by Charlene Scott
It is said that everything is bigger in Texas. This is proved true as Texas houses three of the thirteen Presidential Libraries run by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). These libraries are unique as they are the only presidential libraries to be located on college campuses. The LBJ library was dedicated on May 22, 1971 at the University of Texas at Austin, the George H.W. Bush library was dedicated on November 7, 1997 at Texas A&M University in College Station and the George W. Bush library was dedicated on April 25, 2013 at Southern Methodist University.
George W. Bush, the 43rd President of the United States
George W. Bush’s library is located on the campus of Sothern Methodist University in Dallas where Laura Bush received her degree in education. Upon entering through the security area, the lobby area is adorned with a large desk and eagle medallion flying above it. The library houses some 43,000 artifacts from the administration and a selection of state gifts are displayed around the lobby area.
Before entering the exhibit area you are greeted by President and Mrs. Bush on a 20 foot high, 360 degree video wall. A brief orientation film opens with both George and Laura discussing the events that defined their time in the White House. Your self-guided tour begins with a look at the President’s domestic policy that ends as you turn a corner and see a 22-foot piece of steel from the World Trade Center and the Nation under Attack portion, the emotional portion of the exhibit begins. The steel is surrounded by videos and the names of those killed on 911. You continue through exhibits on the War on Terror and Hurricane Katrina.
Visitors can have their picture taken behind the presidential desk in the full-scale replica of Bush’s Oval Office. There are also three noteworthy sculptures in the Oval Office, a Remington horse and busts of both Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill. You can also view the former Conference Room and Command Room (Situation Room) which were saved during the White House renovation and reconstructed for the library. In the Decision Points Theater visitors can view video and choose to follow the decision making process from one of four decisions points during the Bush administration: the invasion of Iraq, the “surge” in Iraq, the financial crisis, and Hurricane Katrina.
As the most recent addition to the growing presidential libraries, the size of the electronic records is immense at eighty terabytes and some seventy million pages of paper records which include Bush’s presidential and gubernatorial records. It also holds the largest collection of digital photographs of any of the presidential libraries.
Numerous docents were helpful and knowledgeable. Parking is easily accessible across from the entrance for a cost of five dollars.
George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st President of the United States
George Herbert Walker Bush, the elder Bush’s library’s façade is impressive at three stories. Security at the entrance greets you and as you move into the atrium lobby which is massive with a beautiful red Persian rug adorning the space. You are welcomed by a docent who directs you to ticketing desk and will answer any questions about the library. Once you have your ticket you are provided a map and audio guide by another docent who will give you even more information about the library. Your self guided tour begins with a short movie introduction from President and Mrs. Bush which provides an overview of his service to the country.
Your journey continues with exhibits about the Bush and Pierce (Barbara’s) family histories where you discover when, where and how George and Barbara met, started their family, George’s military career, his entry into the oil business and his first steps into politics. I was told that Barbara saved everything. In fact, the library has a number of rooms filled with items she kept from both their family and careers. The libraries archives contain more than forty-four million pages of documents related to the many offices that Bush had held during his career as well as some two million photographs.
There is a replica of the Bush Oval office where you can have your picture taken behind the President’s desk. A notable piece that adorns the Oval office is a Russian three-masted schooner that was a gift from Mikhail Gorbachev. The exhibits move you through Bush’s entry into politics, his term as a Texas Congressman, his leadership of the Republican Party, his work in China, as the US Ambassador to the UN, the Director of the CIA and Vice President to Ronald Reagan. As in the Kennedy Library, there is a piece of the Berlin Wall on display that is a reminder of his work with Reagan in ‘tearing down that wall”.
The library is located on the campus of Texas A&M University. The library docents are as warm and inviting as the library itself. At the end of the tour, you may have a letter printed for yourself on a selection of topics signed by autopen by either George or Barbara as a keepsake. Free parking is available in the front of the library in Lot 41.
Lyndon Baines Johnson, 36th President of the United States
Lyndon B Johnson was President John F. Kennedy’s vice president. LBJ became President within hours of Kennedy’s death in Dallas in November 22, 1963. To hear the tension in Johnson’s voice as he took the oath of office before returning to Washington is heartbreaking because he knew the enormity of the challenges he would face. A handwritten letter from Jackie Kennedy thanking Johnson for his respect he showed for the slain Kennedy and the county is a testament to both of these men.
Johnson was born poor and began his working life as a teacher in the poor section of Texas before he considered public service and politics. His early life shaped his entire “Great Society” agenda when he began his political career. He was a tireless worker and accomplished a great many legislative feats, including the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act and instituted Medicare. In fact, he presented both President Harry Truman and Mrs. Truman with the first two Medicare cards. He was wheeler dealer and it was not uncommon to receive the “Johnson treatment” when he wanted something to be done. Vietnam was Johnson’s undoing because as it continued he realized there was no way to get out of the conflict. He dealt with continuous protesters with “all the way, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today”. He had suffered a heart attack in 1955 and the stress of the job took its toll on him.
The ten-story edifice was designed by award-winning architect Gordon Bunshaft and is representative of the man that Johnson was, tireless, cunning and mercurial. It was Johnson who began recording all telephone conversations at the White House in 1963. This of course would lead to President Nixon’s demise but Johnson knew of the importance of record keeping. To be able to listen to the conversation he had with the leaders of the day gives one insight into just how Washington works. His archive has over forty-five million pages of historical documents, six hundred fifty thousand photographs and five thousand hours of recordings from President Johnson’s political career contained on the four floors for the building.
The docents extremely helpful. Katy greeted me at the ticket desk and handed me a map for the library. The library sits on the Campus of the University of Texas at Austin. Free parking is available in the front of the library in Lot 38.
Yes, everything is truly bigger in Texas, whether it is the buildings, personalities or ambition. These three Texan Presidents were and are larger than life.