Memorable Travel Moments: Jimmy Carter Becomes President, Sanibel Island, Florida (1976)

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(Last Updated On: May 8, 2019)

It is election day 1976. We are at the farthest point of our family road trip in the southern US, spending the night in our pop-up camper near the beach on Sanibel Island.Sometime during the night or the early hours of morning, the wind comes up as a storm moves through. Our light-weight camper shakes and shudders with every gust, performing a little dance in time to the crashing waves.

At some point in the middle of the night I awake. I’m not sure, however, what wakes me. Was it the sound of the wind and waves? Was it the camper’s jerky motion? Or was it the barely audible sound and flickering electronic glow of the miniature television that my mother had tucked into a corner of the camper for this trip.

My mother never was a big fan of camping and I think she tolerated our cross country trips more than she enjoyed them. Never a big fan of television, I suspect this one – a new acquisition in need of a trial run – accompanied us mostly as a way of keeping up with news as a tight presidential campaign wraps up.  Now – nervous in storms anyway and already unconvinced of the safety of the camper – I suspect that she has turned to the television to take her mind off the dancing camper.

This is the first presidential election I’ve really noticed and, as a huge fan of Carter, it’s been disappointing to be too young to vote. I crawl out of bed and join her across the room, watching and waiting as the ballots are counted and the states are (ever so slowly) called until, finally, Jimmy Carter becomes the 39th President of the United States.

When I arise in the morning, the world is peaceful and calm under clear blue skies, the beach littered with beautiful shells. I am almost 16 and the future seems filled with hope.

NBC and ABC news called the election in Carter’s favor at 3:30 am (EST). CBS followed at 3:45 am. Carter defeated Gerald Ford by two percentage points in the popular vote, making it the closest presidential election since 1916 and one of the closest elections in American history.

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