Grand Rapids Sees Its Biggest Crowds Ever

By: Lauren Zakalik Email
By: Lauren Zakalik Email

"Welcome Home, Mr. President," reads one woman's poster board. She was one of thousands lined up on Bridge Street in Grand Rapids Tuesday afternoon, waiting for Ford.

"I think we've got the entire bridge covered," says one man.

For many, it was an early wake-up call to guarantee a spot to watch history unfold.

"We got here around 10:30," says well-wisher Rick Dood.

"We left at about 11 o'clock this morning, and we've been standing around all day!" remarks veteran John Hapner.

It was an early morning for those behind the scenes as well. The Grand Rapids Police Department met for their final briefing on the national event.

"We're expecting a large crowd, but we're prepared to handle as many citizens as are coming," says police chief Harry Dolan.

But the police admit they can't handle the hundreds of thousands of well-wishers alone.

"This is an extraordinary effort," Dolan says. "The Secret Service, the Michigan National Guard, the Grand Rapids Police Department, and all near metropolitan forces."

Throngs of mourners and most of the news media are using the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel as a hub for the homecoming activities.

"We're sold out tonight and pretty much sold out tomorrow," says hotel president and CEO Joseph Tomaselli.

The masses seem overwhelming in number, but likely every face in this crowd has a reason for sticking around hours and hours, waiting for Ford.

"My dad played football with Gerry Ford, and we always thought we ought to be here when he passed away," Dood says.

"We'll never have the chance to say goodbye to a past president again," echoes Hapner.

It's a moment the mourners and the country will always remember.

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