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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, Grand Rapids, Michigan

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that we had arrived at the home of a presidential library and museum when we reached Grand Rapids.  A bonus museum for my part of the trip!  We had been staying near the Gerald R. Ford airport and had only to drive along the Gerald R. Ford Freeway to reach the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.  Twenty-five years in congress will obviously bring a lot of dollars to your district and what better way to remind your constituents...

I expected that we would find about six cars in the parking lot on a Sunday afternoon.  I was very wrong.  The museum is used for civic events and this was the final day of the Grand Rapids Art Prize.  This appears to be a very big deal.  The sponsors claim it is the world's largest art competition.  Offsetting the negative of a large crowd, the admission was free.

Like other presidential libraries, there is a public museum area with exhibits that cover major events during the president's term.  This one takes the time to set the preliminary scene.  The 1960s. Vietnam.  Nixon.  Soon it is 1974, and then, Watergate.  Well these three exhibits certainly bring back memories for us old folks.
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Wondering what tape is in the 8-track?

Then the biography section takes us through Ford's life and career.  I sometimes wonder what it must be like to have fate place you on the same page of your high school yearbook as a famous politician or entertainer.  Those awful pictures on display for the world.
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Presidential museums always have an oval office reproduction.  Click on the "U.S. Presidents" in the left-hand column to see other examples visited on this blog.

Extra efforts go into reproducing the president's desk.

There are many of the usual artifacts in the library: fancy gifts from sultans and emirs, for instance.  But this library has a few that are very special.  There is the Nixon presidential pardon and the pen used to sign it, of course.
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But, there are quite a few letters on display from unhappy citizens.  Not the least, one of resignation from Ford's press secretary.  No way was Jerald terHorst going to explain the pardon to the press.  But also nicely preserved is the White House Switchboard where calls of protest came in along with this letter from game show host, Allen Ludden.
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Since Ford was attacked by two women with guns during separate California incidents during September of 1975, these items are among the more unusual to be found in a presidential museum.  First, there is Squeaky Fromme's .45 automatic.

And there is Sally Moore's letter to Ford - with a cover note asking that it not be made public.  I wonder if either of these people have been to the museum?  Do you suppose terms of their parole prohibit that?

And here is one other presidential artifact that I was surprised to see.  It's the ladder from the roof of the U.S. embassy in Saigon that we have seen so many times on film as the last desperate refugees tried to make it onto the last helicopter leaving the country.  I had no idea it was preserved.  The story can be found here.

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