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At Archives, A Sampling Of History On Display

By Sue Anne Pressley Montes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 30, 2006

In a busy second-floor corridor at the National Archives yesterday, the crowds paused reverently before the glass display case labeled "Gerald R. Ford -- 38th President of the United States."

They studied the documents that marked Ford's entry into -- and exit from -- Washington political life: the oath of office he took as a freshman congressman from Michigan, dated Jan. 3, 1949, and his final State of the Union address, delivered as the outgoing president Jan. 12, 1977. They read the poignant comments he made at the end of that speech, about how he had experienced "many, many of the highlights of my life" in the halls of Congress.

The National Archives, at Constitution Avenue and Ninth Street NW, opened the tribute to Ford on Thursday, and since then, hundreds of visitors have stopped to snap a photograph of the documents and read the words he once spoke. The exhibit will be open every day through Jan. 11, including New Year's Day and Tuesday, the national day of mourning for Ford.

"We always have an uptick of visitors on the holidays, but there have been lots of people stopping by to look at the Ford documents," said Susan Cooper, spokeswoman for the National Archives, which has about 1 million visitors a year.

For tourist Carla Curtis of Tyler, Tex., viewing the Ford documents took her back more than 30 years, when she was a student at Baylor University fascinated with the Watergate hearings and all the political tumult that brought Ford to office after Richard M. Nixon resigned.

"Gerald Ford was one of my favorite presidents because I thought it took such incredible courage to step in as he did," Curtis said.

For three generations of the Reser family of Clarksville, Mich., yesterday's visit to the archives was a blend of pride and sadness. Their home is about 30 miles from Ford's home town of Grand Rapids, and they planned to pay a double tribute to Ford, viewing his coffin after it arrives in Washington this weekend and again in Michigan next week.

"We hate that it had to happen," Dave Reser said, "but since it did, we're glad we'll be able to say goodbye twice."

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