When Charles Holden first walked the halls of the White House, he was wearing an imitation Alpine mountaineering hat with a huge ostrich feather sticking out of it. That was in the spring of 1964, and he was in from New Jersey on his eighth-grade class trip. A government official told him in no uncertain terms to remove the thing.
"He takes one look at me, starts shaking his head, and says, 'What do you do when you're in somebody's house?'" bellows Holden, recalling the scene as if it happened yesterday. "And I just looked at him, like, what?? What?? 'You take your hat off!!'"
And now Charles Holden wants to return to the White House, but not just for a brief sightseeing tour in an Alpine hat with an ostrich plume--he wants to be your next president.
Which will probably not happen.
All right, all right, it won't happen at all. At least not in '96; 2000 is still up for grabs.
Every four years, there are countless citizens who announce they're running for president, people who don't stand a chance in hell of even becoming dogcatcher, let alone propping up their Florsheims on that big desk in the Oval Office.
But that's part of the American system, a system that fosters hopes and dreams for Everyman, a system in which Charles Holden is a true believer.
Holden is 45 years old and a native of Bridgewater Township, New Jersey. He speaks with that classic, warm, Jersey accent, and he looks a little like Dick Van Patten, who also speaks with that classic, warm, Jersey accent.
Holden says he is a 13th-generation American. The first Holden to make his home in the New World settled at Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1628. Now Charles--so many Holdens later--has settled in a Phoenix trailer park near I-17 and Indian School Road. His reconditioned '50s Airstream is also the official Holden campaign headquarters.
Charles Holden claims to have had more than 100 different jobs since he graduated from college in 1974, including manufacturing engineer, production planner, metal stamping worker, plastics fabricating laborer and door-to-door Electrolux vacuum salesman. Ask him what he could bring to the country's highest office, and here is what he will say:
"You see, I'm a unique person with unique qualifications. Most people who become president are people who have been the governor of a state or a senator or a general. I feel that I am the kind of a person who would make a good president because I have unique insights into progress."
And he's not kidding. For as long as Holden has been skipping from job to job, he has also been studying. Spending long hours in the library, absorbing facts, poring over reference books, newspapers, magazines. Forming those unique insights into progress that may someday bring him--and humankind--rewards beyond compare.
Now, an excerpt from the text of a speech he delivered to Republicans at a rally in Tucson on February 26:
"Let us commit ourselves to working towards the reversal of the aging process as the goal of humanity and the goal of the American people. ... We can develop a program to replace most of the buildings in the United States of America and give a new home to anybody who wants one by building manufacturing machines to produce building supplies from recycled and reconstituted materials, and construct buildings via remote control using computers."
"Eventually, with the advancements of biotechnology and radio, science will bring people back from the grave, and we will begin the earliest stages of planning to schedule this inevitable scientific achievement of the future so people throughout the entire world will know: Those who have lost loved ones or spouses have hope with the progress we'll build in our great nation America."
It may seem like Holden has brought Ed Wood back from the grave and hired him as a speechwriter.
But Charles, as you might have guessed, is unperturbed by naysayers. "I feel a moral responsibility to express my ideas," he clarifies. "What I'm talking about is progress and inevitable scientific facts of the future. And none of the nationally known candidates, nobody on television or anywhere in the media, is really discussing these subjects."
Well, if nothing else, it takes guts to base a political campaign on issues such as these; it's hard to imagine Bob Dole braying out the advantages of bringing the dead back to life.
"These are issues that people aren't talking about, but will be realities in the very near future," Holden exclaims. "People need to face these issues. ... Look, in 1952, if someone walked into a meeting of Republicans or Democrats and said, 'We should have in our platform a plan to put a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth,' people would have laughed. They would think it was totally ridiculous."
I'm sitting there across the table from Holden, who is dressed simply in a blue work shirt with a Bic pen jutting from the pocket. He looks a little peaked; the political arena can be tiring--he had to take the bus to the New Times Building for this interview. Yet his eyes are aglow behind the thick glasses.
I'm thinking about the future according to Holden ... a future where technology and automation will create a fabulous world for us all, a place where computers will do all the work and the dead will walk again.
I'm thinking, Charles Holden: madman ... or visionary?
"'Visionary?' Well, I guess in a way, but I don't really consider myself a visionary in my way of thinking," says the modest fellow with a shrug. "I'm a realist. I'm a person who understands that we can make great breakthroughs in science for the good of all mankind. I know how to build inventions that can enable tremendous breakthroughs in radio waves and biotechnology."
Holden gained all this knowledge, of course, by "studying for quite a few hours in libraries, and by a natural interpretation of real scientific principles people can understand." Before you laugh, just remember that you can build an atomic bomb using instructions to be found in any local library.
But what if his knowledge fell into the wrong hands? God only knows what might happen. "I know!" Holden sputters. "Because biotechnology could be very threatening to world security!"
In this technological age, the success of any campaign involves a candidate's relationship with the camera. If you can't look good on TV, you're in tough shape.
Holden, should he get the chance to grace the airwaves, is fairly confident. "I think I need a little practice, but I think I could be real good at it," he says. "I'm a pretty good singer, on my own, just singing. I used to sing Jackson Browne and Eagles and stuff. But if I had somebody brushing me up for a few days, I could give a real good presentation before the camera. Believe me, talking on camera isn't like just having a conversation with somebody at a bus stop."
And this is where Holden's past experience may be helpful.
"Campaigning on TV, it's just like a sales pitch. I used to sell Electrolux vacuum cleaners--I didn't sell many, but I had a good pitch."
But aren't his ideas perhaps a tad too far out for Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea?
"Absolutely not," Holden replies confidently. "I think when my ideas are publicized with the help of magazines like yours--even though it's unlikely that I'll become president--people can understand how progress will come about. Then they can start planning a new standard of living."
Holden is now getting warmed up.
"They laughed at the Wright brothers when they said they could invent a flying machine. They even laughed at Robert Fulton when he said he could use a steam engine in a boat that floated on water--they thought it would sink to the ground!"
Holden is now getting really warmed up.
"We can build point-of-purchase manufacturing retail outlets supplying products very cheaply to anybody in the world market, but we should have a plan and go about it with the comprehension and knowledge of what will happen in the future."
Sorry, but I am not familiar with a point-of-purchase manufacturing retail outlet.
"You go into a store, and any product you want, they can manufacture it right there," informs Holden.
But wouldn't that put a lot of people out of work?
"Millions of people worldwide would be put out of work," replies Holden without hesitation.
And how would he deal with that?
There is a rather long pause.
"I would ... I would ... that's the problem."
But back to this raising-the-dead thing. Even Holden admits that it may be difficult for folks to deal with. "I think it's something that's hard for people to swallow; it's something people don't want to believe," he says. "But through scientific advances, it will be possible with someone who has been buried and embalmed, if deterioration hasn't reached advanced stages. When a person is embalmed and buried and put in a coffin, that body stays preserved for much longer than most people believe. Most germs only go down about three feet deep in the ground, so there's no problem with bacteria."
"You mean any of them, or the ones I think are still possible to bring back?"
"From the ones that are still possible to bring back."
"I think you could probably go back as far as Kennedy and still bring him back to life."
"But isn't his head in kind of bad shape?"
"That's true. But as long as his brain is still intact--even with the bullet wound--Ithink he could be brought back to life."
"Some conspiracy theorists claim that his brain was actually stolen."
"Well, that would be a problem."
No, Charles Holden will not become president in 1996. Nor will he gain the Republican nomination. But that has not stopped him from looking to the future. Where, as Ed Wood himself once so eloquently put it, we will all be spending the rest of our lives.
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"I'll only run in 2000 if three criteria are there for me," says Holden. "You need an organization of thousands of people all around the country helping you," he begins, extending a finger. "You need national media coverage; that's very important," he continues, extending a second finger. "And you need money." Though this is obviously the third necessary factor, he does not extend a third finger. "If you've got those three factors, you can be in a position to at least express your opinions to the voters."
And, if his opinions could somehow reach the ears of the public at large, if perhaps by the year 2000 people are ready for our man's forward-thinking propositions, if on a chilly January morning in his beloved future Charles Holden finds himself leading the Inaugural Parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, doffing his top hat to the cheering masses of recently exhumed voters who owe their rekindled lives all to him, what would people remember him for?
Holden answers immediately.
"For the greatest progress in the history of the human race."