Rowan invites visitors to site of 1967 summit

Rowan invites visitors to site of 1967 summit

By SHAWN HARDIE Staff Writer

GLASSBORO -- "It put Glassboro on the map."

That was the description Glassboro State College alumnus John Lee gave of the 1967 Glassboro Summit, a meeting between President Johnson and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin. The meeting took place June 23 and 25, 1967, at the Hollybush Mansion on the Glassboro campus, which is now Rowan University. On Sunday afternoon, the school celebrated the 40th anniversary of the summit with an open house at the mansion.

The wait to enter the mansion -- on the smaller side, by today's mansion standards -- grew to about 20 minutes as people lined up, waiting for a chance to read placards describing the summit, see memorabilia and other artifacts and stand in the actual summit room where Johnson and Kosygin met for 7 1/2 hours, discussing the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War and other world matters affecting their nations, including how to avoid a nuclear war between the Cold War opponents.

Among those visiting Hollybush on Sunday was Glassboro resident Howard Plasket, who graduated from Glassboro High School in 1967 and worked in food services for the college. Plasket, who recalled serving breakfast for more than 350 state troopers called in to secure the area, says he recognizes the importance of the summit, something he didn't as an 18-year-old.

"At the time, I didn't think that much about it," said Plasket, 58. "But over time, it's really become important in the history of the town."

That idea, that the summit was as much about the college as it was for the borough of Glassboro, was one Rowan University President Donald Farish wanted to strike home. Because Hollybush served as the residence of the school's president from 1937 until 1998, many Glassboro residents hadn't seen the interior of the building where history took place, Farish said ??" and the school wanted to change that.

"We wanted to give the building back to the town," Farish said. "It's important that the townspeople get back in this building to see it. Some people who lived here their whole lives had never been inside."

"This was a Hollybush Summit as well as a Glassboro Summit," he said.

According to the school's Web site, Hollybush was chosen as the summit site as a compromise. Kosygin, who was in New York to address the United Nations that week, did not want to travel to Washington, the center of the anti-Communist world, to meet Johnson. Meanwhile, Johnson was hesitant to meet the Soviet leader in New York, where he would face demonstrations against the ongoing Vietnam War.

New Jersey Gov. Richard Hughes, at Johnson's request, suggested Glassboro State College as a meeting site, mainly because it is nearly equidistant from New York and Washington. Both men accepted the offer, but with only 16 hours' notice, local, state and federal officials had to rush to transform Hollybush from an academic presidential residence into an appropriate meeting place for the leaders of two world superpowers.

George Beach Jr. served as a security guard during the summit. Now 79, the former Glassboro firefighter said those who showed up to witness the event handled themselves appropriately ??" except for one heckler who was quickly apprehended. Beach also recalled hearing of a student being stopped by the Secret Service on the roof of Bosshart Hall, a science building on campus. That student was Thomas Gallia, who now serves as Rowan's vice president of university relations.

Gallia, a graduate student at the time, was responsible for removing the filter paper from a machine that monitored air quality. That Friday morning, June 23, Gallia was on the roof doing his job when he said he heard someone yell, "Halt!" Gallia turned around to see several Secret Service agents. The Bosshart rooftop provided a perfect view of U.S. Route 322, which the Soviet Premier was using to get to the summit.

"'Son, you don't belong here. Do you know what's going on?'" Gallia recalled one of the agents asking him.

"Yes, but this is my job," Gallia told him.

An agent frisked Gallia, took his key to the room where the apparatus was located and told him, "Son, take the rest of the day off." Gallia complied, heading over to the mansion to watch the events unfold.

As a part of the anniversary celebration, the university videotaped those who wanted to share their memories of the summit. Waiting to record her story was Jane Brandt, a 1980 Glassboro alumna from Vineland. Her father was a reporter assigned to cover the summit for a Cumberland County newspaper, and he decided to take Brandt and her mother along. On the Sunday afternoon of the summit, Brandt recalled her mother holding up a sign saying, "Congratulations Grandpa," recognizing that Johnson had just become a grandfather.

Johnson noticed the sign, Brandt said, and made his way over to Brandt and her mother, who gave the president a greeting card. Brandt watched as Johnson held back tears, appreciating the thoughtfulness of a mother and her 13-year-old daughter. A photographer from Life magazine captured the exchange.

"It was a welcome relief to the seriousness of the affair," Brandt said. "We went on many memorable assignments with him (her father), but this was one of the most historical."

The summit eased tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. Although no formal agreement was signed, both leaders dubbed the summit as successful. But for local residents and those connected with the school, the summit was more than a successful meeting.

It was the event that put Glassboro on the map.

To e-mail Shawn Hardie at The Press: SHardie@pressofac.com

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Date Published: Monday, June 25, 2007 - 01:00
Source URL: Press of Atlantic City