Thursday, August 23, 2007

Remembering the man who shot George Wallace

Word that Arthur H. Bremer likely will be freed from a Maryland prison in a few months brought a rush of memory to me Thursday - as one of the handful of reporters who saw him on the fateful day in May 1972 after he shot Democratic presidential candidate George C. Wallace on the Laurel Shopping Center parking lot.

I was working in the Baltimore Sun newsroom amid the commotion wrought by one of the rare events big enough to make Maryland the center of the media universe, but not involved in the immediate coverage of the story. When my shift ended in late evening, I found my way into the game wearing another hat – as a paid-by-the-story local stringer for the British news agency Reuters.

With Wallace, the segregationist Alabama governor, hospitalized in critical condition, federal authorities were coy about where Bremer was being held and when and where he would be hauled before a U.S. magistrate for an initial court appearance. The Sun’s federal court reporter had been assured it would be the next morning, perhaps in Hyattsville.

I joined a small media stakeout at the old federal courthouse, in Baltimore’s then-main post office on Calvert Street, where the hapless Bremer – bloodied and bruised from his pummeling in the crowd after shooting Wallace – arrived amid tight security for an unannounced and brief late-night appearance.

Few events in my 40 years at The Sun could rival the spotlight that Bremer’s crazed act brought to this area. I can remember the day in 1968 that Republican presidential nominee Richard Nixon named Maryland Gov. Spiro T. Agnew as his running mate (phones at the city desk, which I was answering, rang off the hook with the question, “Spiro Who?”), and the story’s other bookend in 1973 when Agnew unexpectedly turned up in that same Baltimore courthouse as Bremer to resign the vice presidency and pleaded no contest to tax evasion (and me, sitting back around the fifth row, about to earn a big raise from Reuters).

But Bremer was really my first big-time story, if only through a piece of the action. Wallace awoke from surgery paralyzed for life from a bullet in his spine, but for a day politically triumphant after winning Maryland’s Democratic presidential primary. He died in 1998.

Thirty-five years after the shooting, now recently retired from The Sun, I would love to chat up that unrepentant sad-sack loser Bremer – who has declined interview requests and done his best to avoid any spotlight. Many aspects of his life before the shooting have emerged, adding up to a portrait of a socially and sexually awkward outcast who stalked Nixon before turning his gun on Wallace.

Is he still crazy after all these years? Long denied parole, he remains an enigma.

But with credits for good behavior behind bars, he will soon walk among us again.

-DAVID ETTLIN, Temporary Assistant Business Editor

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