On a bright May morning, in the year 1972, J. Edgar Hoover was found dead, sprawled on the carpet in the handsome two-story colonial brick house on Thirtieth Place N.W., Washington DC. One of the most powerful men ever to hold office, appointed or elected, in the United State of America, or any other country for that matter, was discovered by his gardener, James Crawford.
Now Crawford was not in the habit of walking into the Boss’s private sanctum, but it was well past the time when Mr. Hoover usually started his day and Anne, the housekeeper, although anxious concerning his tardiness to the breakfast table, was not about to check on him herself. It was common knowledge in the Hoover household that while the Boss had a large and remarkably varied wardrobe, it did not include pajamas.
Crawford knocked on the bedroom door. There was no response. He knocked again.
“Mr. Hoover?” Crawford put his mouth close to the door and called. “Mr. Hoover, it’s Crawford.”
Still no answer. Crawford eased the door open a close of inches and called again.
“Mr. Hoover? Annie’s got a nice breakfast set out. It’s getting cold.”
Crawford heard something. It was faint, so faint as to be almost not there, but it was. A voice. Someone softly singing. He opened the door wider and stepped into the room.
The bedroom curtains were still closed, but in the wedge of light from the hallway Crawford saw an arm stretched out on the floor near the corner of the bed.
He rushed to the side of the man who had, in columnist Jack Anderson’s words, turned the Federal Bureau of Investigation from “a collection of hack, misfits and courthouse hangers-on into one of the world’s most effective and formidable law enforcement organizations. Under his reign, not a single FBI man ever tried to fix a case, defraud the taxpayers or sell out his country.”
Crawford knelt. He gently lifted Hoover’s hand. It wasn’t cold but it was limp and unresponsive.
“Oh my lord. Annie!” He ran to the door and called downstairs. “Annie! Call Mr. Wilson!”
If you read the biographies and ask the historians, that was that. J. Edgar Hoover was dead. Conrad Wilson, Hoover’s longtime confidant and effectively his second in command at the Bureau, was notified and the world was shaken.
But James Crawford had taken a course in CPR at the YMCA just of couple of months earlier as part of his training to become a Boy Scout leader for his nephew ‘s troop. Working on a plastic and fabric dummy was a world away from trying to pump life into the Father of the FBI, but what had that training been for if not situations like this?
Crawford knelt again. He leaned over Hoover and pinched his nose. Hoover’s nose, that is, not his own. He gently opened Hoover’s mouth by pulling down on his chin. Two deep breaths to steady his nerves, and then one he held as he leaned in.
No more than an inch away from lip contact Hoover began to sing. Softly, so softly that if Crawford had not been so close he might not have even heard.
“A,B,C,D,E,F,G,” Hoover sang to the children’s Alphabet Tune, or “Twinkle-Twinkle Little Star”, whichever you prefer. Still singing, he repeated, fading even more, “G,G,G,G,g,g,g.”
And once again he lay still.
“It’s gonna be all right, Boss. I’ll be right back. You just wait here.”
But as Crawford began to rise, Hoover’s right arm swung suddenly up and grabbed him by the back of the neck, pulling him down until his ear was as close to Hoover’s mouth as his lips had been moments earlier.
“Listen,” said Hoover.
“Yes. I’m listening, Boss. I’m so glad you’re alive.”
The grip tightened.
“G,” Hoover rasped. “After…g.”
Crawford nodded as best he could with the death grip on his neck. “You bet, Boss.” After g? What the hell did that mean?
“After…” Hoover’s voice was fading into near vapor. “…g”
“After g,” Crawford repeated, hoping this would comfort Hoover. Maybe he would let go of his neck.
Hoover’s eyes rolled a little. It was creepy.
Then it came to Crawford. After G. Of course. “H, Boss,” he said. “H comes after G.”
The grip tightened fiercely, making Crawford gasp, then released, and it was then that J. Edgar Hoover lay truly dead.
Conrad Wilson arrived within minutes of receiving the call. He took two steps at a time up the stairs. Crawford and Anne were standing outside the bedroom door. Annie was weeping softly. Crawford’s arm was around the housekeeper’s shoulders. His obligation as a man the only thing keeping him from weeping openly himself.
Without a word, Wilson went into the room, drew aside the comforter Crawford had draped respectfully over Hoover’s body, and placed a finger against his neck. He took a silver business card case out of his jacket and held it in front of Hoover’s mouth and nostrils for a few seconds. Then he replaced the comforter and went back out to the hallway.
“Which of you found him?”
“I did, Mr. Wilson,” said Crawford. “He was just lying there, stretched out on the floor. It was terrible.”
“I’m sure it was, James, I’m sure it was. Now, I must ask you something and it is very important that you answer truthfully.”
“Yes, Mr. Wilson.” Crawford nodded solemnly.
“Was Mr. Hoover dead when you found him?”
“Well, sir, not exactly.”
“And just exactly what do you mean by ‘not exactly’?”
“Well, sir, I thought he was, but when I got real close, you know, right next to him, he wasn’t. Dead, I mean.”
“How did you know? Did he move? Did he say anything? Anything at all?”
Crawford assumed an expression of deep thought, as if recalling events decades old instead of something quite remarkable that had occurred only minutes earlier. He was caught in a dilemma and wanted to buy some time. He was devoted to the Boss, believed him to the be the finest American ever to live. Mr. Hoover had been the Guardian of Democracy without whose firm guidance the entire country would undoubtedly have fallen into wretched anarchy many times over. Was it right that it should be known that the last utterance from such a great man had been a child’s alphabet rhyme and that he got stuck at the letter G? He couldn’t tell Wilson that J. Edgar Hoover had died like that. It wasn’t right.
“He didn’t say anything, sir. He just kind of reached out to me and then he closed his eyes and he was dead.”
Conrad Wilson studied Crawford for a long moment. An almost imperceptible look of relief passed across his face.
“All right, then,” he said. “Annie, you call Mrs. Gandy. I will contact Mr. Mohr and the Attorney General. I suppose we have to tell the President too.”
“It’s the end of an era,” said Crawford. “The Boss is gone and there won’t ever be another like him.” Annie nodded. “I’m going to miss him.” Annie nodded again.
Wilson gave the gardener and housekeeper a paternal smile of comfort. “We’ll all miss him, James. But remember, nobody ever really leaves us, especially not a person like Mr. Hoover.”
“My grandma used to say we all make ripples,” said Annie. “Like a pebble thrown in a pond. The pebble sinks, but the ripples go on and on.”
Wilson nodded. “Your grandmother was a wise woman,” he said. “And I think we can safely assume that Mr. Hoover made lots of ripples in some very big ponds.”
“Grandma also said we have to be careful,” said Annie. “Because you never know what your ripples might do or where they might go. Sometimes they even come back.”
“Well,” said Wilson. “I suppose they could. I hadn’t quite thought about it that way, but yes, I suppose they could.”