The (Very) Cold War

We’re at the end of January, which is typically the coldest time of winter for the Midwest.  It only seems appropriate, then, to write about President Ford’s visit to Vladivostok, Soviet Union, in November 1974, where the delegations experienced temperatures 20 below zero!  Meeting to discuss a permanent agreement on limiting strategic arms, the group descended on Okeanskaya Sanatorium President Ford would later describe as “[looking like] an abandoned YMCA camp in the Catskills.”  Richard Norton Smith wrote in An Ordinary Man:

To counter Soviet listening devices, Ford’s advance team had installed ‘babblers,’ blocking devices that employed hundreds of recorded voices overlapping with, and presumably drowning out, anylive conversation taking place.  If anything, they worked too well.  ‘I can’t talk or think with these things on,’ said Ford.  He led his advisers outside for an impromptu parley in the frigid darkness, their words made tangible by the icy plume expelled with every breath.

President Ford and his aides discuss negotiating strategy outdoors on November 23, 1974, in -20 degree weather, for fear of being electronically monitored by their Soviet hosts.
A2093-24 / NAID: 7161155
Courtesy Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library

On the trip to the Soviet Union, the American delegation had stopped in Alaska to refuel.  There, President Ford received a wolfskin coat from Jack Kim, an Alaskan furrier, to wear during his trip to the Siberian climate.

President Gerald R. Ford and General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev depart Okeansky Sanatorium after signing the joint communique on the limitation of strategic offensive arms on November 24, 1974.  Also shown are Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin (far right) and White House Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld (behind Brezhnev).
A2092-11A / NAID: 7162534
Courtesy Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library
Wolfskin fur coat given to President Gerald R. Ford by Jack Kim.
1999.10 / NAID: 45644367
Courtesy Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum

At the end of the Summit, President Ford gifted the coat to Brezhnev, having noted that the Soviet leader had eyed it covetously throughout their time together.  President Ford noted later that Brezhnev “put it on and seemed truly overwhelmed.”  Thankfully, Jack Kim provided President Ford with a replacement coat following the trip, which is now on display at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Author: Brooke Clement