Gerald Ford Museum

Bleary-eyed, I stared at my egg-white omlette. It’s hard to eat healthy on the road, especially if you like food. But I decided to try. Figuring I would skip lunch, I opted for the bigger breakfast – besides, who wants a small cardboard box of cereal when you’re sitting in the restaurant of an upscale hotel?

After arriving late at night to Grand Rapids, MI, I had spent the night at the Amway Grand on the shores of the Grand River. My company had a booth at the Great Lakes Broadcast Conference and Expo. This day was for setup, the next day was the show itself. For now…food.

I looked up from my plate and looked across the river’s brown water. I spotted a dull-looking triangular building adorned with large, blue lettering: “Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.” I took a sip of coffee.

Wait – “Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum?” I woke up a little more. That might be interesting. OK, so I decided to go to the booth, make sure all of my packages had arrived, check the contents of the boxes, then head over to the museum. Then I could set up in the afternoon with my coworker, which would only take about a half hour.

So after breakfast, away I went, walking quickly across the bridge through the cold mist. In front of the museum building were slightly appropriate, but largely unrelated items – let’s call them earmarks – like statues of angry UAW members and an astronaut. It’s like the proprieters just thought, “Ah, we have some open space out front, let’s throw those weird statues out there. They’re kind of appropriate, since it’s Michigan and all. While we’re at it, toss in an astronaut. Everybody likes astronauts.”

Inside, I bought my ticket from a disinterested teenager, and started through the museum. The first display was a monolithic chunk of the Berlin Wall Again, a non-sequiter, since President Ford had little or nothing to do with the eventual fall of Communism, but it was a pleasant surprise – the first of many. I was quickly admonished for using my flash as I took a picture of it.

Upstairs, I walked through a few chambers that displayed much-expected pictures of young, blonde-haired Ford in his college football uniform, cans of Ford brand exterior paint, and news footage, featuring a young John Chancellor, piecing together the story of Watergate, and Ford’s subsequent pardon of Richard Nixon.

Then, a full scale model of the Oval Office. Speakers mounted in the ceiling simulated conversations between the President and his aides. Some actor doing a mediocre-passable Ford impression met with invisible kids, cabinet members, and talked on his imaginary phone. I’m still not sure if it was cool, or just silly. Probably the latter. But the Oval Office looked great.

Along those same lines, the musem featured a model of the Executive Conference Room. A similar audio presentation was available buy pushing a button on the conference table. I passed. But again, the room was outstanding. I accidentally snapped a flash picture of this. A few minutes later, the flash-phobic security guard of my earlier acquaintance asked another security guard if he had seen anyone take a flash picture. Calm down, Sparky.

More rooms told of the timeline of Ford’s brief Presidency in great detail, including an emphasis on media coverage. TV coverage of politics was in full swing by the time the mid-seventies rolled around, and presidents used the medium to promote their policy agendas. A Teleprompter scrolled a speech given by Ford in 1975.

Finally, a sixty-foot model of the White House punctuated the tour.

It was quite a pleasant surprise, and worth a visit. Gerald Ford was the first American President I can remember. I even voted for him in my Kindergarden mock election in 1976 (no surprise to those who know me now). If you’re ever in Grand Rapids, give the Gerald Ford Museum a visit.

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