Biloxi Restaurant Hosted President Ford In 1976 - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Biloxi Restaurant Hosted President Ford In 1976

Jackie Aldrich looked at a black and white picture of her Fisherman's Wharf restaurant. There she was, standing in front of her sign, and next to her was President Gerald Ford.

"He was about as tall as you. Yes, I do remember that," she told me.

Aldrich grabbed my arm. It was the same way she grabbed President Ford's arm outside her Biloxi restaurant.

"Oh my goodness, it was just so mindboggling," she said. "I couldn't even think."

In September 1976, the president was campaigning on Biloxi's waterfront. His staff wanted to sample some of the area's tasty cuisine. So the White House contacted Aldrich's husband. Mrs. Aldrich won't forget what her husband told her next.

"He said the president was coming. And I said, 'You're kidding me.'"

President Ford, Trent Lott, and a host of republican supporters crammed into the Fisherman's Wharf. Anastasia Himmel was the restaurant's cashier.

"I'm so proud that I was there with him," she said. "I loved it. It was exciting. We were all waiting and anticipating him getting there and everything."

One of the pictures in Himmel's Ocean Springs home is of her standing on the restaurant's wooden staircase, waiting for President Ford's motorcade to arrive.

"We were all excited. That was a highlight for me," she remembered.

Once inside, the admittedly shy cashier made a rather bold move.

"When he was sitting down at the middle table and everybody was there, I thought if I don't go ask this man to take a picture, I'll be sorry the rest of my life," she said.

That picture is the centerpiece of a collage made by her husband.

"I didn't think he would do it," Himmel said, referring to the president. "He jumped right up, he hugged me, and took the picture."

It's a reminder of the day 30 years ago when the staff at Fisherman's Wharf got to meet the most powerful man in the world.

"He was great. He was a kind person," Himmel said. "He was that kind of person. And it just made you feel patriotic for him to be there."

Security for a presidential visit, even in 1976, was extremely tight. Aldrich remembers scuba divers swimming under her restaurant while President Ford dined on her seafood. She also remembers that the Secret Service took a sample of everything the president ate back to the White House, just in case he got sick. Everything included the famous pie made only at the Fisherman's Wharf. Mrs. Aldrich only gave out her secret recipe one time. It was to the Secret Service right after President Ford's visit.

By Brad Kessie

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