(HOST) You find some of the darndest things at yard sales. Recently commentator Peter Gilbert found a family board game, and it was not a…Trivial Pursuit.
(GILBERT) I found the board game at a yard sale in Montpelier. It’s called – and I’m not making this up – it’s called the Spiro T. Agnew American History Challenge Game. There’s his picture on the box in an oval frame. And there, too, is a short typed note on the Vice President’s letterhead.
The letter reads, “We as Americans have an obligation to succeeding generations to better our country and ourselves. We can only do this if we understand and appreciate our heritage, the lasting gift of those who have gone before us. By building constructively upon the past we can meet the challenges of the future. [Signed,] Spiro T. Agnew.”
Well. Question Number One for anyone under 40 might be, “Who is Spiro T. Agnew?” The answer? President Richard Nixon’s run- ning mate in 1968 and 1972. In 1973 Agnew resigned the Vice Presidency in disgrace, pleading no contest to a charge of income tax evasion. That charge arose out of allegations of his having taken kick-backs on building contracts when he was Governor of Maryland.
Truth be told, Vice President Agnew was not highly thought of by many, including many members of his own party. President Nixon himself joked in private that Agnew was his insurance policy against assassination or impeachment – because that would mean Agnew would become president. But then Agnew resigned in disgrace, the very decent Congressman Gerald R. Ford took his place as Vice President, Nixon was forced to resign, and Gerald Ford became President.
The musical chairs continued. Now President Ford needed a VP. The answer? Former New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller. But when it came time for President Ford to run for election, he dropped Rockefeller from the ticket in favor of a more conservative running mate. The answer: Kansas Senator Bob Dole. And who was responsible for Rockefeller being dropped from the ticket? At least according to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, it was President Ford’s brilliant, young Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Kissinger and others thought that Rumsfeld wanted the VP spot for himself.
The game has 750 questions of varying difficulty, some of them true or false. Only six answers are women’s names. Typical quest- ions have answers like Andrew Jackson, Neil Armstrong, the Erie Canal and the Bill of Rights. It’s not a million laughs, but kind of a fun blast from the past – like a high school American history exam, circa 1971.
The irony that this game literally has Spiro Agnew’s name on it is striking, as is the fact that I bought the game at a yard sale on Liberty Street. But what the letter on the box says is essentially right: knowing our past – its successes and failings, our positive and negative role models – can inspire us to a better future. Know- ing our history keeps us on a true course, guided not necessarily by our past actions, but by our ideals.
This is Peter Gilbert in Montpelier.
Peter Gilbert is the Executive Director of the Vermont Humanities Council. He spoke from our studio in Montpelier.