Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Henry Ford Museum claims to be America's Greatest History Attraction, and they certainly make a good case for that

One of the greatest displays of historic cars and memorabilia in the world is the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., just adjacent to Ford’s Greenfield Village.

You could easily spend a day in the museum alone, because most of the displays are either so historically relevant, or simply so interesting, that it is hard to take your eyes off of them.

The museum’s biggest claim to fame is the infamous ’61 Lincoln presidential limousine in which John F. Kennedy was assassinated. But if you’re looking for a big pool of dried blood and the missing piece of evidence that can once-and-for-all clarify what happened for the conspiracy theorists, you’ll have to limit your search to the grassy knoll. As far as the limo is concerned, soon after Kennedy’s death it was sent back to coachbuilder Hess & Eisenhardt and up-fitted with an armor-plated top, more power, and a fancy new paintjob. The parade car continued to be used by presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter until it was finally retired in 1977. Nevertheless, it is interesting to look at that car and think about what it went through.

They have a couple of other significant presidential limos in the museum, including the Lincoln next to which Ronald Reagan’s assassination was attempted. They say on the placard that the bullet hit the right rear quarter panel, but they supposedly fixed it so you can’t tell. You can tell, though—it looks bad under the lights in the building. Maybe the Bondo job is shrinking out.

And for those who can’t get enough presidential assassination history, the chair in which Abe Lincoln was killed in 1861 is also there. They won’t let you sit in it, though.

They will let you sit in the GM bus that Rosa Parks famously refused to go to the back of. The first time I went to the museum it was really grubby and dilapidated, but now they have it beautifully restored and in its own display area. Even without the Rosa Parks angle, it is an exceptionally nice old city bus. But when you put it in the context of the racial inequality of 1955 Montgomery, Ala., it is much more significant.

One of my favorite displays wasn’t a car at all, but the #1601 Allegheny steam locomotive engine. It is one of the biggest trains ever built, and that bigness makes you feel a little like Edith Ann in her rocking chair. The literature said that it used so much coal that no person could ever shovel it in fast enough, so a conveyor belt was needed to keep it fed. It really was huge. It was used to haul coal from West Virginia to Virginia over the Allegheny Mountains in the 1940s, and was retired to the museum in 1954, where it hasn’t moved since. When it was driven into the building, the door had to be enlarged just to park it in there. It is one of only two Allegheny locomotives left in existence.

Other notable attractions include a 1952 Oscar Meyer Weinermobile, which seemed to have later-model Oldsmobile wheel covers, and the famous Goldenrod land speed record car. There’s also a Tucker, a restored old motel room, and an aluminum Dymaxion house (built in Wichita—go Kansas!). There is even an impressive airplane display which includes a Wright Flyer recreation and an old Ford Tri-Motor.

There is row after row of cars, trucks, farm equipment, memorabilia, and steam engines. Every single thing in there is interesting in some way, and you won’t see things like the first Mustang or a Bugatti Royale anyplace else.

If you are in the Detroit area and want to see this amazing and diverse display, call the museum at (313) 271-1620, or visit for more information.

To see more pictures from this great museum, click this link.

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