There are 13 official Presidential Libraries honoring 12 Presidents. Thanks to a recent trip to California, Ruth & I have now visited 7 of them. We’ll add an 8th at the end of this month.
The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum in Hyde Park, New York, was both the first and the only PL&M actually used by a President while in office. It was opened to the public in 1941, 4 years before Roosevelt’s death. Not having been renovated since then, it’s currently being brought up to National Archives standards and will reportedly reopen its permanent galleries on June 30, 2013. This will become our 8th visited Library.
National Archives and Records Administration, NARA, is quick to point out that Presidential Libraries are not libraries in the usual sense. Roosevelt realized that his predecessors’ papers and records were being lost, destroyed, sold for profit, or were fading away in storage somewhere. That’s why he decided to establish a place to preserve his written record and physical history for future generations. Roosevelt arranged for private funding but turned his Library over the Federal Government to operate.
Being ex-Midwesterners, Ruth & I visited its 3 presidential libraries–Hoover, Truman, and Eisenhower–more than once. Herbert Hoover was born in West Branch, Iowa. Those who travel to West Branch today can tour his birthplace cottage, pay respects at his grave, browse through 9 galleries to learn about him, visit a Quaker meeting-house, etc. Hoover and Richard Nixon were Quakers. The Nixon Library property in Yorba Linda, California, (see 3 recent blogs) also contains a presidential birthplace, another coincidence. Hoover was a successful mining engineer before gaining fame in the 1920s when, after WW I, he was credited with feeding a billion people in 57 countries. He was elected President in 1928 in a landslide, and The Great Depression began the next year. Some luck, huh?
The Truman Library in Independence, Missouri, was my favorite for a long time. It recently acquired 176 pieces of correspondence which they’re calling Dear Bess Letters even though only 30 of them are actually letters Harry wrote to Bess. Fourteen of them had not been previously known to exist. While touring Truman’s home, also in Independence but not near the Library, I learned why there are so few Bess to Harry letters. One day daughter Margaret found her mother sitting by the fireplace tossing personal letters into the flames. Margaret is said to have pointed out that those personal wife to husband missives might have historical value to be read and interpreted by future generations. “Exactly,” Bess said as she continued to feed the fire.
The Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas, does not have a presidential birth site since Dwight Eisenhower was born in Texas, but Abilene does also have his childhood home. It was in the Eisenhower family from 1898 until 1946. The future President lived in Kansas from 1982 until 1911 when he headed for West Point. He returned in 1913, 1915, and 1969. Among his many humble jobs as a teen, Eisenhower baked and sold tamales. Coincidently, he was born the year the Government closed the frontier and died the year Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.
The Lyndon Johnson Library in Austin on the campus of the University of Texas and the John Kennedy Library in Boston are the other 2 we have visited. What I most vividly remember about the former is the architecturally splendid Great Hall view of the archives collection that soars 4 stories upward and the forthright way this Library presents information about a controversial President. With Kennedy, its seaside location and architectural design, especially the integrated glass Pavilion, are memorable as is the focus on the Kennedy family and John’s popular, eloquent speeches.
I’ll report on the Ronald Reagan PL&M tomorrow.