Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


Gorbachev and Khrushchev

By Godfrey Sperling Jr.Godfrey Sperling Jr. is the Monitor's senior Washington columnist. / June 19, 1990



MIKHAIL GORBACHEV'S trip across the United States provided only one disappointment for me: That the weather delay forced the cancellation of his scheduled visit to a farm near St. Paul, Minn. I was on hand when Nikita Khrushchev dropped in on his old friend, farmer Roswell Garst, near Coon Rapids, Iowa, back in September of 1959. My most vivid memory of more than 30 years ago was how the army of reporters transformed that normally tranquil scene into chaos. Mr. Garst was not amused as the press crowded in, making it very difficult to show his guest how he was operating his farm. Indeed, he could hardly talk above the shouts of questions.

Skip to next paragraph

Then, when Garst tried to show Khrushchev an area where he had deposited some silage, the pursuing crowd of journalists, pushed on by those in the rear, nearly bowled the two men over.

At this point, Mr. Garst angrily shoved gentle Harrison Salisbury of the New York Times and then began to toss cornhusks at reporters while yelling at them to ``get back''.

I have a picture before me as I write which shows Garst in full cornhusk-throwing form, his face revealing his exasperation. Around him the security people are holding the press back. And, some 8 or 10 feet to the right of Garst is Khrushchev, smilingly viewing what he may well have concluded was a clash of press freedom with capitalism. He obviously thought it was great fun.

Would Gorbachev have had a more peaceful farm visit? Probably. Khrushchev was the first Soviet leader to travel across the United States, making several stops in which he took close-in looks at the American way of life. The public curiosity about this man was intense. This curiosity was mirrored in the press - fueling its aggressiveness, even rudeness.

Also, Khrushchev was, to coin a clich'e, no Gorbachev. He smiled as he mixed with the crowds. He was amiable enough. Yet he was always a little restrained. No one seemed to be certain whether this visitor truly was holding out the hand of friendship.

But Khrushchev, like Gorbachev, was barnstorming our country, bidding for popular appeal. I'm reminded of his hot-dog-eating contest he staged with his escort, Henry Cabot Lodge, while touring a Des Moines packing company. Of the hot dog, Khrushchev said, ``It is excellent. Don't change the formula.''

``Are you tired?'' a reporter asked him. ``I don't have the right to be tired,'' he replied.

Somewhere on his tour across the United States Khrushchev picked up the Americanism ``okay,'' which he pronounced ``Ho-kay.''

No reporter better depicted the chaos created by the Khrushchev visit than my old friend and long-time colleague, Richard L. Strout. Strout's dispatch to the Monitor from San Francisco, read like this:

``I found myself standing on the checkout counter of the Butler Brothers Quality Foods Incorporated Supermarket on the `fill your freezer day' sale. It seemed at the moment the natural place to be. Somewhere in the near riot below was Nikita S. Khrushchev, the world's top Communist on tour.

``In a traveling spectacle that has long passed credulity, the big entourage of press, police, and officials suddenly had powered into the supermarket like a California flash flood.

``Incredible things happened.

``I watched an agile photographer taking the shot of his life from a rack of coffee containers. Glass smashed. The jars had fallen. Burly police were intent only on protecting the little Communist leader while squealing, laughing, hysterical women pushed in to see him. His head was visible now and then behind the scrimmage. Like a pink and white ball between waves. He was the smallest man there.''

At one point in this melee, Strout reported, the supermarket manager's cry of anguish could be heard above the din. ``You're standing in my meat,'' he shouted at photographers who had found a handy place to stand in the refrigerated meat counter.

For Khrushchev, it was that kind of a visit - wherever he went. For Gorbachev the crowds also were big and the interest high, but without the chaotic atmosphere of the Khrushchev encounter with US press and public.