Saturday, December 30, 2017

Every signature tells a story: President Gerald R. Ford and a Christmas miracle

An amazing discovery at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum today, and a wonderful Christmas gift from Julie.

We checked out the museum gift shop after touring the “Louder Than Words” exhibit because, without fail, there is something cool in the Ford Museum store.

There are often presidential history books signed by authors who recently spoke at the museum, and I’ve obtained several them on sale over the years.

This time we saw a small sign indicating there were Christmas cards signed by President Ford – and for a very reasonable price.

Now, it’s important to remember that we’ve been without President Ford for 11 years now. While he was alive, there were often signed photos and books in the gift store, and I’ve lamented never purchasing a photo.

A museum staffer told me once that the President would visit the museum several times a year, and he’d be sure to sign a stack of 8x10s for the store.

There are still some copies of his book, but those are well out of my price range.

I held up one of the cards to the friendly clerk behind the register.

“Were these signed by an Autopen?” I asked, having worked in politics now and knowing how some things are signed with a machine -- a really cool machine -- when many signatures are needed.

“No, the President signed them by hand,” she said. “Someone working in the archives found a box of them. They kept some for the museum, but said we could sell the rest in the store.”

This was a Christmas miracle.

In the often sketchy world of autographs, a scenario like this would be cause for some concern. Will and I used to see tables at baseball card shows with stacks of photos signed by Mickey Mantle and wonder if the ink was dry. But I trust the Ford Museum.

I looked at a couple of the cards, and noted that the signatures were all slightly different, clearly not the identical markings that would come from the machine.

At Julie’s urging, we looked through several of the cards to select one that had the clearest signature, which was easy, as President Ford had nice handwriting.

Later, after discussing how to display this new treasure, we went back and purchased an unsigned version of a card, so we could frame them and display both the signature and the painting of the White House on the cover.

We stopped to buy a frame on the way home, and the cards are now proudly displayed on the mantle.

This marks the third presidential signature in the collection.

I was in attendance when President George W. Bush visited the museum for a discussion about his book “Decision Points” and signed copies for the store to sell.

And Julie was able to obtain a copy of President Jimmy Carter’s book “A Call to Action” a few years back when he visited Grand Rapids Community College as part of the school’s centennial. 

The signature is on a sticker with the college’s logo, making it extra special!

President Ford is, of course, remembered very fondly here in Grand Rapids. I never had a chance to meet him, but I did get to see him up close several times, including a community celebration for his 90th birthday. Andrew is in a group photo with the President.

And later, I had the honor of being on the team of reporters covering the President’s funeral. I was the only reporter inside the museum for a solemn arrival ceremony before he would lie in state, the first event in a very moving local tribute for a national hero.