The next chapter
Well, yes, it was time to move on this morning; to leave Kalamazoo and take the next step in our journey. But our first destination was going to continue the story we started in January.
Here we were in Grand Rapids, at the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum. Regular readers will know how interesting we find these places and the opportunity to find out more about what happened after the events of the Nixon era was too good to miss.
The Gerald Ford Museum is situated by the river in Grand Rapids and we found ourselves amongst a mere dozen or so visitors in there for most of our visit. It’s always good to have the run of such a place!
I realised how little I knew about the man and his presidency. How long had he served? Where did he come from (well, Grand Rapids, it seems) but beyond that…what was his background?
We were to find all the answers to our questions in the next couple of hours.
As usual, the first part of the exhibit concerned his childhood. Looking at the Boy Scout record cards and school reports, I wondered how many of our mothers kept all of these things? Mine certainly did and it seemed, Mrs Ford did too, though I doubt very much that she ever imagined where they would eventually be displayed.
The exhibits were well designed, if a little static. Still, they told the story well and explained what I needed to know.
I did know a little about Betty Ford, though.
This display included a little interactivity and it was interesting to read of her story.
I wonder how many women have had similar thoughts at times?
Anyway, having set the scene, the elephant in the room was addressed.
We’d learned about this at the Nixon Library but it was useful to have a reminder of the details as background to the scenario President Ford inherited.
What was clear time and again was that Gerald Ford provided a safe pair of hands in a crisis.
But a couple of assassination attempts must have left him wondering why on earth he had accepted the challenge. Here, the bulletproof lining to his raincoat was on show
complete with typewritten cleaning instructions!
Here was a replica of his Oval Office and alongside, the story of Betty’s breast cancer diagnosis was told. Those days must have been far from easy for the whole family but her determination to be open about her health and to speak frankly about sex, drugs, abortion, equality and gun control provoked reactions from all corners.
Unsurprisingly, Betty Friedan expressed her wholehearted support for the First Lady, but a letter from Maria von Trapp was written in a rather different tone
I failed to take a photograph of the gracious reply!
Her best known legacy is surely the clinics which bear her name and an ongoing open conversation about breast cancer and drug/alcohol dependancy. Her words “Being ladylike does not require silence” were there, high on the wall above her portrait. How true.
Meanwhile, Betty’s husband failed to win the Presidency and continued in his role as an elder statesman until his death in 2006. We watched the video of his funerals – three of them, near the Ford’s home in California, in Washington DC and then finally, in Grand Rapids MI. There, standing beside their four grown children at all three, was Betty. What an ordeal.
We’d chatted to the museum staff about Grand Rapids and thought that it would be worth walking over the bridge and exploring a little of the city. But as we left the museum, the Gay Pride rally was assembling on the bridge and as we approached the crowd, preparing to “excuse me” through, the man on the stepladder began a lengthy prayer and we all stood in respect. Eventually, we managed to make our way through, only to find a deserted townscape without a coffee shop in sight. We “excuse me’d” all the way back again!
As we did, the crowd was beginning to disperse, party as a result of the arrival of four or five people wearing orange, offering free cheesy snacks. Well, it doesn’t take long to discover where peoples’ loyalty lies, especially when the offer to “fill your rucksacks! The sooner we can give all these away, the sooner we can go home”. The gay pride rally scattered as people gathered a few snacks and began a bit of a procession. We helped ourselves to a handful and returned to our car!
An hour or so driving through the Michigan countryside brought us to the outskirts of the state capital, Lansing.
Though really, we could have been anywhere in suburban America.
We were completing this day of politics and government with a visit to the State Capitol.
The entrance was a little unprepossessing. I wondered if we’d got it wrong but a security guard confirmed that this was indeed the Capitol and we should continue down the corridor.
Eventually, we reached the “right” part and found the visitors’ desk, where Renee welcomed us to her tour.
Standing under the dome, we gazed up to the central blue “sky” with gold and platinum stars up there.
Each as “big as a dinner plate” said Renee. We believed her.
The light fittings were elaborate, originally designed for gas power and the low level lighting we’d noted already was a deliberate choice to recreate the original feel of the building.
We had a glimpse inside the Governor’s grand ceremonial office,
taking special note of the door hinges.
It being a weekend, the house was not sitting,
and the Senate was quiet too.
The wall decoration in the former Supreme Court was pointed out, since it was original and created using horse hair it seems.
Though no horses were harmed in the creation, we were assured.
Standing for a final look around the portraits of former Governors, one caught my eye. It appears it’s the same one as catches the eye of most visitors and is of John Swainson, a young Governor who considered his life and work to be unfinished when he left office, choosing to have his portrait reflect that. Interesting!
We were finished with the Capitol though and had just one last thing on our list for today; The Michigan Women’s Historical Center and Hall of Fame. We’d copied the location from our guidebook, checked it this morning and then again this afternoon as my Hero set the satnav. But when we got there…
It looked pretty empty. Derelict, even. We hummed and hawed a little before decided to leave it. Only on a further search when we were back at the hotel did we read that it had relocated last month. Huh.
The interesting sign of the day was to be found in the centre of Lansing this afternoon:
I can think of several places where that sign could be very useful!