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Gerald Ford and the San Diego Chicken

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Washington Post

One day late in that campaign, Ford appeared at a rally in San Diego. Among those in the audience was a young man who was just starting out in a role that would make him semi-famous as "the San Diego chicken," the unofficial mascot for that city's professional sports team.

Ford spotted the man dressed as a chicken and had a typically human response. "And the chicken," he bellowed in a voice grown hoarse from the campaign, "I love it."

James M. Naughton, the White House correspondent for the New York Times, decided on the spot that he had to obtain the chicken head. A gifted and serial practical joker, Naughton enlisted White House aides and Secret Service agents to track down the chicken and purchase the chicken head. (He put the $100 cost on his expense account.)

That night in Portland, Ore., in the glow of television lights at an airport news conference, two colleagues hoisted Naughton, wearing the chicken head, onto their shoulders as he rose at the rear of the assembled reporters, apparently poised to ask a question of the president of the United States. Ford laughed at the sight.

It's hard to imagine such a surreal scene unfolding today but it was part of Ford's character to encourage a kind of informal intimacy among those around him. "His presidency was notable for being humane, being real," Naughton recently recalled.

Goodnight, sweet prince.