporter doesn't like to be part of the story -- but I did get out of the van without changing my major to Bible Studies.

Based on the documentary and his Web site, Blessitt hasn't stopped carrying the cross around. I guess he walked up to Yassir Arafat one day, which takes some guts, and was greeted warmly by the PLO leader.

Sadly, my story on my day with Blessitt was never published anywhere, so I don't have any record of it. But he was certainly a memorable candidate. After all, I haven't covered many Presidential campaigns.

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