28 New Things: Visit the LBJ Library! (And I went to the George H.W. Bush Library for extra credit!)

10 Jun
Photo from Wikipedia.

LBJ Library photo from Wikipedia.

 

I find presidential libraries to be fascinating. Since 1978, at the end of a presidency, the outgoing leader is required to give all of his papers relating to the presidency to the National Archives, so they’re available to scholars and politicians. Many presidents decide to establish a library (which is really more of a museum/archive) to hold these records and to also show off their presidency in the best light. Wikipedia gets into a lot more detail about these institutions, if you’re interested.

These are some of the most biased, yet interesting museums you could visit. Seriously.

I visited the George H.W. Bush museum in College Station, TX with a bunch of folks from my program, and we were given a backstage tour of the whole thing. It’s hard to explain just how big the archives are…and George HW Bush was just a one term president! The archival stacks go on forever — box after box of memos, interviews, journalism, personal items, etc etc etc. And it’s all available to the researcher!

A ridiculous painting of George H.W. with his cabinet. Look at how dignified they seem.

A ridiculous painting of George H.W. with his cabinet. Look at how dignified they seem…especially Colin Powell gazing into the distance.

I think it’s no secret that I’m not particularly a Bush sympathizer, although those feelings are mostly influenced by the George W., not George H.W. Still, the museum space of the library really did its job, as I was kind of feeling the Bush family, especially the very funny Barbara Bush, by the end of it. That’s saying something.

A bunch of archive students very intently listening to a presentation about Barbara Bush's scrapbooks. She made a TON of these.

A bunch of archive students very intently listening to a presentation about Barbara Bush’s scrapbooks. She made a TON of these.

I think the museum accomplished that by having George H.W. really seem like a family man. There were tons of personal photos and artifacts, including old campaign videos featuring all the Bushes having a grand old time together. It works. Also, the Bushes are still alive, so both Barbara and George have a good amount of say in what is displayed. The staff did say that they really enjoy working with the Bushes, as they’re pretty hands off, as long as the staff doesn’t embarrass them. Apparently that’s not the norm across the whole presidential library system, as some still living presidents are notoriously involved.

Did you want to see a photo of our 41st president bathing the baby version of our 43rd president? OF COURSE YOU DID.

Did you want to see a photo of our 41st president bathing the baby version of our 43rd president? OF COURSE YOU DID.

SIDENOTE: Supposedly I lived this past year in the same apartment that Jeb Bush, the other Bush boy/former governor of Florida, occupied when he went to UT. I’d like to think my apartment is haunted by partying Bushes.

I like to have friendly conversations with former presidents. We're tight.

I like to have friendly conversations with former presidents. We’re tight.

 

I live less than a mile from the LBJ Presidential Library…and yet it took me 9 months to actually get there. Isn’t that always the way? In my defense, it was under construction for quite a while and just re-opened this spring…and I’m lazy. So lazy.

As LBJ has been dead for quite a while, the library seems to have a slightly wider and MAYBE even a slightly more even view of his presidency. Well, maybe. Or maybe I just agree more with LBJ’s social policies, so I’d like to think it’s more unbiased. That’s probably it.

The LBJ Library puts the archives on full view, which is unusual. But if my archive had these gorgeous red boxes with gold seals, I’d do it too! Beautiful!

IMG_2411

Archives on display!

LBJ was president from 1963 (after JFK was assassinated) to 1969…so pretty much the whole run of Mad Men. The museum understands that visitors aren’t only interested in LBJ but also the whole time period, so there are lots of artifacts and displays related to the music, the advertising, and the overall culture of the 1960’s.

IMG_2409

Between Barbie and “The Buddy Holly Story,” being a kid in the 1960’s was pretty cool…

LBJ had a complicated presidency. The Vietnam War was raging (Hey hey LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?!), there were race riots all over the place as well as gains for civil rights, and the whole country was evolving dramatically.

Dog tags of Texas Vietnam veterans.

Dog tags of Texas Vietnam veterans.

I think this museum really shows how LBJ was a man at the middle of a maelstrom. He had a huge personality and was known for getting in people’s faces to get his way, but in the end his hands were really tied. 

IMG_2399

I love campaign pins.

And the highlight of the LBJ museum? The robot LBJ telling folksy stories, of course! WHY DOES THIS EXIST?

So silly.

So silly.

So, anyway, if you live near a Presidential Library, you should totally go. I have plans to hit up the Reagan and the Nixon while I’m in California this summer, and I’ll go to the brand new, VERY INTERESTING George W. Bush in Dallas and the Clinton in Little Rock next school year. Maybe I can collect them all?

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One Response to “28 New Things: Visit the LBJ Library! (And I went to the George H.W. Bush Library for extra credit!)”

  1. Courtney June 10, 2013 at 4:05 pm #

    This is fantastic! I love visiting new libraries, but I’ve never been to any of the presidential libraries before. I might have to look into making a trip to see one someday.

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