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Many Memories of Mississippi

Elect to visit these presidential libraries and
gain a new understanding of our country’s past leaders.
By Diana Lambdin Meyer

Imagine sitting around on a Saturday night, all comfy and cozy on an overstuffed couch, laughing at the antics of the cast of Saturday Night Live poking fun at America’s political scene. Politics at any level are good fodder for late-night comedians, but presidential election years provide prime material.

decorations

Above: The entrance to the Bush Library and Museum. Bush Library and Museum photo

Below: William J. Clinton’s Oval Office is re-created at his presidential library and museum in downtown Little Rock. Michael C. Snell photo

theater

Now, imagine sitting on a couch in George H.W. Bush’s living room, watching SNL cast member Dana Carvey in a parody of the 41st president of the United States. That’s one of the unexpected surprises of touring the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum at Texas A&M University. Bush, a fan of Carvey and his impersonations, insisted that laughter would have a room of its own when designing the library and museum.

Presidential libraries provide a documentation of the difficult and public aspects of the presidency, but these institutions also give a glimpse into the real life and personality of the person. The southern United States are fortunate to have four presidential libraries operated by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), as well as another that’s an equally significant part of American history.

Bush Library and Museum
College Station, Texas

At the Bush Library and Museum, guests can visit a re-creation of the Oval Office and have their pictures taken behind the president’s desk, or stand at a microphone and see if they can handle the pressures of a press conference.

The museum has more than 100,000 artifacts, including more than 3,000 gifts from foreign heads of state that Bush received as president, as well as gifts that he received on behalf of the country while serving as vice president in President Ronald Reagan’s administration.

After opening in 1997, the museum underwent an $8.3 million renovation in 2007. Now visitors can listen to audio recordings of George and Barbara Bush giving tours through the museum. If you visit during college football season, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll see the former president and first lady; that’s their favorite time to return to the museum.

LBJ Presidential Library
Austin, Texas

The president known to so many Americans simply as LBJ has a library with the same iconic initials, and in December, the site will unveil a major redesign that’s been underway for almost a year.
According to Anne Wheeler, LBJ communications director, the library remained open throughout the construction, although the main exhibits were closed. Earlier this year, a small exhibit, “The White House Years,” was unveiled. It features gifts given to the Johnsons and their life at LBJ Ranch.

On Dec. 22, which would have been Lady Byrd Johnson’s 100th birthday, the redesigned parts of the library will open to the public. Highlights of the redesign include 11 interactive locations that allow visitors to pick up telephones to hear the voice of the president in recorded phone conversations. LBJ was famous for his late-night phone calls and political maneuvering by telephone.

Four new theaters will show films on topics such as Civil Rights, LBJ’s legacy, the first family, and the library itself. Also, the museum store will double its size.

Visitors will see the president’s humorous side in an exhibit that features an animatronic LBJ that will move and tell tall Texas tales. It’s part of an exhibit on humor, including political cartoons.

Another technological addition is hand-held guides with touch screens that make photos, audio, and videos available to the user as they are guided through the museum.

Jimmy Carter Library and Museum
Atlanta, GA

No one doubts that the president’s life is the most hectic, action-packed life anyone can lead, but when a 24-hour period is packed into 10 minutes and shown on 10 high-definition video screens, you’ll truly appreciate what our presidents do for us.

Such an experience is one of the highlights of visiting the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum in Atlanta after the 2009 renovation of that facility. The Oval Office is the only exhibit that remained from the previous museum, and now one-third of the museum focuses on the work that Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter have done in their post-presidential years.

Take time to stroll the grounds of Carter Center, a partnership with Emory University to advance peace and health worldwide. Walk along the brick pathways through flowering bushes and blooming beds for a spectacular view of the Atlanta skyline. You just might meet the former president and first lady along the way.

William J. Clinton Library and Museum
Little Rock, Ark.

On the banks of the Arkansas River, the William J. Clinton Center and Park holds a commanding presence in downtown Little Rock. The library and museum are part of this expansive site.

White House state dinners are some of the most elegant and celebrated events that take place under any administration. Among the more visual exhibits at the museum is a replica of a table from the White House 200th Anniversary Gala. It’s formal and elegant, reflecting the importance of such celebrations.

Did you know the 42nd president and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton maintain a residence on the fourth floor of the library? When they are in Little Rock visiting friends and family or doing business, they often stop in and visit with guests at the library, or enjoy a meal at the on-site restaurant cleverly named Forty Two.

This is the only presidential library operated by the federal government that operates a full-service restaurant. The third Thursday night of each month, the restaurant opens with the décor, entertainment, and cuisine reflecting another country and culture. Featured nations have included Vietnam, Jamaica, Cuba, and China. It becomes a true cultural immersion.

Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library
Biloxi, Miss.

Although it’s not an official presidential library operated by NARA, the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library soon will open in Biloxi, Miss., although a date at press time was not available. It is on the grounds of Beauvoir, the last home of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy. The mansion was badly damaged and the presidential library was completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. After major repair and restoration, the home reopened to visitors in June 2008.

“We are fortunate to have all of the original furnishings in the mansion, so if Jefferson Davis walked in today, he would be as comfortable as when he was last here in 1889,” said Bertram Hayes-Davis, new executive director of Beauvoir, and great-great grandson of Jefferson Davis.

The library was a different story. Numerous and priceless artifacts were lost to Katrina’s storm surge. Hurricane Isaac in August caused minor damage.

The 52 acres are especially beautiful during the holidays when more than 100 Southern oak trees are draped with Christmas lights. Christmas at Beauvoir opens with a gala auction on Nov. 8, then continues from Nov. 9–Jan. 6 (Thursdays– Sundays, 5 to 9 p.m.). Christmas is observed as it would have been in 1889 with food, entertainment, and crafts.

Other stories

If you think presidential libraries and museums are always about, well, the presidents, you might be wrong. For example, the Clinton Library and Museum just hosted a baseball exhibit about the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Bush Library hosted the Heart Truth’s Red Dress Collection in 2010 and included a fashion show to help bring attention to heart disease in women. Currently, visitors can see the exhibit, “Genome: The Secret of How Life Works,” through July 5, 2013. And the LBJ Library is always doing something about wildflowers and the environment, a passion of the former first lady.

Frequent book events are held at the Carter Library, including a presentation on Nov. 30 by author Kevin Phillips, who will read from his book 1775: A Good Year for a Revolution. Author Jon Meacham presents his work, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, on Nov. 19.

We can easily forget about the humanity of our presidents, especially during election years. A visit to these presidential libraries and museums tell life stories of our historical leaders while teaching us about the country and the world in which these presidents served.

Diana Lambdin Meyer is a contributor from Parkville, Mo.

Nov/Dec 2012 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO

For hours, admissions, directions, and additional information about these presidential libraries, contact:

• Bush Library and Museum, bushlibrary.tamu.edu,
(979) 691-4000;

• LBJ Presidential Library and Museum, www.lbjlibrary.org,
(512) 721-0200;

• Jimmy Carter Library and Museum, www.jimmycarterlibrary.gov,
(404) 865-7100;

• Clinton Library and Museum, www.clintonlibrary.gov,
(501) 374-4242;

• Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library, www.beauvoir.org,
(228) 388-4400.

To visit these presidential libraries, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Arkansas, Mississippi, and Texas through the Free Travel Information Card, found online.


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Library 13 opening soon for “43”

rendering

Artist’s rendering and portrait from the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum

Next year, the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, the 13th in NARA’s system, is scheduled to open on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. Framed by four themes–freedom, responsibility, opportunity, and compassion–the museum will highlight critical events and issues of the Bush administration. For more information, visit www.georgewbushlibrary.smu.edu.

 

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