The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Pence had a motorcade. But when Ford visited car-free Mackinac Island, he traveled by horse-cade.

President Gerald Ford, second from left, with Michigan Gov. William Milliken, Marjorie Griffin and Dick Keiser, riding a horse-drawn carriage on July 13, 1975, while visiting Mackinac Island. (Karl Schumacher/National Archives and Records Administration)
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As Vice President Pence left the Grand Hotel on Michigan’s Mackinac Island on Saturday after delivering a speech to a local GOP group, the scene looked typical: a motorcade of black vehicles with tinted windows whisking the second-in-command away.

But for residents of Mackinac Island, it was a sight worthy of a double take. Motorized vehicles have been banned there since 1898, after carriage drivers complained the sound of “horseless carriages” would scare their horses.

There are some exceptions: Emergency vehicles are always allowed, and construction vehicles can motor on the island with a permit. Motorized wheelchairs are permitted in accordance with the American Disabilities Act.

But electric bikes and scooters? Banned. (Some city-dwellers might say that is reason enough to visit.)

Clearly, some kind of exception was made for Pence’s visit. But that wasn’t the case in July 1975, when President Gerald R. Ford stayed for a working vacation.

Like residents, Ford traveled by carriage to the Grand Hotel. He also made stops at a golf course and tennis club and, with first lady Betty Ford, went to Sunday church services.

Some Secret Service agents followed alongside on foot, while others sat on benches on the backs of the larger carriages in the presidential horse-cade.

None of this would have come as a surprise to Ford. A native Michigander, he spent time on Mackinac Island in his teen years as a Boy Scout.

Ken Hafeli, a longtime archivist at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, wrote in a blog post that Ford’s use of carriages during the 1975 visit “seem[ed] to really illustrate the lack of pretension exhibited by President Ford and the Ford family during their time in the White House.”

“Not even the Secret Service could get the people of Mackinac Island to back down on their ban on motorized vehicles,” Hafeli wrote.

That may not have been the case entirely, though. Dennis Cawthorne, a longtime resident of Mackinac Island, told the Detroit Free Press that when Ford visited, the Secret Service insisted on having at least one vehicle at the ready, in case of an emergency.

“It came over at night, and was moved very, very quickly in the dead of night to a state park garage,” Cawthorne told the Free Press.

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