How the National Archives Helped Me Rediscover My Childhood Correspondence with President Ford
In July 2010, I was the History Content Scholar for a teacher workshop run by the Bill of Rights Institute in Arlington, Virginia. I accompanied the teachers for a program at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. In addition to viewing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in the Rotunda, we participated in a hands-on activity helping a fictitious White House staffer, “Bob Tuse,” demonstrate “the Constitution in action” with documents from the Archives collections. The Archives’ Education Specialist showed us a letter from three teenage women in Montana begging President Eisenhower not to let the military cut Elvis Presley’s sideburns. The “Elvis Letter” reminded me that when I was ten years old, in 1976, I wrote a letter to President Ford, and received back a very nice reply. When I got home to Pennsylvania, I rummaged through some old papers, found the original signed letter I received from President Ford, framed it, and proudly hung it on my wall. Then I began to wonder: What had I written in my letter to President Ford thirty-six years ago? I could not remember. Did my letter to President Ford still exist? Could it be found somewhere in the National Archives? Could I get a hold of it? Immediately I visited the website of the Gerald Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan and found the email address of an archivist. I sent a message explaining that in March 1976, I sent a letter to President Ford, and received a letter in return. Did the Ford Library have a copy of my original letter to the President? Within hours I received a reply from archivist William McNitt, stating that he had located my letter to Ford, and that he would be happy to mail me a copy of it. When the letter arrived, I read with great excitement what I had written to the President thirty-six years earlier, and saw what my handwriting looked like at age ten. I framed the copy of my letter to Ford, and it now hangs next to Ford’s original letter to me. I am proud that my correspondence is part of the Ford Papers, and am grateful to the National Archives for locating the letter for me.
by Stuart Leibiger
National Archives Note: Learn more about the Constitution-in-Action Lab in the Boeing Learning Center at the National Archives, Washington, DC