Sunday, January 8, 2012

History at Ben and Jerry's

Hello! I admit, I gave a misleading title to this post - we didn't go to an ice cream shop to learn some history, of course - in our case, the "Ben" refers to the "Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World" special exhibit at the Gerald  R. Ford Presidential Museum (there's your "Jerry") in Grand Rapids, MI.

We became fond of Ben Franklin while living in the Philadelphia area, where it is easy to follow in Franklin's footsteps - we've seen where his house once stood, where he performed his famous kite-flying electricity experiment, have thrown pennies onto his grave for good luck, and so on. Therefore, it was a must to visit the traveling exhibit at the Ford Museum, which we did so yesterday.

But lunch called before we went to the museum, and we chose Gaia, a vegetarian restaurant in Grand Rapids. We hadn't been to Gaia in several years but found it as quirky as ever. Although not vegetarians ourselves, we do go to vegetarian restaurants during our travels. Most that we have visited happen to lean toward the chic and trendy, with pale wood bench seating, stained glass windows and sleek lighting. 

Not so Gaia - the small kitchen is open and visible to customers almost as soon as one enters the restaurant. The dining area is charming but appears slightly worn, with furniture that looks vaguely like what would have been in the kitchen of an old farmhouse. There is a touch of funky decor however:

Blackboard with some special menu items shown.

I liked these fabric panels as well.

Gaia's menu is rather on the small side, but there were still plenty of tempting choices. My husband ordered a stir-fry, our daughter requested a tempeh sandwich and I selected the veggie hash. The latter, made with potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower and seasonings was so filling that I didn't need dinner later in the day!

The huge, baked-there cookies, displayed on plates near the cash register, looked great, but we passed since we'd just finished up Christmas cookies at home. Maybe next time...

On to "Ben and Jerry's" (ie the museum), a short drive from the restaurant. Before we entered the museum, we walked down a short path nearby to pay our respects here:

Gerald and Betty Ford are buried on the grounds of the museum; as you can see, Betty joined her husband just last summer. Their lives and deaths were covered extensively by local media and rightly so - they moved into the White House under very unusual and difficult circumstances and I feel that both did what they could to move the country forward after the Watergate scandal.

There was a lot to see at the Franklin exhibit. Another famous Ford from Michigan allowed the loan of this:

A printing press such as the type Ben Franklin would have used; on loan from the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI.

Franklin would have used a printing press for the following:

Newspaper, and:

His famous almanack, and:

An essay.

I didn't get dates on the objects I photographed, but all shown above are original 18th C. documents. 

As seen above, this letter was written by Franklin - I loved viewing his actual signature and that "most obedient humble servant" sign-off. The letter had been sent to a friend. Who today would add such words when finishing up a letter to a friend? (for that matter - who today would actually write a letter to a friend?)

Franklin was involved in many different activities and the exhibit did a great job in highlighting them. One area of interest was booklearning and so Franklin was instrumental in the drawing up of a charter for a subscription library service in Philadelphia in 1731. The next year Franklin hired America's first librarian. The library continues on to this day as the Library Company of Philadelphia, and fittingly, this institution loaned many of Franklin's papers for the exhibit. 

Below is a book collection box from that early library:

I could have photographed many other subjects of Franklin's interest that were shown in the exhibit, such as the post office, fire safety, electricity, inventions, diplomatic service, statesmanship and more. But time was beginning to draw short and we wanted to also take a look at the permanent museum exhibits pertaining to Gerald Ford, his career and his family. I didn't take any pictures of these exhibits, but the displays related to the sorry Watergate saga are compelling to this day. I found it interesting to note a row of letters and telegrams from the thousands sent to Ford in reaction to his Presidential pardon of Richard Nixon. There were some pleasant and encouraging pros - as well as some very livid and emphatic cons.

We left the museum well-satisfied with what we had seen and learned. Both Franklin and Ford were great men and worthy of remembrance and study for us all!



  1. My AP US history teacher was very glad to hear I'd gone there.

  2. He's a great teacher, so I'm not surprised to hear that he was glad about it!