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That Richard Nixon Eggplant

Maybe the funniest page New York has ever published.

In late 1972, RitaSue Siegel showed up at the door of New York’s offices, then located on the top floor of 207 East 32nd Street. She asked to see Milton Glaser, the magazine’s co-founder, “The Underground Gourmet” food critic, and design director.

Milton Glaser: We were in this walk-up, this one sprawling, undifferentiated space, and this woman walked in, huffing and puffing, having done the four flights. And she says, “Is Glaser here?” Someone pointed her in my direction. And she said, “I have a Nixon eggplant.”

RitaSue Siegel: I don’t remember where I found it — it says Sloan’s Supermarket on the page, so I guess it was at Sloan’s. I had always admired Milton, and I thought this would be perfect and he’d appreciate it.

Glaser: I said, “I don’t know what that is.” She said, “Well, I have it with me.” I said, “Okay, you want to show it to me?” And she took out a cardboard shoe box, and she opened it up. And there was this eggplant. And I said, “What’s the big deal? It’s just an eggplant.” And she said, “Oh, yeah?” And she rotated it around and there it was. The complete indication of art imitating life.

Siegel: I loved the magazine at that time. Where else would I have taken it?

Glaser: I couldn’t believe it, and I asked her if we could borrow it and photograph it, and she was very nice about it. The photographer, Peggy Barnett, had something of a gift for still lifes.

Peggy Barnett: I did a lot of covers for New York then, mostly conceptual work. They had a lot of ideas, and I’d have to translate them into a still life.

Glaser: Then we put it into the magazine with an authenticity stamp, saying that we didn’t photo-retouch this thing. Mother Nature herself!

Barnett: I still get calls from people who want to use it.

As told to Christopher Bonanos