by Jesse Damsteegt
Whatever our political leanings, for many of us the 2016 election season has been stressful and disruptive. But for Calvin student Jesse Damsteegt, the election excitement unfolded at the site of her history internship.
This fall semester, Jesse is interning at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in downtown Grand Rapids, helping museum curators to plan and mount exhibits, learning the ins and outs of artifact preservation, and discovering how complex the job of running a presidential museum can be. Like most of the large museum staff, Jesse does most of her work in back rooms that are off limits to the public, so she has little contact with the hundreds of visitors who come through the door each day. But occasionally, an exceptional visitor shows up who demands more attention than usual. Jesse’s story, below, is just one example of the unusual encounters you might make when studying history:
As I rolled into work at the Ford Museum at 8:00 a.m. on Friday, September 30, I figured it would be an ordinary day, or maybe even a more fun morning than most. The staff had planned a small potluck, and I thought that I could grab some food and maybe leave a bit early to get back to campus for a test I had later that afternoon.
Around 9:30 I noticed some men in really fancy suits walking around, and I thought that was out of the ordinary. I mentioned the strange sighting to my boss, but he did not see what I was on about, and walked out of the office. A while later, he came back and said that I was right; there were men in suits walking around because we had a VIP guest coming in. Naturally, I asked who it was. But he would not tell me. My mind raced with suspicions: maybe Hillary Clinton, but that would be too crazy, or maybe Donald Trump, but that would be crazy too. What if it was President Obama? Now that would be cool! The President seems like a pretty cool dude when he doesn’t have to be President.
I knew that the mystery visitor was expected around noon, the time I usually finish my four-hour workday at the museum. I also knew that I had to get back to campus by 1:30 p.m. to take a (timed) test. At around 11:00, both floors of the museum and even the back area where I work were crawling with Secret Service men. I did not really want to leave my office because I feared they would drill me with questions. Who wants to be interrogated by beefy guys in fancy suits and expensive earpieces? Not me.
Noon rolled around. I was still trapped in my office. I had skipped the potluck yet to avoid walking by the Secret Service men. Then it was 12:30. The double doors leading into my work space opened wide, and an entourage of more men in suits and women in professional dress streamed in…
And then I saw the hair.
The hair of the mysterious visitor.
The hair of the VIP .
The hair of Donald Trump.
He strutted into my work space wearing a tailored suit and a blue and white striped tie. He hunched his shoulders forward a little bit, pressed his lips in a straight line, and narrowed his eyes as he always does into that recognizable scowl.
I work in a space that is kept at a consistent 64 degrees to protect museum artifacts, so I had my hands tucked under my knees to keep them warm. Secret Service did not like that. They eyed me like the most dangerous person in the world. They tried to get closer to me to be sure I was not concealing a weapon. Fortunately, my boss noticed that my hands were hidden and slyly urged me to put them into sight. I did, because Secret Service men are kind of scary. They finally relaxed when they realized I was just some innocent intern.
Finally, they left the room at 12:45, and I was able to run to the potluck for some fast food before I rushed back to campus for my test. But when I tried to reach the museum parking lot, more Secret Service blocked my way. I waited twenty minutes before I was able to leave the museum.
By the time I got back to campus, I was already late for my timed test, so I parked in the nearest available parking lot to my classroom. I thought anyone could park in that lot during the day, but I was wrong. Just as I was getting my stuff out of my car, Campus Safety walked up and told me that I could not park there and they would have to ticket me. After I sputtered out random words, I said that I would just take the ticket because I was late. I did not have time to explain my whole predicament, so I just ran. Later, I contested the ticket and I successfully argued my position, but it was a very close call.
So that is the story of how Donald Trump made me late for a test, made me get a ticket, and ruined my day.
Jesse Damsteegt is a Classical Languages and Art History double major, with a minor in Archaeology. She is enrolled in HIST 393, the History Internship course, which allows students to earn credit and gain work experience by putting their liberal arts skills to work in local organizations such as museums, local historical societies, small businesses, and social service organizations.