Nearly every statue that rings the marble walls of the Capitol Rotunda immortalizes a former U.S. president.
There's Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Garfield, Reagan, Eisenhower and Jackson.
And on Tuesday, Congress dedicates the statue of President Leslie Lynch King, Jr.
Never heard of him? Perhaps because most know the 38th President of the United States as Gerald R. Ford, the only executive who reached the Oval Office without first winning election as president or vice president.
For those who know Ford's political trajectory, it is perhaps ironic that his statue ascended to the Capitol Rotunda, a hallowed space reserved to honor former presidents for time in memoriam. Ford did not aspire to become president. His desire was to climb to the top of the Congressional hierarchy as Speaker of the House.
Ford never entered the pantheon occupied by the Cannons, the Pelosis, the Rayburns, the Longworths or the Boehners. History interceded. And instead, Ford joined the ranks of the Washingtons, Reagans and Lincolns.
Gerald Ford won election to the House in 1948, capturing a western Michigan seat now held by Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI). Shortly after his arrival in Washington, press reports described Ford as a "Congressman's Congressman." He embraced the give and take of the House, declining entreaties to run for governor or the Senate. His colleagues viewed Ford as a "reconciler," which perhaps explains why President Lyndon Johnson tapped the Michigan Republican to the Warren Commission which probed the assassination of President Kennedy.
Ford's political star began to climb on the heels of LBJ's landslide 1964 victory. Republicans lost 36 House seats in those elections, driving their total down to a paltry 140. By way of comparison, House Democrats currently occupy 192 seats in the minority. As a result, the GOP sought a successor to Rep. Charles Halleck (R-IN) as House Minority Leader. And Gerald Ford was their man.
Ford served eight years as House Minority Leader before ethics scandals plagued Vice President Spiro Agnew. Agnew resigned after pleading "nolo contendere" to tax evasion and money laundering charges. Already feeling the sting of Watergate, President Richard Nixon consulted with Congressional leaders as to who he should select as Agnew's successor. Then House Speaker Carl Albert (D-OK) later declared that they "gave Nixon no choice but Ford." Ford assumed the vice presidency in late 1973. And he replaced Nixon amid Watergate less than a year later.
"I have not sought this enormous responsibility, but I will not shirk it," Ford said upon taking the reigns from Nixon. "My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works. Our great republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here, the people rule."
Perhaps it was only natural that Ford chose such verbiage, considering his history as party leader in the "People's House."
Ford passed away just after Christmas, 2006 at age 93, the oldest ex-president in U.S. history. Just a few years before, the body of President Reagan laid in state for three days in the Capitol Rotunda. The nation granted Ford the same honor as a former president.But unlike Reagan's ceremony at the Capitol, Ford's carried a distinct "House" flair.
On a bitter December night, an honor guard hoisted Ford's casket up the steps leading to the House of Representatives. And before they moved Ford's body to the Rotunda for the public mourning period, the honor guard took the unprecedented step of parking his casket just outside the House chamber for a time as an homage to his service to the House.
The addition of Ford's statue to the Capitol Rotunda will mark the third location where Congress officially recognizes the life and career of the late president.
In the mid-1980s, the Senate officially unveiled a bust of Ford, just outside the chamber. The vice president simultaneously serves as President of the Senate. The Senate celebrates vice presidents by erecting classical busts of those figures around the perimeter of the chamber.
Then there is the Ford House Office Building.
The fabled Congressional buildings bearing the surnames of former House Speakers Cannon, Longworth and Rayburn line Independence Avenue, just across the street from the Capitol. But Gerald Ford never reached the Speakership. Without question, there is no outpost more remote than the Ford Building on Capitol Hill. Long bearing the Soviet-sounding alias of "House Annex 2," Congress re-named the facility after President Ford in the 1980s. If the Rayburn and Longworth buildings are the "Park Place" addresses on the Congressional Monopoly board, it is without question that the Ford House Office Building is the equivalent of "Baltic Avenue." Rayburn hosts the office suites and hearing rooms belonging to most major committees and many senior lawmakers. Over the years, the minority staff of many "JV" committees found themselves taking up residence in Ford, several blocks away from the Capitol. The Office of Congressional Ethics was also located in Ford during the last Congress.
Most probably haven't noticed, but a yawning space materialized recently in front of one of the towering columns that ring the Capitol Rotunda.
For years, a gold case long occupied that space, holding a copy of the Magna Carta. But curators moved the Magna Carta copy a few weeks ago to make way for President Ford.
Each state is afforded two official statues to grace the Capitol complex. Most statues reside in Statuary Hall, the former chamber used by the House of Representatives until the late 1850s. Other statues are located near the House floor, outside the old Senate chamber, in the Hall of Columns, in the Congressional Visitor's Center and on the approach to the Congressional Auditorium, several stories underground. To make way for Ford, Michigan had to ditch the statue of former senator and Detroit Mayor Zachariah Chandler. The state retains its other statue, a likeness of former Michigan Senator Lewis Cass.
Congress will wedge Ford's statue in between President Reagan, the most-recent addition to the Rotunda, and President Garfield. Ford is also positioned between a painting depicting the landing of Christopher Columbus in the West Indies on his left and the "Discovery of the Mississippi" to his right.
A letterman in football at Michigan and a longtime swimmer, Ford was perhaps the nation's most-athletic president. Yet comedian Chevy Chase lampooned him in the mid-1970s on Saturday Night Live after press photographers documented several clumsy incidents of Ford in public.
In one skit, Chase plays Ford, falling over a Christmas tree. In another vignette, Chase declared that "President Ford bumped his head three times getting into his helicopter. The CIA immediately denied reports that it had deliberately lowered the top of the doorway. And Ford was on the campaign trail, announcing in Detroit that he has written his own campaign slogan. The slogan? ‘If He's So Dumb, How Come He's President?'"
Ford remained an easy SNL target nearly 20 years after he left the Oval Office. In a 1996 skit, Dana Carvey portrays former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw reading "pre-taped" news bulletins. Each depict a litany of outlandish scenarios in which NBC may have to report that Ford died. In one contingency, Carvey announces that Ford is dead "from an overdose of crack cocaine." Another has Ford "eaten by wolves."
"Gerald Ford isn't going to be eaten by wolves!" protests Carvey as Brokaw to a producer off-camera.
"Taft was," deadpans the producer.
"Really? Taft?" responds an incredulous Carvey.
These Saturday Night Live skits remain plastered around YouTube. And they are one of the few ways that Americans ever hear much about Gerald Ford these days.
Watergate is a bygone era. Ford had little time to make his mark on the presidency, serving just two-and-half years in office and losing to Jimmy Carter in 1976.
But on Tuesday, the man who aspired to be Speaker of the House permanently enters the most-fabled tabernacle in American politics: the Capitol Rotunda. Not as a Congressman from Michigan. But as an accidental president who is best known for closing the country's "long national nightmare."