September 4, 2008
As this presidential-campaign season heats up, some of the best speeches and swag are far from Denver or Minneapolis. Far from Washington, too. Here are the US museums and libraries IgoUgo members say are hot tickets for watching legacies live on.
One of the most visited presidential libraries is that of Lyndon Baines Johnson, located in Austin, Texas. In addition to a replica of the Oval Office and more than 40 million pages of historical documents, there is a “life-size computerized figure of President Johnson, dressed in his cowboy garb, spinning his homespun wit.” It’s so life-like, in fact, that Linda Kaye had to remind herself he wasn’t real. And RichardHutchinson cuts to the chase with two important take-away pieces of information: “This is free and FUN.”
Opened in 2005, the presidential library and museum of Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois, is the nation’s largest. Fellow Springfield native KP8 says that the venue’s multimedia presentations “engage you and your senses in ways other history museums do not.” Engaging her senses of taste and smell, there’s another perk she likes: “One nice feature about the museum is that you get a sticker upon entering, and you can come and go as many times as you choose during the day, giving you time to go out and catch some lunch in the area cafés or tour the farmer's market on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.”
The Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center has the distinction of being the nation’s first presidential library, established in 1916 as the Hayes Memorial. IgoUgo’s resident presidential historian RoBoNC headed to Fremont, Ohio, to see it, and—perfect for the history buff—was the only visitor on his tour. The result? Instead of the typical 45-minute spiel on Spiegel Grove, he received “an in-depth tour lasting an hour-and-a half.”
You'd head to Independence, Missouri, to learn about the life and times of Harry S. Truman at his presidential library. “Make SURE you go to this museum and library,” says Vester, noting that “it’s especially great for kids” as it features an impressive amount of innovative, hands-on activities. Maybe the buck stops here?
Many IgoUgo visitors to John F. Kennedy’s library in Boston are struck by how personal it feels. “There's an odd feeling when you stroll through a museum and stop to look at a preserved Time magazine protected under glass...and realize you read it when it first came out,” says Foxboro Marmot. And MilwVon says, “There are a couple of areas that include old TV footage of Walter Cronkite, including his call of the 1960s presidential election and the announcement of Kennedy’s death on November 22, 1963. As a baby boomer who relates to that as the defining historical moment of my childhood, I was taken back to being that 6-year-old glued to the television in my family’s living room.” Of course, not everyone feels so moved; Foxboro Marmot overhead one person exclaim, “They only have TWO of Jackie's dresses? And they're BOTH BEIGE!?”
Jimmy Carter still works on human-rights projects from the Carter Center, the home of his presidential library in Atlanta. Neighbor Safiri calls it a “blend of rather comic politics and real, earnest good works.” Similar to other presidential centers, she says, “the museum is not likely to be highly critical of Carter's work, but it doesn't gloss over the problems of the energy or hostage crises.” But the best part is that “there's a large internship program, so the enthusiastic young person you run into in the hallway may well be about to fly out to help build the Liberian governmental infrastructure. It's an exciting place.”
The highlight of any "Billgrimage," two cruisers tells us, is the presidential center of Bill Clinton. The museum, located in Little Rock, Arkansas, is a “striking” building “overloaded with good material.” Among the Iowan’s favorite exhibits were the president’s daily schedule (“I made sure I checked what he was doing on my birthday each year”) and personal notes written to “celebrities, politicos, and plain folk.” Those things and more make it sound plain fascinating.