McDonald's Revives Reagan Memorial

On October 15, 1984, President Ronald Reagan gave a campaign speech at the University of Alabama. Afterward, his motorcade pulled into the parking lot of the Northport McDonald's at the Northwood Shopping Center. It was a photo op, meant to show that the President was a regular guy. Secret Service agents grabbed two customers and sat them down next to Reagan to talk about University of Alabama football. Regular-guy Reagan turned to an aide and asked, "What am I supposed to order?" He had never been in a McDonald's before.

The gaffe didn't prevent the voters from re-electing Ronnie in a landslide, and it wasn't remembered at the Northport McDonald's. But for years, Reagan's visit was. The owner displayed memorabilia from that day in the store: the $20 bill that was used to pay for the food that Reagan was told to order (a Big Mac, large fries, and a sweet tea), photos recording the event, and a plaque under glass at the table where Reagan sat, etched with the words "President Reagan ate here." But the plaque kept getting stolen, and when a new owner took over in 1995 the memorabilia disappeared. Clinton was President; Reagan was history.

A decade later, Reagan was back in style. On January 11, 2006, the old store was bulldozed and on May 8 a new $1.5 million "dressed up" McDonald's opened on the spot. The owner, Rick Hanna Sr., who for 11 years had ignored the store's most famous diner, caught the shift in the political wind. Now Hanna didn't just remember Reagan -- he enshrined him. The new store features a bronze bust of the ex-President, inside a case, with a halogen light shining on it 24 hours a day. Atop the case are the words "President Reagan ate here."

Other McDonald's have been customized with ritzy displays -- everything from miniature Eiffel Towers to Elvis Presley sneeze screens -- but we think that this is the first to honor a president. Clinton probably ate at a lot of McDonald's, but he won't get a bust until the winds shift again.

[05/12/2006]

Northwood Shopping Center

Address:
2300 Mcfarland Blvd., Northport, AL
Directions:
I-359 into Tuscaloosa. The road turns into Hwy 13/Lurleen Wallace Blvd. Continue north across the river into Northport. About a mile north of the bridge, turn left onto Mcfarland Blvd/US Hwy 82. You'll see the McDonald's on the right. The Reagan display is to the right of the order counter, next to the men's room.
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