The Other Side of Henry Ford
Most people know that Henry Ford gained his fame with the automobile industry. However, there is another side to him that is not as well known. By 1912, his Ford Motor Company was making enough profit that he could afford to invest his "disposable" income in other fields. While other people of wealth spent their money on fine art, he spent his money on purchasing historic buildings and restoring them. The twist, however, was that he bought the buildings, had them dismantled, and reassembled on a 81 acre plot he owned in Dearborn, Michigan.|
Among the historical buildings he purchased was the Wright Brothers Bicycle shop and home in Dayton, Ohio; Noah Webster's home in New Haven, Connecticut; Fort Myers laboratory; William McGuffey original school house; Stephen Foster's home; Luther Burbank's birthplace and office; Logan County Courthouse that Abraham Lincoln practiced law. He also purchased a blacksmith shop, a slave quarters from a plantation, a photography shop, and moved them to his Greenfield Village. In many cases, the historic buildings he purchased were in a state of disrepair and had been abandoned. Henry Ford did not open his Greenfield Village to the public until 1933.
For a slide show of some of the buildings in Greenfield Village, go to:
Ford also purchased several historically significant artifacts. Among the items he bought were the Rosa Parks bus that she was arrested on because she refused to give up her seat, the limousine that John F. Kennedy was assassinated in, George Washington's camp bed, the first airplane that flew over the North Pole, and the chair that Abraham Lincoln was sitting on when he was assassinated.
There is an interesting story behind Ford's purchase of the chair that Lincoln was assassinated in. Right after Lincoln was killed, the government confiscated, among other items, the chair that Lincoln was killed while sitting in as evidence. Long after the consirators' trial, they still kept the chair in storage. In 1921, a descendent of Harry Ford, the original owner of Ford's theater, (no relation to Henry Ford) petitioned the government to return the chair claiming it as the Ford family's personal property. It took eight years of litigation before the chair was returned to Blance Ford, wife of Harry Ford. In 1929, the chair was placed on auction in New York City. Henry Ford sent an agent to the auction to bid on his behalf. He had the winning bid of $2,400.
There is another interesting story behind an item he DID NOT purchase. On January 13, 1903 a man in Enid, Oklahoma, by the name of David E. George died. In his last dying statement, the man confessed to his landlord, Mrs. Harper, that he was in fact John Wilkes Booth.
The remains of David E. George's body were mummified and kept on display at the undertakers' for many months and stored it in his garage. He spent five years conducting what he called research to prepare a book about this matter. In 1907, Bates released his book The Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth. He then took his mummy on the circus side show circuit. When Finis Bates died on November 29, 1923, his widow, knowing that Henry Ford was purchasing historically significant relics, in a letter to him, Mrs. Bates offered to sell Ford the mummy for $1,500. Ford did extensive research about the mummy legend and, as a result came to the conclusion that the mummy WAS NOT John Wilkes Booth and, therefore, DID NOT purchase the mummy. Mrs. Bates ended up selling the mummy to someone else.