Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Travel: Presidential Libraries and Museums

In 2011 we visited Boston and included a stop at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. We only had an hour or two, but we were fascinated to find campaign posters and buttons, photographs, film, letters, books, clothing, presidential gifts, and a summation of important events during his presidency, including the Cuban missile crisis, and the U.S. space program and Project Mercury. It is an amazing way to learn about a concentrated period of U.S. and world history because there are so many ways that the history is portrayed. After our visit we decided that we would try and see other presidential museums. 
The Kennedy Library and Museum was designed by I. M Pei.
A campaign poster
In January of 2012 I had a continuing education seminar in Santa Barbara and Judy accompanied me. On the way home we detoured to visit the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. It was much larger than the Kennedy Library with many more exhibits. There was information on his childhood in Dixon, IL, his film career, his marriage to Nancy and his political career, including his 8 years as governor of California. There is news footage of the assassination attempt on his life, a replica of the Oval Office, and the actual Air Force One that he used (you can go inside). Further, both President Reagan and Nancy are buried there. 
Replica of the Oval Office at the Reagan Library.
Air Force One.
In February 2012 we visited Austin, Texas and the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, located on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. It is probably the least impressive of the presidential museums we have visited, but I came away with a new appreciation for what Johnson accomplished as president: passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965; signing laws that brought Medicare and Medicaid into existence; and appointing Thurgood Marshall as the first African American to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Later that same day, we visited the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the campus of Texas A&M in College Station, Texas. It was marvelous with exhibits from his youth all the way up to current, with just about every kind of memorabilia you could think of. His museum included a replica of the oval office, but unlike the other presidential museums, we could sit behind the desk and get our pictures taken. Bush had an incredibly distinguished life. He was a fighter pilot in World War II where he was shot down and rescued by a submarine and received the Distinguished Flying Cross. He got a degree from Yale and played on the Yale baseball team and played in two College World Series. He started his own oil company in West Texas and became a millionaire, then served as a U.S. Congressman. He was defeated by Lloyd Bentsen in a run for the U.S. Senate, but then was appointed U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, then Chairman of the National Republican Committee, then an envoy to China (virtually acting in the capacity of the ambassador), then Director of the CIA, then Vic-President of the U.S. under Ronald Reagan for two terms before becoming President himself in 1988. He was president during the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall and initiated the Gulf War after the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. He was defeated in his run for a second term by Bill Clinton. There were wonderful exhibits on all of this stuff, all very well done and all fascinating. I think George Bush may have the most well rounded and distinguished body of lifetime achievement of anyone I can think of.
This statue outside the Museum commemorates the falling of the Berlin Wall during the Bush presidency. 
Our appetites whetted by the presidential museums we'd visited, our attention to president-related sites increased. Although Thomas Jefferson was way before the presidential library concept was initiated by FDR, Monticello might as well be his presidential museum and the University of Virginia in nearby Charlottesville a side-tour. As primary author of the Declaration of Independence, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, Governor of Virginia, a member of the U.S. Congress, Minister to France, first Secretary of State under George Washington, the second Vice President of the U.S. under John Adams, third President of the U.S. for two terms, from 1801 to 1809, he is one of our great Founding Fathers. He made the Louisiana Purchase and sent out the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  Later, he founded and built the University of Virginia.
Monticello is as good as a presidential museum.
Jefferson is buried on the grounds and his tombstone sites what he considered his greatest accomplishments. 
The Rotunda at the University of Virginia and a statue of Jefferson in front of it. 
In October 2013, after visiting Monticello, we visited another unofficial presidential museum, the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum in Staunton, Virginia. The library and museum includes the home where Wilson was born, which we toured. The collection is not as large or extensive as the later presidential museums, but there are still many photographs and other memorabilia, including his 1919 Pierce-Arrow limousine that picked him up from the dock after he returned from France after negotiating the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 and a re-creation of a typical trench from World War I. Wilson was another amazing man. He had a PhD in political science from Johns Hopkins, was President of Princeton University for 8 years, was Governor of New Jersey for two years, and was President of the U.S. for two terms, from 1913 to 1921. He was president during World War I, during the passage of Prohibition, and was a big player in the promulgation of the Treaty of Versailles. His vision of a world order was eventually shot down, partially by his own failing health, but eventually realized after his death by the formation of the United Nations. 

Wilson's birth home.
A re-creation of a trench from World War I.
His Pierce-Arrow.
In January 2014, in a visit to Atlanta, Georgia, we visited the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum which is built on the spot where Union General William Sherman orchestrated the Battle of Atlanta in 1864. Carter was a peanut farmer, then a member of the Georgia Senate for two terms, then Governor of Georgia, then President of the U.S. from 1977 to 1981, defeating Gerald Ford. He established the Departments of Energy and Education, returned the Panama Canal to Panama, pardoned Vietnam War draft evaders, and presided over the Camp David Accords, a peace agreement between Menachim Begin and Anwar Sadat, which ultimately led to his getting the Nobel Peace Prize, which is on exhibit at the museum. The Iran hostage crisis and Soviet invasion of Afghanistan also occurred during his presidency. In addition to the Nobel Peace Prize, Carter was awarded a Grammy, also on display, for a recording he made. This was one of my least favorite of the presidential museums, but still a very worthwhile visit. In my estimation Carter was and is a great person, but was a poor president. 
Carter's oval office.
My favorite of all the memorabilia was this replica of the crown of St. Stephen. The real crown was taken by U.S. Army officers to prevent it from being taken by the Soviet Army during World War II. The Cold War prevented its return until Carter did so in 1977. The President of the Republic of Hungary gave this reproduction to Carter in 1998. 
Later in January, we visited the Little White House in Key West, Florida, used by President Harry Truman for 175 days (11 visits) of his presidency as a result of his doctor advising that he take a warm vacation. It was originally built as housing for submarine officers
The Little White House in Key West.
A table that converted into a card table - used by Truman and his buddies to relax. 
In 2014 we decided to visit the Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in nearby Yorba Linda, California. The Nixon site includes his birth home where he lived until he was nine years old, which we toured, and the grave sites for he and Pat. Nearby is the Presidential helicopter used by the two presidents before him and the one after him, the same helicopter that picked him up from the White House lawn after he resigned the presidency. Nixon went to college at Whittier University and played on the football team, then Duke Law School. He served in the U.S. Congress, then the U.S. Senate and served two terms as vice president to Dwight Eisenhower. Nixon was unsuccessful in a bid for the presidency against John F. Kennedy in 1960, but defeated Hubert Humphrey in 1968 for the presidency. He opened relations with China for the first time in 25 years and signed the first nuclear arms reduction treaty with the Soviet Union. He won a landslide victory over George McGovern in the 1972 presidential election  and then was undone by the Watergate scandal. There was an exhibit on Watergate, but I understand the exhibit has been expanded. His presidential limousine is there as well as a large grouping of bronze statues of world leaders from that time. Nixon's museum is very well done and was the best so far. As a young boy in 1968, with several friends, I saw Richard Nixon speak in the Salt Lake Tabernacle when he was running for president. I saw myself on the national news that night sitting in the balcony. 
Birth home of Richard Nixon
Presidential helicopter.
Presidential limousine
In December 2014 we visited Arkansas. We were too late to get inside, but we saw the outside of Bill Clinton's birthplace home in Hope.
In Little Rock, we visited the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park. which is next to the Arkansas River and a wonderful walking (formerly railroad) bridge that crosses the river which has some wetlands beneath it. The complex also includes the offices for the Clinton Foundation and the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. Clinton went to Georgetown University, was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, got a law degree from Yale, where he met Hillary, was Attorney General for Arkansas, then Governor of Arkansas, then President of the U.S. for two terms from 1993 to 2001. He involved the U.S. in the Bosnia and Kosovo Wars, was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives for perjury and obstruction of justice, yet left office with a very high approval rating. As he was the great communicator, I expected an amazing museum, but it was impersonal and sterile. The exhibits were unimaginative and had a sameness to them. It would have helped to have the stained dress and something about Monica Lewinsky, even Nixon's museum had a small exhibit on Watergate. 
The outside of the Clinton Museum.
The bridge over the Arkansas River as seen from the museum. .
A sample of the dull exhibits.
A re-creation of his cabinet room, something we'd not seen in any of the other museums, with the names of the cabinet members on the chair they sat in. 
After our visit to Arkansas we drove through Oklahoma to Dallas, Texas, where we visited the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. Lee Harvey Oswald shot President John F. Kennedy from the sixth floor of that building while Kennedy was in an open-air limousine. This may be the most impressive and moving presidential exhibit I've visited so far. The exhibits and artifacts, in addition to the actual place setting, are impressively laid out and powerfully portrayed. I remember playing at recess in first grade and coming in and being informed by our teacher that President Kennedy had been shot. I remember the funeral train that carried Kennedy's body and ruined all of the t.v. programming for what seemed like forever and created a heavy sense of doom and despair. And I recall watching t.v., while my mother was ironing, and seeing Oswald shot by Jack Ruby while it happened live. 
A view through a sixth floor window. Kennedy's vehicle made a sharp turn around the bend to the left and Kennedy was shot by Oswald from near this point while his vehicle was heading toward the bridge underpass in the distance.  
The "x" in the middle of the road marks the spot where Kennedy was when he was shot. The building where Oswald was located in the background. 
The grassy knoll from which the Zapruder film was taken. 
This photo was taken from where the Zapruder film was shot. Note the "x" in the middle of the street. 
Then, on a more positive note, we visited the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas which is located on the campus of Southern Methodist University. W was the oldest son of President George Bush and got a degree from Yale, then an MBA from Harvard. He got involved in the oil business, like his father, had an unsuccessful run for the Texas House of Representatives, co-owned the Texas Rangers baseball team, was Governor of Texas and served two terms as President of the U.S., winning the first time after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bush v. Gore. Bush's presidency is marked by the 9/11 terrorist attack on the twin towers and the subsequent war on terror, including invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. I voted for Bush both terms, but now view him as one of our poorest presidents because of the short-sighted way in which he got us involved in these overseas conflicts.  But that said, his museum is marvelous, one of the best. It has a warmth and hospitality unmatched by the other museums and great, great exhibits. Recently, I was taken by the addresses of Bush and Obama, who spoke back to back at the funeral of some murdered policemen in Dallas. Obama's speech was clinical. Bush's speech was warm and uplifting. Although I think he was a poor president, it is hard not to like the guy. 9/11, like Kennedy's assassination, is another event that most everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when they learned about it. I was doing a morning workout at the YMCA and ending up watching, with other gym patrons, footage of the airliner crashing into one of the twin towers.  
The outside of the Bush Library and Museum.
We ate at 43, the restaurant in the complex. This is "Mrs. Bush's Favorite Sandwich and it was very good. 
Twisted girders from the wreckage of the twin towers. 
In June 2015 we visited the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa. Herbert Hoover was born in West Branch and his very small birth home is located just a short distance from the musuem. He went to Stanford University. After graduating he went into various mining ventures and made a fortune. At the beginning of World War I he helped organize the return of 120,000 Americans from Europe, then he led a relief effort of Belgium. In 1917, as the U.S. entered the war, President Wilson appointed Hoover to head the U.S. Food Administration to ensure the nation's food needs during the war. At the end of the war, the Food Administration became the American Relief Administration and Hoover was responsible for providing food to central and eastern Europe. After the war he donated all of the files for these agencies and $50,000 in cash as an endowment to Stanford and it became known as the Hoover War Library, now known as the Hoover Institution. He then served the next 8 years as the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. Hoover was elected President of the U.S. in 1928 and served just one long difficult term, as the Great Depression started during his watch. Hoover tried all sorts of things to get the economy going again while restraining to keep the federal government from direct involvement. During the next election Democrats blamed the Depression on Hoover and claimed his indifference to the suffering of millions. Hoover was defeated by Franklin D. Roosevelt in a landslide. Roosevelt unfairly blamed many things on Hoover and Hoover became somewhat of a pariah. Following Roosevelt's death, Pres. Harry Truman enlisted Hoover's help in assessing Europe's food needs following World War II, dejavu from World War I. Hoover and his wife are buried near the museum. I'd always had a negative image of Hoover and I came away with a much greater appreciation for him and a sense of how he was unfairly portrayed by FDR. The museum is largely related to World War I events, at least those were the most memorable, but it also covered his early years and the years of his presidency and afterwards. 
The small home where Hoover was born. 
The burial site of Hoover and his wife. 
A few days later we visited the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home in Abilene, Kansas. Eisenhower was born in Denison, Texas, but the family moved to Abilene when he was two and he considered Abilene his home town. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He served in the military under some talented military leaders, including John J. Pershing, Douglas MacArthur and George Marshall and graduated from the Army War College. After Pearl Harbor, he was appointed to the General Staff in Washington and was responsible for creating war plans for Japan and Germany. In 1942 he was appointed as Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force of the African Theater and led Operation Torch and then Operation Avalanche in the invasion of Italy. In 1943 he was appointed Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force and was in charge of planning for Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy. After the surrender of Germany, he was appointed Military Governor of the U.S. Occupation Zone and in 1945 returned to Washington, D.C. as Chief of Staff of the Army. In 1948 he was named President of Columbia University. He served two terms as President of the U.S., from 1952 to 1960. As president he signed the bill for the Interstate Highway System. He also created NASA and entered into the space race against the Russians. Ike's boyhood home is on the grounds and we had an opportunity to tour it. There is also a mausoleum on the grounds where both Ike and Mamie are buried. I was anticipating that the Eisenhower Museum would be one of the more interesting museums because of his war background. And it seemed to be almost all war related with examples of vehicles, uniforms, weapons, helmets, etc. However, the exhibits seem dated and it just did not flow well. I would have liked more exhibits dealing with his presidency and other aspects of his life.
Eisenhower's boyhood home. 
A statue of Eisenhower.
The mausoleum where Eisenhower is buried. 
A few days later we visited the third presidential museum of our trip, the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, located in Independence, Missouri. Truman became president when Franklin D. Roosevelt died during the last part of World War II and then went on to serve a second term. Truman had been a U.S. Senator from Missouri for ten years before becoming FDR's Vice President in his last term. Germany surrendered on his birthday, just a few weeks after he became president, and he made the fateful decision to use the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima to cut-short the war with Japan. He was responsible for the Marshall Plan which helped rebuild Western Europe, oversaw the Berlin airlift and the creation of NATO. He also intervened to help South Korea when the North Koreans invaded in 1950, beginning the Korean War. For a man seemingly unprepared for the weight that dropped on his shoulders, he performed under fire in a remarkable way and is consistently considered one of our countries finest presidents. Truman and his wife, Bess, are buried on the grounds of the Library and Museum. 
News story of the atom bomb dropped on Hirshima.
Newspapers wrongly declared Dewey the winner of the presidential election. 
A wonderful mural by Thomas Hart Benton in the museum. 
In April 2016 we went to New York to visit Andrew and stopped by Grant's Tomb, across the street from the Riverside Church, the final resting place of President Ulysses S. Grant
The mausoleum at the end of a beautiful walkway in Riverside Park, near the Hudson River. 
A mural inside shows Grant, the Union General, shaking hands with Robert E. Lee, the Confederate General. 
Grant's sarcophagus. 
We left New York City and drove upstate to Hyde Park where we visited the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. Roosevelt lived an amazing life. He graduated from Harvard and then Columbia Law School. He served in the New York State Senate, as Assistant Secretary to the Navy, as Governor of New York and then won the 1932 presidential election and was elected four times, dying in office toward the end of World War II. He dealt with the majority of the Great Depression, implementing the New Deal, and was president during the majority of World War II. He was the founder of modern liberalism, including the founding of the SEC, Social Security, and the FDIC. FDR came up with the idea of establishing a presidential library and museum and each president since him has established one. FDR's family home is part of the museum complex. This is where he was born and lived later in life. He and Eleanor are buried nearby. Many historians consider him one of the three best presidents of the U.S. along with Washington and Lincoln (all war presidents). I loved the grounds and his home, but the museum lacked the luster of some of the later museums, although to be fair, he came up with the concept and arranged for the first one. 
The home where FDR was born and lived later in his life. 
The tombstone of FDR and Eleanor. 
Winston Churchill, FDR and Stalin at the Yalta Conference. 
Also in Hyde Park is Val-Kill, part of the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site. Val-Kill was built by Eleanor at the urging of FDR as a place to get away. She and two friends established Val-Kill Industries there, a place where local artisons made furniture, metal work and weaving during the Depression. After FDR died, this is where Eleanor lived until she died. Compared to the Roosevelt family home, this was downright homey and rustic and I enjoyed it very much. Eleanor was a marvelous and spunky person and I ended up enjoying this more than FDR's museum and home place. 
Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt's get-away and home after FDR died. 


  1. It's been a fun trek through history, and what I've learned is that all of these men had something to offer the country. I know there is a positive spin put on the president's tenure in these libraries, but it's impossible not to come away with respect for the difficulty of decision making and the commitment of the individuals making those decisions.

  2. Having just visit the Bush Library and Museum, I can appreciate how interesting and fun they are to visit. Wow! You have seen a lot of them!