On May 3, the state of Michigan did what only three other states have done–installed a new statue in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall collection to replace an original one. In this case, the statue of Zechariah Chandler, onetime mayor of Detroit, four-time U.S. senator, one-time secretary of the Interior, anti-slavery activist–was replaced by Gerald R. Ford, U.S. president and, I’ll proudly note, according to Wikipedia, the only president to have tackled a future Heisman Trophy winner when he played college football (for the University of Michigan).
A few years ago Congress passed a law that permitted states to replace their original statues, often obscure 19th century political figures, with new statues. Thus, Alabama has added Helen Keller, Kansas has added Dwight Eisenhower, and California has added Ronald Reagan. And now Michigan has added Gerald R. Ford to join Lewis Cass. Here’s the complete list of the original statues. (From the vantage point of a come-lately Virginian, I suspect my current state will have little interest in replacing George Washington or Robert E. Lee.)
Since I moved to Washington 36 years ago, I have traveled to the U.S. Capitol on three occasions to pay respects to persons whose remains were lying in state there: Hubert Humphrey, Rosa Parks and Gerald Ford. Now the last name will probably surprise some of my friends, and certainly my Michigan and University of Michigan pride was involved. But I basically respected President Ford for trying to be a good, honest president and serving the nation in difficult times. I will confess that part of my motivation was that I could not understand the adulation that was showered on Ronald Reagan at the time of his death, and felt that Gerald Ford deserved a similar show of respect, even though I knew it would not be forthcoming–at least with similarly-sized crowds of tourists. (Note to file: Crowds in Washington are likely to be larger if you die in June rather than in late December, as Ford did.)
Elly Peterson was among the Michigan residents who traveled to Washington in December 1973 to see Gerald Ford sworn in as vice president after Vice President Spiro Agnew was forced to resign. It was a rare occasion on which she felt moved to immediately record her emotions. She wrote:
“It was more than a ceremony to me. I was watching an old friend and co-worker being [sworn] into the No. 2 spot in the nation. I was looking at a man who had undergone more investigation, more examination, than any previous Vice President (or President for that matter)—and I was watching a man who had come through all these investigations as a symbol of integrity.
“As old friends greeted each other—there was a feeling of confidence and inspiration—Here was a man from Michigan—the first from our state ever to be in the Executive Office—but more important than the historic first, was the belief by all those there, that it was a beginning—for a return to confidence in government.”
At a party that night, she predicted to a Washington Post reporter that if Ford became president before the end of Nixon’s term, he would “make a great President.” She added, “And there could be a chance that he will get to be President.”
In eight months, that prophecy was fulfilled.