No, I’m not that old — well almost. Read on.
In the late 1960s, New Mexico became a hot spot for “hippie” dropouts, most of them ending up in communes near Taos and Santa Fe. As you might expect, many of these people had interesting stories about why they joined the counter culture and moved to the Land of Enchantment.
As a journalist during that time, I wrote several stories for United Press International about the communes and the people who lived in them, including one about a character who lived in a commune near Placitas north of Albuquerque. He claimed to be Ulysses S. Grant, re-incarnated.
This self proclaimed Grant, after having fought in the Civil War and served as President of the United States in the 1800s, said he had come back from the spiritual world to run for Governor of New Mexico. So being a journalist whose job was to provide coverage of all things political, I drove to Placitas with my college roommate at the time to interview the candidate. He met me outside his adobe and wood hut, one of several in the compound, introduced me to his wife and then agreed to be interviewed. He had long hair, a scraggly beard, a twinkle in his blue eyes (as if hiding a secret we had already guessed) and wore blue and yellow-striped U.S Cavalry pants of the Civil War era.
The interview took place as he walked though the pinon and juniper sprinkled landscape of the Sandia foothills. At one point, he decided he needed to relieve himself, stopped in the middle of his conversation and took a leak in a large open space where anyone could see him. I politely stood behind, understanding that his moment was staged for shock value.
I don’t recall a lot of his political platform, except that he vowed that the state would build no more roads under his administration as governor.
“We already have enough roads,” he declared.
When I tried to dig into his “real” past and where he had come from, I got nowhere. Several people who seemed to know about him suggested he had been a professor of history at some Midwestern liberal arts college and left when his views became a little too radical for the school to tolerate.
We concluded the interview, and then he announced that he was not going to be able to do much campaigning in the future because his horse “Blue” had contracted the flu and couldn’t travel very far. As expected, his candidacy never made much of an impact other than generating the occasional headline about oddball things in New Mexico.
I wrote the story, forgot about him and then several weeks later he unexpectedly showed up at our apartment in Old Town Albuquerque. How he got there wasn’t clear, since Blue wasn’t anywhere to be seen. My roommate (who was a bit of a pot-head and had arranged for the visit unbeknownst to me) drove the General around Albuquerque in his spiffy Triumph Spitfire sports car. When he came back from the tour, he announced that my roommate’s ride was “way cooler than Blue” and wished that he had that kind of transportation during the Civil War. I went to bed, a little bit worried. They stayed up late and I think they smoked pot together, which is what I believed was the main reason for the visit. When I got up next morning, he and the elusive Blue were gone. My roommate, still snoring in his bed, missed yet another class.
About a year later, police reported that “Grant” was being sought as a suspect for a murder in his compound. It seems someone else in the commune had been involved in a romantic incident with his wife, and in the heat of an argument with his wife’s suitor, fatal shots were fired.
Grant disappeared and as far as I know, has neither been seen again in New Mexico nor arrested for the shooting. Someone speculated that he shaved off his beard, trimmed his hair, put on a tweed jacket, whipped out his PhD to return to the academic world. Maybe he found a fixer like the guy in Breaking Bad who could send anyone into permanent obscurity.