Tuesday, March 15, 2016

On The Trail of Presidents

The one-room schoolhouse LBJ attended when 4 years old.
Travelers enjoy activities they often have little time for the rest of the year, spending hours wandering around museums, touring top attractions, exploring city streets. Foodies savor culinary specialties and take cooking classes, recreational enthusiasts hike, bike, swim or ski, while others look forward to basking in the sun at the beach…

Hub and I hiked some, ate a lot, and toured major attractions. Our American odyssey crossed the path of three Presidents and since we are history buffs, we visited two Presidential libraries and a President’s home.

Our first stop acquainted us with the Presidential Library of George Herbert Walker Bush - Bush 41. Never having crossed the threshold of a Presidential library, I did not know what to expect. I was thinking documents, books, papers…

The library tells the story of Bush’s life and work in a series of exhibits through pictures, videos, and objects. I found peeking into Bush’s early life most interesting, but admit by the time I reached the Oval Office display I was tired, my feet hurt and I could not wait to sit down. 

We spent a couple of days in Dallas, but did not visit the George W. Bush - Bush 43’s - Presidential library. I did not want to sink into a sour mood by immersing myself in the eight years of the Bush 43 administration. Recalling domestic and world events of those years depresses me, and we were supposed to enjoy our road trip.

We drove past Lyndon Johnson’s library in Austin, bypassing it in favor of the LBJ ranch, a national historic park site in Texas hill country. The self-guided tour included the house where LBJ was born and lived the first five years of his life, and the one-room schoolhouse his mother sent him to when he was four years old. He attended the school only a few months before the family moved, but it sparked LBJ’s love of learning.

The Texas ranch belonged to relatives before LBJ bought the house, renovated and expanded it, and purchased additional land. It remains a working ranch and cattle graze on the grounds.

In the ranch house kitchen a plastic pie sits on the table, a replica of one baked for a luncheon in honor of President Kennedy and the First Lady’s visit to the ranch on November 22, 1963. The luncheon was canceled, the pie never served.

We toured the William J.Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas. The guide regaled his audience with humorous anecdotes about the artifacts on display, resulting in a fun as well as educational experience. And, in case anyone wonders, the library is on a large tract of land, landscaped but almost entirely devoid of buildings. There is plenty of room for another Presidential library, should the opportunity arise. 

The fiscally minded might wonder who foots the bill for Presidential libraries. Not the taxpayer.

The money for building the libraries comes from private donors. Once constructed Presidential stuff fills the museum.
A Dale Chihuly sculpture the artist
donated to the Clinton White House.
It is now in the Clinton library.

There is one problem.

When a President leaves office, all documents and other items supplied by the federal government belong to the government.

To solve the dilemma of filling a museum with items the ex-President does not own, the completed building is turned over to the federal government. The government steps in, maintains and furnishes the library. 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt established the precedent of private funding and subsequent government management of Presidential libraries, and future Presidents followed his example.

The final destination in each place is, of course, the gift shop. A Presidential tie, handkerchief, plate or T-shirt did not appeal. Hub, however, reluctantly dragged me away from the book sections, insisting I already own too many unread books. Of course he is right, but is there such a thing as having too many books? 


  1. I am enjoying your trip -- and without the car riding fatigue. I am a bit nostalgic for the road trips Mike and I were able to take.

  2. Fascinating. When you get the chance tackle the GHW Bush bio by Meacham published last year....very interesing life he led.

  3. I visited the Harry Truman library last year - my first presidential library and it was amazing! Now, we are considering a short drive north to the Reagan library... not my favorite president but I imagine it would be interesting too. I think I would have passed on B-43 too - way too depressing.

  4. Interesting, I guess, altho' there's something about creating a whole library, or monument, to yourself that I find a little creepy, even if you were the president. Like one huge giant selfie.