Sioux Falls woman covered early days of Watergate as a courtroom artist

Local News

SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — Next week marks the 47th anniversary of the break-in at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, DC. That burglary led to the biggest political scandal in U.S. history, bringing down the presidency of Richard Nixon.

A Sioux Falls woman was in the courtroom as some of the high-profile Watergate defendants first appeared before a judge. She says events taking place today have political parallels going back to the Watergate era.

The Watergate scandal unfolded during the 1972 presidential campaign of South Dakota’s U.S. Senator George McGovern and Nixon, who was running for re-election. Carolyne Landon was working as a Washington, DC courtroom artist when the story first broke. She was among the first members of the news media to cover the legal proceedings that would become part of history.   

Carolyne Landon’s artwork provided TV audiences with their first look at the Watergate defendants back in 1972. But in those earliest days, there was little media interest in the case.

“The newsroom sent me out by myself to cover this local story, something had happened down at the Watergate, these people were being arraigned, go down and draw them and I didn’t have a reporter and there was hardly anyone in the courtroom,” Landon said

But that all changed as soon as the size and scope of the Watergate break-in, and the cover-up to follow, became more apparent.

“And I had a press pass, so I was able to be in the press room in the courthouse and everything. It went from a couple of people in there typing to filled up, then we were moved to a bigger room,” Landon said.

At times, Landon would even exchange pleasantries with one of the main Watergate conspirators, G. Gordon Liddy, who eventually went to prison.

“I was pregnant at the time so he wanted to know how I was doing and that sort of thing. He was being a gentleman with me,” Landon said.

Landon says it took the Russia investigation into the Trump campaign to rekindle her vivid memories of the Watergate era.

“I haven’t thought about if for a long time until Trump became president and all this stuff broke loose and it’s familiar to me,” Landon said. 

The Russia probe has even drawn comparisons to Watergate. And Landon was there at the very beginning, drawing the first rough sketch of history.

“So now, it’s all like wow! All this stuff’s pertinent. You know, people didn’t think about it much and it didn’t mean a lot to a lot of people because that was in the past. Now it’s talked about a lot and it’s current history,” Landon said.

Landon, who’s a self-taught painter and illustrator, says she made far more money covering criminal cases than any other of her professional artistic protects. She always thought cameras would have been allowed inside federal courtrooms by now. But she says as long as cameras are banned in federal courthouses, there will always be a market for courtroom artists. 

Landon also has an exhibit of her other works of art on display at the Center for Western Studies in SIoux Falls. We’ll show you the paintings’ spiritual significant to South Dakota Native Americans in Sunday night’s Eye On KELOLAND.  

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