PRIMARILY PRESIDENTIAL DESTINATIONS: GERALD FORD PRESIDENTIAL MUSEUM IN GRAND RAPIDS MI
Welcome to my series on Presidential Destinations. We’re about halfway through the list of libraries, museums and residences I’ve visited. For the last two weeks I discussed destinations associated with FDR, who was elected to more terms as president than anyone else. Now, I’m going to take you to Grand Rapids, Michigan to visit the museum of a president that served, but was never elected, Gerald Ford.
Visiting the Museum
When I asked my husband for his impression of the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum, he focused on how approachable the facility was in comparison to the overwhelming magnitude of other presidential destinations. “When you walk up to it, you can see the whole thing,” he said. This can be attributed to the fact that Grand Rapids only has the Museum. For the Library you have to go to Ann Arbor. Also contributing to the scale of the facility is the short time Ford actually served as president. For this reason it might be a good place to begin if you’ve never visited a Presidential Museum.
The Ford Footprint
Not only did Gerald Ford serve a partial term as president, he also left a smaller footprint on history. His contribution to our country during a time of great need was invaluable, but instead of a long resume on the world scene, Gerald Ford was somewhat of a mystery when Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned in disgrace.
Back in those days the media was not quite so pervasive. We read the paper in hard copy and watched Walter Cronkite on TV. There was no cable news network. There was no 24 hour source for news. There were no blogs or websites. Even though Gerald Ford had been a congressman for almost twenty-five years, eight of them as Minority House Leader (the same position Nancy Pelosi holds now), no one knew who he was.
Today, in order to fill up all the hours of programming, the media gives the general public more frequent and wider exposure to our legislators. The media also spends a whole lot more time speculating on what might happen than Walter Cronkite did. Old Walter made it his job to report the news, not dream up what might be news next week or next year. Speculations on the future were left to conversations around dinner tables, at cocktail parties and perhaps at Sunday School.
A Picture of the Times
What the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum does offer is an excellent picture of the Seventies. Often when you’re living through a time, it is easy to miss the state of the world, because you’re too busy with your own life. During the Seventies I graduated from high school, attended several years of college and tried to establish a career while dancing disco in the nightclubs of Dallas. I remember listening to Nixon resign on the radio during a family vacation to Louisiana. I also remember being shocked that Americans would choose Carter over Ford in the next election. I understood their disgust with the Republican Party, but not with Gerald Ford. Few men would have had the wisdom to guide our nation through the mess he inherited from Nixon.
Gerald Ford’s life had many twists and turns. A quick perusal of his Wikipedia page reveals he was an Eagle Scout and war hero, had an abusive birth father and alcoholic wife, and was threatened by two assassination attempts. His legacy to America includes serving on the Warren Commission, pardoning Nixon, finally getting Americans out of Vietnam and support for the Women’s Equal Rights Amendment.
Other Michigan Attractions
Because I was visiting relatives in the Flint area when I drove over to Grand Rapids to see the Museum, I can’t give much in the way of advice concerning accommodations and eating establishments, but I can tell you that seeing more of Michigan is on my short list of vacations – and not just because of my darling grand-niece and grand-nephew. The Detroit area is chock-full of interesting things to see which are associated with the automobile industry, like the Edsel Ford home and the Henry Ford Museum. Driving around the shoreline of Michigan is not only a visual feast, but there are unique attractions all along the way, like Mackinac Island with it’s Grand Hotel and Holland with its tulips.
Were you even alive when Nixon resigned and if you were, do you remember where you were and what you were doing? How do you think that event compares to the assassination of JFK?