American journalist Edward Robb Ellis was sixteen when he began to keep a diary; by the time of his death 71 years later, he had written approximately 22 million words—an incredible feat which, until it was surpassed in 1994, earned him a world record for the “longest published diary in the English language.” Thanks to his day job, Ellis came into contact with many significant figures of the 20th century and was an eyewitness to numerous important events, all of which he chronicled in his meticulously detailed diary. In May of 1973, he was one of millions of people to watch the televised Watergate hearings, a pivotal moment in American political history that led to the resignation of U.S. President Richard Nixon.
The Diary Entry
TUESDAY, MAY 22 1973
We are in the grip of Watergate, a morality play of such significance that I need all my will-power to stay away from the TV set so that I can do my work. The day James McCord took the stand I became so hypnotized that I didn’t even try to produce my daily quota of words. Time and again I gasped as he produced one verbal link after another in the chain of events that will lead to the White House.
How strange it feels to be part of an era in which there is growing talk of impeachment of the President of the United States. There has been nothing like the Watergate investigation since the McCarthy-Army hearings, an event that jolted me into an awareness that television, after all, does possess great merit. Nonetheless, the Watergate trail was not found by electronic journalists but by two old-fashioned print reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post. I saw them on the Dick Cavett show and was impressed by their intelligence and sense of balance.
Edward Robb Ellis’ many volumes of diaries now live at New York University’s Fales Library and Special Collections. In 1995, a selection of entries (1% of his original diaries) were published with the modestly titled A Diary of the Century: Tales from America’s Greatest Diarist. A genuinely fascinating and engaging diary that covers more ground than most people would manage in ten lifetimes.