We visited a bunch of presidential museums while researching our book, Hottest Heads of State: The American Presidents. And you can come along with us—virtually!—by reading our review of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.
The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum
Grand Rapids, MI
Adults: $8 | Children (ages 6-18): $4
Kate: When I woke up that morning, I was so pumped to look at photos of a young, hot Gerald Ford.
JD: Just think, if we lived in Grand Rapids, that could be every morning. Instead of drinking tea to wake yourself up, you could just drive down to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.
Kate: Or if we lived on top of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential museum, I could just rappel down.
JD: I guess before we move to the museum’s roof, I’d want to know more about what the schools are like in downtown Grand Rapids.
Kate: The Gerald Ford museum is housed inside of a gigantic triangle, just like a gigantic individual slice of pizza.
JD: It’s meant to evoke all the slices of a Gerald Ford presidency we didn’t get, thanks to the stupid and unappreciative voters. Just one hot, spicy slice of Gerald Ford, then on to the sack of boiled peanuts that was Jimmy Carter’s presidency.
Kate: When we entered the lobby, the first thing I noticed were the giant words engraved on the walls. “GENUINE,” “COMPASSIONATE,” “RESPECTFUL,” etc. I guess they’re referring to Gerald Ford, but who knows. They could be talking about anyone, really!
JD: The first stop is, of course, a movie about Ford. The people who watched the movie ahead of us applauded at the end, so I was pretty excited. But then I saw that it was a church youth group and I was like, “Oh, bummer, they’re just super positive.”
Kate: I couldn’t focus on the movie because I was thinking about all of the hot pics of young Gerald Ford awaiting me in the next room. I’d been looking forward to this for days, so part of me was prepared to be disappointed. But I was NOT disappointed.
JD: It’s weird the museum doesn’t take advantage of his youthful good looks. A few presidential libraries have an actor walking around impersonating the president, and they could have some hot 18 year old playing Ford. And if you buy $50 worth of merchandise in the gift shop, you get to have an argument with him about pardoning Nixon that gets so heated and passionate that maybe you kiss. (You won’t kiss, because he’s a professional.)
Kate: …Or maybe sometimes you would kiss. Like if you and the young Gerald Ford impersonator fell in love.
JD: The next room covered Ford’s WWII Navy service. It included a cool fighter plane, and a movie about the time a typhoon named Typhoon Cobra (!) hit Ford’s aircraft carrier and tipped it over, and he almost slid off into the ocean. But he didn’t, because he was a finely tuned athletic machine, so he easily stopped himself when he reached the edge of the deck, and actually the whole thing was a pretty solid quads-and-glutes workout.
Kate: Almost falling off of an aircraft carrier must have made Gerald Ford realize how short and precious life is, because after that he immediately went into politics.
JD: I don’t know why, but like 80 percent of my notes and photos from this part of the museum are about his 1972 trip to China as House Minority Leader. Was the museum weirdly focused on that trip, or am I?
Kate: I don’t know, because all of my notes are about various dresses that belonged to Betty Ford.
JD: I like Ford a lot but he did not have a ton of exciting accomplishments as president. So the Ford museum dedicates a lot of real estate to modest improvements in inflation and unemployment. Which are actually really important to people’s lives. But like most things that are important to our lives, like breakfast, or retirement planning, they are boring.
JD: The heart of the museum, I have arbitrarily decided, is the section on Ford’s pardon of Nixon. I used to think the pardon was the right call. But now, I’m not so sure. These days, the thought of a criminal president getting off scot-free because his hand-picked successor grants him a broad pardon KIND OF BOTHERS ME. Maybe I’m just becoming less easygoing as I get older.
Kate: You’re definitely not becoming more easygoing.
The Gift Shop
Kate: The Gerald R. Ford Museum gift shop has surprisingly strong opinions about women’s fashion. Specifically, it believes that all women should be draping themselves in large, patriotic scarves.
JD: I literally did not even notice a single scarf. That’s the male gaze for you.
Kate: When you saw those mannequins, they just looked completely naked.
JD: I didn’t even think of them as mannequins. To me, they’re just objects.
Kate: What I really wanted was a Christmas ornament. I’m on a quest to buy Christmas ornaments representing all 44 presidents, so we have something to leave our kids someday.
JD: I noticed they sell Gerald R Ford Presidential Museum lapel pins. So if you run for office and someone says, “Hey, why don’t you have a patriotic lapel pin, do you hate America?” you can point to your Ford pin, and then use it stab them in the eye. That’s how you’ll win televised debates in 2018.
Kate: I guess this is what you were thinking about when you were busy not noticing scarves.
JD: It was what I was thinking about until we were checking out, and the clerk said “Do you have a presidential library passport you’d like stamped?” And we said “Huh?” and he said “Oh it’s a neat program where you can have it stamped at each presidential library and when you collect all the stamps you get a…” but I don’t even know what the prize is because by that time I was boiling with rage.
Kate: Why are we only now finding out about this!!?? I liked the Carter library a lot but I’m probably not prepared to drive all the way back to Atlanta just for a fake passport stamp. (Or OK, maybe I am.)
Kate: There is no Gerald R. Ford Museum cafe. Gerald R. Ford thinks you should have eaten beforehand.
JD: This means you can open up a “Gerald R. Ford Museum Cafe.” Just hang out in the museum’s replica cabinet room, and when visitors come in, sidle up to them and whisper, “Hey pal, ya like pretzels?” Then open your trenchcoat to display your pretzel selection. The best part is, no sales tax, because you’re on federal property!
Kate: You could do that, but you should be prepared to get a terrible review from us.
JD: Ignore Kate, she just hates pretzels and by extension America. If you could see her right now, you would see she is NOT wearing a Gerald R Ford Presidential Museum lapel pin. And being in the shower is no excuse!
Should I bring my kids?
Kate: This is a tough one. Our kids were really tired when we brought them to the Gerald R. Ford Museum, so they weren’t in the right mood to find joy in things like this kickass soup tureen.
JD: There were a lot of interactive screens, but we’d just driven seven hours and let our kids play with iPads most of the way, so they weren’t too interested. Usually you should try to give kids as much screen time as possible, but a day when you’re visiting the Ford museum might be an exception.
Kate: My favorite interactive screen was the one where I got to plan a state dinner. I served pheasant, and for the entertainment, I hired a mime. At least, I think that was the entertainment. Either that or I just held a state dinner for a bunch of mimes. Regardless, the evening was a huge success, according to my interactive screen.
JD: Beforehand, I asked our 6-year-old daughter what she was most excited to learn about. She blew a raspberry and said “noodle.” I just asked her if she learned anything about noodles there, and she said, “They are long. That’s the only thing.”
Kate: I think our kids might be too young to appreciate Gerald R. Ford.
JD: Our son kept complaining that he didn’t get to see Gerald Ford die. So I guess that’s something the museum could work on, if it wants to be more kid-friendly.
What would you change?
Kate: The Gerald R. Ford museum is pretty perfect, so the only thing I’d change would be to fill the museum with millions of plastic balls so you could swim from exhibit to exhibit in a sea of plastic balls.
JD: It would certainly help with marketing. “Have a ball, at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum!” “The Presidential Museum with Balls!” “We Have Only Lost Three Guests in our Vats of Balls!”
JD: The secret to a good presidential museum, or really any museum, is having a lot of life-sized dioramas that help you pretend you’re there. Like the submarine at the Carter museum, or the log cabin at the Lincoln museum. That’s why the replica cabinet room at the Gerald Ford museum is so great—I could sit there, glaring at the teen who was hogging the president’s chair, and imagine that I was Henry Kissinger glaring at Ford. But this museum does not have enough of these. To be more specific, I’m still annoyed that I couldn’t climb into this helicopter.
Kate: I disagree; I think the museum is amazing. There are lots of cool, multimedia effects, and I learned things about Gerald Ford that I didn’t know and that we probably should have included in our book. Whoops!
JD: If enough people buy the book, we can do a second edition and add an epilogue that says “For more information about the U.S. presidents, visit the Gerald R Ford Presidential Museum.”
Read the rest of this series:
JD and Kate Visit the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum
JD and Kate Visit Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage
JD and Kate Visit the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum
J.D. and Kate Visit the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
JD and Kate Visit the John Tyler Presidential Museum and Swamp Lair