Have You Seen This President? (The One In Which I Try To Solve a Mystery…)

Have You Seen This President? (The One In Which I Try To Solve a Mystery…)

Lost Gerald Ford PaintingOver dinner a few months ago my sister-in-law told me a story of a colleague and a painting that had somehow appeared in a coat closet in Boston. It turns out it was a valuable painting, of a former US President, and it wasn’t supposed to be in a closet, but at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.

“You know I have to write about this,” I said .

I don’t say that often. My friends and relatives might never speak to me if they thought I was always taking notes, so the rule is that people I love are off the record — but sometimes, well, sometimes I just HAVE to. With permission of course. And when a tale is just so tantalizing that I just have to know more.

So my SIL asked her friend, and her friend was happy to share – but only if I helped keep a secret before revealing one. Her family was going to get the portrait back to the President’s family, with the help of a former Secretary of the Treasury, meaning the story just kept getting better. And yes, they would all tell me whatever I wanted to know, but I couldn’t publish any of it until said Secretary flew half way across the country and surprised a ballroom full of people, and the entire staff of a presidential library, and the former President’s daughter.

It was fun being one of two people in that ballroom who was in on the reveal.

The result of all this secret keeping, and uncovering, was this story, which ran on Yahoo News today. Unexpectedly the reporting took me into journalistic history, looking at the thousands of paintings created for Time magazine covers over the years and what happens to these works of art after they appear in print.

Turns out there are a lot of closets involved. I know which one the painting came from and which one it ended up in, but I still have no idea how it got from one to the other. I am half hoping that putting all this out on the web will jog someone to remember something and provide the missing piece. On the other hand I am also hoping it stays a mystery. As the head of the Time collection at the National Portrait Gallery told me, maybe “it’s a better story that way…”

Ever find something mysterious in YOUR closet?