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Clinton pauses in Shepherdstown to meet the crowd

January 03, 2000

 

Peace signBy BRENDAN KIRBY / Staff Writer

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer




SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - President Clinton briefly stopped his motorcade here Monday for some old-fashioned politicking, capping off the first day of peace talks between Israel and Syria.

cont. from front page

Clinton left the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Conservation Training Center after separate meetings with Syrian and Israeli negotiators.

Heading toward the Clarion Hotel on the other side of town, the president waved as he passed Shepherdstown residents who lined the street.

Shortly before 4:30 p.m., Clinton ordered his limousine driver to stop in front of St. Agnes Church just south of the town's four-way stop.

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He got out of the limo and was mobbed by about 80 people.

"We were just waiting for the car. Just to see the car would have been cool," said an ecstatic Carol Marie Didden, who had been waiting for almost 90 minutes. "He looked right at me and waved."

Didden, who described Clinton as "a professional hand-shaker," said she ran up to the president, leaned over a crowd of people, and shook his hand.

Then she handed him a copy of a sign that has been circulating through town. The sign says "peace" in English, Arabic and Hebrew.

"He said, 'Oh, this is nice. Thank you,'" Didden said. "It's such a high I'd rather shake his hand than the pope's."

Lynn Truslow, who works with Didden's mother at the Shepherdstown Library, said she ran up when she saw the limo stop.

"I couldn't believe it. There he was in the real flesh," she said. "It was nice he did that."

Rie Wilson said she waited almost four hours for a glimpse of the president.

"He shook my hand, and he petted my dog I was so freaked out," she said.

Wilson, who attended both of Clinton's inaugurations, said her dog, Dotz, was not as impressed by his brush with presidential fame. Dotz "didn't have a clue," she said.

Clinton's impromptu meet-and-greet was the highlight of the day for many Shepherdstown residents.

Earlier, a couple of dozen people watched from across Duke Street as Clinton's helicopter landed on Shepherd's baseball field.

Bob Keller said those who gathered on his lawn at first did not know which of the two helicopters Clinton was aboard.

"But then we saw him get out. I got a picture of that just as a truck cut me off," he said.

Kathy Bilton, who lives just across the Potomac River in Washington County, said she was impressed by how authorities handled the landing. She said police stopped traffic, but only briefly.

"I'd been very worried about congestion and traffic backups It's actually kind of quiet in town," she said.

Keller, who watched Clinton's arrival from the house on Duke Street that has been in his wife's family since 1860, said he raced home from work for a chance to see the president.

Keller said he thinks most Shepherdstown residents are excited about the talks, despite the disruption they may cause.

"The town's survived an awful lot. I mean, we had the Civil War here," he said.

The sign that Carol Didden handed Clinton can be seen throughout town this week, in windows of homes and businesses.

Didden's mother, Shepherdstown Librarian Margaret Didden, said several residents had wanted to create a sign that would signify peace in all three languages. One of the other librarians, Hali Taylor, remembered she already had one.

Didden said Taylor had a picture of a sign that was printed in the Los Angles Times in the 1960s.

"Everybody in town who has seen it wants one," she said. "We're hoping by the end of the week, maybe everyone will have them in their windows."

Lori Simmons, who lives about a mile outside of town, said she had sold 288 T-shirts commemorating the Shepherdstown peace talks before the negotiations even began.

The T-shirt has a heart-shaped map of the world on the front of the shirt. Syria, Israel and Shepherdstown are highlighted on the map.

Simmons, a cartographer for the National Park Service, said she has been surprised by the orders she has received over the Internet from places like California and Europe.

Jan Scopel, of Shepherdstown, said he was trying to find a place to display a 4-by-9-foot tapestry called "The Peaceweaver's Web" by E. Thor Carlson.

The tapestry recently was shown at the DuBose Gallery in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

"It would have been really nice for the folks on the negotiating teams to have been able to see this," he said.

Members of Covenant Baptist Church on Flowing Springs Road handed out pizza and potato chips to passersby on German Street.

Parishioner Ron Courtney said he thinks the training center's secluded location makes it an ideal spot for the talks.

"I think it's a great place for it. I think God brought this here," he said.

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