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Travel Detective Blog: Remembering the Ford Assassination Attempt

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newsweekForty years ago this week, it was a crazy, high energy, no-sleep time in America—at least for me, a young correspondent for Newsweek.

In one two-week period, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme pointed a gun at President Gerald Ford, Patty Hearst was captured in an apartment in San Francisco, and Sara Jane Moore fired a gun at President Ford in front of the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco.

I covered all three stories.

Because I was in San Francisco still covering the Hearst arrest three days earlier, Newsweek asked me to be part of the team covering the President, as he headed from Stanford University to do a luncheon speech at the Council on Foreign Affairs at the St. Francis Hotel.

Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme's High School Yearbook Photo

Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme’s High School Yearbook Photo

Tom De Frank, Newsweek‘s White House Correspondent, would be inside the hotel covering the affair. I was outside the hotel, in front of the United Airlines ticket office and standing next to a phone booth in the large crowd. It was a beautiful fall September day.

But as I stood in the sunlight with the rest of the crowd in and around Union Square, I was there on a mission—a sort of “crazy” watch, in case the Squeaky Fromme incident might be repeated. Well, it was.

We waited for Ford to emerge from the hotel, and as he walked out, a woman pointed a gun at him and pulled the trigger. The shot missed. Ford ducked, his Secret Service contingent pushed him into the limo, and they sped to the airport.

The woman—later identified as Sara Jane Moore—was tackled to the ground by another bystander, a man named Oliver Sipple. Police and Secret Service grabbed her and hustled her into the hotel.

President Gerald Ford wincing at the sound of the gun fired by Sara Jane Moore during the assassination attempt in San Francisco, California.

President Gerald Ford wincing at the sound of the gun fired by Sara Jane Moore during the assassination attempt in San Francisco, California.

I moved with the cops, and walked right in with them. As I crossed the street, I looked up and noticed exactly where the bullet had impacted the stone wall of the hotel.

Once inside the building, they restrained her, and removed her belt and any other sharp object that she might use to injure herself.

I’ll always remember thinking, “Thank God it’s Monday.” Which, for a correspondent for Newsweek, meant that I now had the luxury of spending an entire week reporting a story, instead of 36 hours, given the publishing deadlines.

Reaction of Secret Service agents, police, and bystanders approximately one second after Sara Jane Moore attempted to assassinate President Gerald R. Ford. 22 September 1975

Reaction of Secret Service agents, police, and bystanders approximately one second after Sara Jane Moore attempted to assassinate President Gerald R. Ford on September 22, 1975

Sara Jane Moore did 32 years in prison for the assassination attempt before being released on parole in 2007. I still talk about that day with my friend David Hume Kennerly, who was Ford’s White House photographer at the time.

westin st francis

The Westin St. Francis Hotel as it looks today

Every once in a while, when I’m in San Francisco, I take friends by the St. Francis Hotel, and if you know just where to look, you can still see the small spot in the stone wall where that bullet hit.

For more of Peter Greenberg’s stories from the Travel Detective Blog, check out:

By Peter Greenberg for PeterGreenberg.com

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