As It Happens

This man has held onto Richard Nixon's half-eaten sandwich for 60 years

Steve Jenne can’t imagine letting go of a sandwich he froze 60 years ago — a sandwich that was half-eaten by former U.S. president Richard Nixon.

Steve Jenne has co-authored a book called The Sandwich That Changed My Life!

Steve Jenne has held on to former U.S. president Richard Nixon's partially eaten sandwich since Sept. 22, 1960, and has co-authored a book about it. (Scot England/England Media )

Steve Jenne can't imagine letting go of a sandwich he froze 60 years ago — a sandwich that was half-eaten by former U.S. president Richard Nixon.

Nixon was visiting the small town of Sullivan, Ill., on Sept. 22, 1960, while he was the vice-president on a campaign stop. Jenne was also on duty that day, working as a Boy Scout at a cookout, helping cover Nixon's security detail.

Moments after the presidential hopeful took a few bites from the buffalo barbecue sandwich, he left for the next event, and Jenne swiped up what was left. 

That sandwich has been living inside his freezer for the last few decades, making appearances from time to time on late night TV and game shows. It turned 60 this week.

To mark the milestone, Jenne wrote a book, The Sandwich That Changed My Life, which was just published in the U.S. last month.

Here is part of his conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off.

Steve, how is Richard Nixon's sandwich doing?

Probably a lot better than I am because it hasn't aged at all. It's well-preserved and at home, safely in my freezer.

Wow. After 60 years in the freezer, there must be a fair bit of freezer burn there.

Well, it's inside a plastic bag and inside a glass jar that's well-sealed. All of that is inside other plastic bags stored away in my freezer. When I look at it through the glass, it doesn't look like it's shrunk or mouldy at all.

Can you still tell that it's a sandwich?

Well, yeah, it's a bun with a couple of bites out of it. If you know what you're looking at and if I describe it to you, you can say, "Oh yeah, that is a sandwich."

Former U.S. president Richard Nixon takes a bite out of a buffalo barbecue sandwich on Sept. 22, 1960. (Edward De Luga/Chicago Daily News/England Media )

And the couple of bites were actually made by Richard Nixon himself?

Right. I'm going to guess maybe three bites by looking at the sandwich. There's more than one, maybe only two, but it looks like three bites.

You were a Boy Scout at the time in Sullivan, Illinois. How did you come to be in the company of then-vice-president Richard Nixon?

Back then there wasn't as much of a need for the security that we see today. Of course, in 1960, it was three years before the Kennedy assassination, [which] changed everything.

When they asked for security, our Boy Scout troop was available. They said, "Let's just put the Boy Scouts around the picnic table."

I happened to be the lucky one right behind vice-president Nixon. Everybody was jostling for a position and I was trying to keep people back.

Steve Jenne speaks with As It Happens guest host Helen Mann in 2006 about his then 46-year-old sandwich. 1:51

You're 14 years old and you got a serious job there. You're the security man. Did you actually see him get the sandwich?

Yes, I did. They had a young girl present him with the sandwich. He was having buffalo barbecue. Like pulled pork, but it was buffalo meat. Then she stepped back and that's when he proceeded to take a couple bites.

After each bite, he made a nice comment. I think that's probably why he didn't finish the sandwich, because there's only so many things you can come up with to say in front of thousands and thousands of people after you take a single bite out of a sandwich.

After three bites, he set it back out on the paper plate and excused himself to go elsewhere to make his political speech. That's when thousands of people followed him — and that sandwich stayed there on the picnic table, on the paper plate. Nobody else thought about picking it up, so I decided that I would.

What went through your mind about that sandwich?

I thought, "Well, I'm going to take that."

So I [took] the paper plate, hopped on my bicycle, sped home and told my mother about it.

She said, "What do you want me to do with it? What do you want to do?" And I told her to freeze it, so she did.

[My mother] put it inside a plastic baggy and put that inside a Musselman's applesauce jar. It's been there for 60 years now.

Your mother was never tempted to throw it away when thinking maybe you've forgotten about it and it's just time to clean out the freezer?

Oh, yeah. She thought about it.

What remains of Nixon's sandwich next to a copy of the Chicago Tribune, which shows the former president chowing down on it in 1960. (Scot England/England Media )

And a single power outage could have killed that little sandwich, right?

You're right ... it almost did. We had a huge blizzard on Easter Sunday. Actually, it was an ice storm that knocked out power. But my dad was always resourceful. He already had a backup generator. In fact, I think I drove out there, through all the ice, with that sandwich for that express purpose of having him put that into their freezer, which was hooked up to his generator. That worked.

How old was the sandwich at that point?

Oh, gosh, it would've been 18.

We know all the things that happened to Richard Nixon after he nibbled that sandwich, including leaving the office under a cloud, an impeachment, everything else … a lot worse things happened to him than to the sandwich.... Why did it stay so important to you to keep Richard Nixon's sandwich?

You know, year after year I thought, "I've had it five years. I've had it 10 years." Sixty years later, I'm thinking I can't get rid of it now. I'm going to hang onto it forever.

You have a new book which is called The Sandwich That Changed My Life. What do you want people to learn from your experience?

I don't know. It's an instructional type of book. It's a more downhome, small town Americana.

Well, your book sure sounds like a slice of life.

Good point. Yes, ma'am. Yeah, it's a slice of life.... It gives you a glimpse into what we did back in 1960.

Written by Mehek Mazhar. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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