|Interment Location||Visited||Sequence in Graves I Have Visited|
|Grand Rapids, MI||April 20, 2010||37th President visited; 19th Vice President visited; 1st Warren Commission Member visited|
Gerald Ford holds the distinction of being the only U.S. chief executive who was not elected to national office. In fall 1973, both chambers of Congress approved House Minority Leader Ford as the replacement for Spiro T. Agnew, who resigned from the vice presidency amid a tax evasion scandal. The following year, Ford ascended to the highest office in the land when Richard Nixon resigned. The Michigander lost his 1976 election bid to former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter, which cemented his unique place in presidential electoral history.
Ford is also the only president whose presidential library under the auspices of the National Archives is split into separate locations. The actual library — or archive — is in the city of Ann Arbor. The museum was constructed 130 miles west in Grand Rapids, along the Grand River. Former President Ford and former First Lady Betty Ford are interred on the north side of the museum. Both the museum and the gravesite were designed by architect Marvin DeWinter.
As was the case when I visited the Reagan tomb two years prior, only the former president was interred at the Ford gravesite when I visited in April 2010. Betty Ford died 15 months later on July 8, 2011. The phrase above the Fords’ names on the tomb wall is reminiscent of the statement released by Mrs. Ford on the evening of her husband’s passing in 2006. In it she professed that her husband’s life “was filled with love of God, his family and his country.”
Several presidential resting places have been vandalized over the years, including Ford’s. On March 27, 2019, skateboarding youths sat atop the gravesite wall and one of them pried off the letter “E” from the word “Committed.” Museum officials estimated that those actions caused $400 in damage. Not long into the Grand Rapids Police Department’s investigation, the suspects turned themselves in and cooperated with authorities. The teen who removed the letter returned it and maintained that he was not aware he was desecrating a grave.
Born: July 14, 1913 in Omaha, Nebraska
Spouse: Elizabeth Anne Bloomer Ford (m. 1948-2006)
Highest Military Rank: Lieutenant Commander — U.S. Navy
Political Affiliation: Republican Party
House Minority Leader Tenure: 1965-1973
Vice Presidential Term: 1973-1974 under Richard Nixon
Presidential Term: 1974-1977
Vice President: Nelson A. Rockefeller (1974-1977)
Presidential Medal of Freedom: Awarded by Bill Clinton (1999)
Died: December 26, 2006 in Rancho Mirage, California
Cause of Death: Arteriosclerotic Cerebrovascular Disease; Diffuse Arteriosclerosis
Interment: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, Grand Rapids, Michigan
"The oath that I have taken is the same oath that was taken by George Washington and by every president under the Constitution. But I assume the presidency under extraordinary circumstances never before experienced by Americans. This is an hour of history that troubles our minds and hurts our hearts. "Therefore, I feel it is my first duty to make an unprecedented compact with my countrymen. Not an inaugural address, not a fireside chat, not a campaign speech -- just a little straight talk among friends. And I intend it to be the first of many."
- Gerald Ford
August 9, 1974 in televised remarks after being sworn in as president following the resignation of Richard Nixon
This display at the Ford Museum exhibits the baptismal gown and shoes of Leslie Lynch King, Jr., as the future president was then known. The framed image shows two-month-old Leslie being held by his mother on the day of his baptism in September 1913. In late July, just sixteen days after she gave birth, Dorothy Ayer King had fled with her child in order to escape her abusive husband. This came after the elder Leslie had threatened his wife and infant son with a butcher knife.
Gerald Ford spent much of his youth living at this house, located at 649 Union Street in Grand Rapids. A historical marker in front of the private residence in part reads, “Gerald R. Ford, the thirty-eighth president of the U.S., lived here from age 8 to 17 (1921-1930). Of all his boyhood homes, Ford remembered this one most vividly. In his autobiography, Ford recalled that he used the garage behind the house as a social club. ‘We learned to play penny-ante poker … it was a great hideaway because my parents wouldn’t climb the ladder to get to the second floor — or so I thought.'” The years listed on the sign somewhat clash with the information disseminated by the Ford Presidential Library & Museum, as its website states Ford’s family did not move in until 1923.
Gerald Ford attended South High School in Grand Rapids and graduated in 1931. The school closed in 1968 and is now the Gerald R. Ford Job Corps Center, which operates under the U.S. Department of Labor. Outside the west entrance stands a small monument with a plaque dedicated by Ford’s graduating class upon its 60th anniversary in 1991. The building is located at 110 Hall Street SE.
One of the most athletic U.S. presidents, Ford racked up achievements as the center for the University of Michigan football team. In 1932 he received the Meyer Morton Award for the Most Improved Freshman, and in 1934 Ford was named the team’s most valuable player. Ford played in two all-star games in 1935: the East-West Shrine Game in January and the Chicago Tribune All-Star Game in August. His performance on the offensive line caught the attention of multiple teams in the National Football League — he received offers from both the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions. But rather than become a professional pigskin player, Ford set his sights on Yale Law School. Ford was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 1975 and his jersey number, 48, was retired by the Michigan Wolverines in 1994.
Ford was one of six U.S. presidents who served in the Navy during World War II. The others were John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush. Ford’s first assignment was with the gunnery group on the fantail of the USS Monterey, a light aircraft carrier. He was later moved to the bridge as an assistant navigator. This exhibit at the Ford Museum showcases Ford’s Navy dress white uniform.
The Ford family lived at 514 Crown View Drive in Alexandria, Virginia, from 1955 to August 1974. Those 19 years encompassed Gerald Ford’s entire tenures as House minority leader and vice president. The family also resided there for the first ten days of the Ford presidency, until they finally moved into the White House. The home on Crown View Drive remains a private residence. A plaque to the right of the front door signifies its status as a National Historic Landmark.
The Ford Museum’s collections hold the official proclamation that granted former President Richard Nixon “a full, free, and absolute pardon,” for any offenses against the United States that he “committed or may have committed or taken part in” during his five and a half years as chief executive. The museum also possesses the monogrammed pen, shown here, that President Ford used to sign the document on September 8, 1974.
This helicopter, now in the collection of the Ford Museum, was used to evacuate U.S. government employees from Saigon on April 29, 1975 as the Viet Cong and the People’s Army of Vietnam approached. Evacuees reached the chopper using the staircase shown on the right hand side, which was located atop an apartment building where the Americans lived: 22 Gia Long Street. Just as Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City after Vietnamese reunification, Gia Long Street was changed to Lý Tự Trọng Street. The name honors an executed teenager regarded as a martyr by Vietnamese communists and anti-colonialists.
President Ford survived two assassination attempts in September 1975. The first was on the fifth of the month, outside the California State Capitol in Sacramento. The would-be killer was 26-year-old Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, an affiliate of notorious cult leader Charles Manson. Fromme aimed the Colt .45 caliber pistol shown here at the president, but was thwarted by Secret Service agent Larry Buendorf. Fromme was convicted of attempted murder and handed a life sentence. She was paroled in August 2009, eight months before I took this picture of her handgun at the Ford Museum in Grand Rapids.
Ford’s official White House portrait was created by Everett Raymond Kinstler, whose repertoire included both portraiture and comic book art. The painting was unveiled on May 24, 1978. The location of White House artwork often changes, but when I visited the Executive Mansion during Joe Biden’s administration in September 2023, Ford’s likeness was hanging by the Grand Staircase that connects the State Floor and the Second Floor.
The two people who inspired me to become a presidential grave hunter were C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb and historian Richard Norton Smith. Between 1987 and 2001, Smith served as director of four presidential libraries and museums, including the facilities dedicated to Gerald Ford. In April 2023, I met Smith at the Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan, at the launch event for his comprehensive biography of the 38th chief executive. It is titled, An Ordinary Man: The Surprising Life and Historic Presidency of Gerald R. Ford.
Sources Consulted and Further Reading
DeFrank, Thomas M. Write It When I’m Gone: Remarkable Off-the-Record Conversations with Gerald R. Ford. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2007.
DeWinter, Marvin. Interview by Richard Norton Smith, May 15, 2010. Transcript. From the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation, Gerald R. Ford Oral History Project. https://geraldrfordfoundation.org/centennial/oralhistory/marvin-dewinter/.
Iati, Marisa. “Gerald Ford said this headline cost him the election. Daily News used it again for Trump.” Washington Post. August 17, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2019/08/17/gerald-ford-said-this-headline-cost-him-election-daily-news-used-it-again-trump/.
Picone, Louis L. The President is Dead! The Extraordinary Stories of the Presidential Deaths, Final Days, Burials, and Beyond. Rev. ed. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2020.
“President Ford Inaugural Ceremony.” C-SPAN video, 11:15. August 9, 1974. https://www.c-span.org/video/?8670-1/president-gerald-fords-inaugural-ceremony.
Silverstein, Jason. “Suspects who allegedly vandalized Gerald Ford’s grave turn themselves in.” CBS News. Updated April 4, 2019. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/suspects-who-allegedly-vandalized-president-gerald-fords-grave-turn-themselves-in/.
Smith, Richard Norton. An Ordinary Man: The Surprising Life and Historic Presidency of Gerald R. Ford. New York: Harper, 2023.
White House Historical Association. “Gerald R. Ford.” Accessed September 29, 2023. https://www.whitehousehistory.org/photos/fotoware?id=5C601F0531EC45B2%20AE88E33F8B706E0E.