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A few years ago I set out to visit each of the 13 officially recognized United States presidential museums and libraries. I’ve written earlier about the first six museums I’ve visited. Now it’s time to update the list.

Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum – LBJ’s museum is located on campus, University of Texas, Austin, a short walk from the Longhorns’ football stadium. The building is a “tall square,” white, and set within a large granite plaza dedicated to former First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson. Given the length of LBJ’s political career there’s a fair amount of memorabilia on display.

Like nearly all presidential museums a reproduction of the Oval Office is in the exhibit featuring original furnishings and the unique (developed for the president’s own tastes) oval rug. Unlike other museums, in this one you can sit in the office chair, which I did, and for a donation a nearby staff member will take your picture. Mine turned out pretty good.

Lady Bird was one of LBJ’s assets. First, there’s that memorable nickname. Then there’s her vision and accomplishment in beautifying America’s roadways. Finally there’s the fact she outlived him and was able to bolster LBJ’s reputation and legacy. The item in the museum I liked most was a hand-written letter from Lady Bird to LBJ expressing her confidence in his ability to lead in the wake of JFK’s assassination. It’s impressive. Mrs. Johnson’s office with a view of downtown Austin within the museum and library complex, which after LBJ’s passing she actually frequently used, is an added bonus, particularly seeing how she filed her completed work on the floor.

I did not emotionally bond with this museum, even though it reflected the times of my life. Main reason, I never emotionally bonded with the man when he was living. I didn’t share most of his politics and, like many, strongly disliked his micromanagement and misconduct of the Viet Nam War. In my estimation President Johnson and his advisors did not fight to win.

One profound issue position on which I did side with LBJ is racial reconciliation, which is to say the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Acts of 1965. The images in the museum of the Civil Rights Movement are as compelling as the Viet Nam War images are repelling.

George Bush Presidential Library and Museum – George H. W. Bush, “41” placed his large museum and library complex on the Texas A&M University campus in College Station, Texas. LBJ located his museum on the campus of the state’s most powerful university blocks from the Texas State Capitol and government district. Bush located his on the campus of the state’s premier military-related the boonies.

Except for Texas A&M families, people won’t just “drop by on the way to somewhere.” They’ll have to make a special trip to see the museum. I understand Mr. Bush’s comfort zone with the military culture of the campus, but I think his museum will suffer for being where it is.

But it is a beautiful museum, features large and interesting presentations, including the story of Bush’s plane being shot down in WWII, his floating in the Pacific, and his rescue as yet a teenager, now a war hero—on film no less. The museum is large and it shares a lot about the Bush family over 3-4 generations.

Bush was known at one time as “Mr. Resume,” a cagey way of referring to his notable accomplishment of holding one key political appointment after another—Congressman, US Ambassador to UN, Republican Party National Committee Chairman, Chief Liaison of US to China, Director of CIA, Vice President, President. All of these experiences are accessible in the museum, and outside there’s a large running horses sculpture that fits south central Texas. I enjoyed the museum, just not its location.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum – The Kennedy Museum and Library, which JFK never saw, is attractively located in Boston, Massachusetts on a point of land at the edge of the University of Massachusetts campus bordering on the bay on two sides.

Aside from the view of the water I found JFK’s museum disappointing. It’s not as dated in its look as the Eisenhower Museum, but it’s close. It needs a renovation, and more than that, it should display far more memorabilia, video, and other remembrances. For the impact former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy made, for example, there is relatively little about her in the museum—the requisite family pics and two gowns, but that’s about it. For as stylish as she was you’d think there’d be several gowns, etc.

The best presentation dealt with the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. But oddly absent, or at least I didn’t see it, is any in-depth consideration of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of April 1961.

The events surrounding the assassination are portrayed in a short hallway on about 10-inch black and white monitors. That’s it. I understand why the Kennedy family may not want to feature that horrible day and its aftermath in November 1963. But this incredible story is summarized in a couple of TV tapes and Walter Cronkite’s announcements. Nothing more.

I didn’t bond with this president. Not much about his politics, nor his lifestyle fit, in my universe. But I was in 6th Grade when he was killed and like most Americans I can remember where I was when I heard the news—on the playground. And days later I was watching when Jack Ruby shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald on live national television. For the significance of these events, for the incredible number of books that have been written about Camelot and its untimely end, for these events’ continuing importance, they could occupy a huge room, not a small exit hallway. These events literally changed our nation and in my estimation demand considerably more than the JFK Museum is presenting.


The George W. Bush Presidential Center is yet in development in Dallas at Southern Methodist University, former First Lady Laura Bush’s alma mater. Of course a Barack Obama Presidential Library and Museum will not be built for President Obama until he finishes his presidency. 

Aside from these contemporaries, I have Hoover, FDR, and Clinton yet to go.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at or follow him at

Collect gorillas? I know. It’s weird. But it’s fun too.

When I was a kid I loved all things “animal” and all things “outdoors.” I read far more than the average kid, I later learned, but I spent a lot of time with my dog in the fields and woods around our home on the edge of town.

Later, I did some hunting but not really a lot and only for small game. I read, however, “Sports Afield,” “Field and Stream,” and “Outdoor Life” every month for years. Back then I could talk turkey about bullets, shells, calibers, and gun makers. I’ve forgotten a lot of this.

What I haven’t forgotten are the names, habits, and habitats of nearly every animal and bird in North America and a fair amount of the rest of the world. And I know trees. I love trees and seeing a new kind on a trip is a thrill my travel companions don’t always comprehend. I’m not bragging, just exalting in things nature.

Now the gorillas. When I was a kid I watched every black and white “Tarzan” movie ever made. I watch them now and see some silly plotlines and some not-so-silly racism, but the jungle is still the jungle, filled with exotic animals. Loved that then and now.

So after my stint in grad school at the University of Cincinnati, where I’d swallowed scholarly journal articles that could kill a horse, I had had about enough of academic “literature.” I remember walking into the house on Friday the 13th, the day I’d defended my dissertation in political science, and noticing that Sarah had brought me three books from the public library—Edgar Rice Burroughs’s “Tarzan” trilogy. I’d watched all those films but never read the books.

Over the next maybe three years I read all Burroughs’s “Tarzan” books, all 24 of them. Still have the paperbacks. The books are also a product of their time, sometimes wanton killing of animals or people, racist attitudes and behaviors, paternalism. But there’s also good writing, an interesting and seminal character, loyalty, bravery, love, fiercely guarded freedom, and strength.

So the gorillas? Oh yes, the gorillas. When your children are little what do they get their Dad for birthdays and Christmas? In my case, it was often a gorilla. The kids had seen me read these books. They’d heard me tell the stories to them. They’d heard me do Tarzan yells to make them laugh. So they bought me gorillas. That’s how it got started. And by the way, not chimpanzees, not monkeys, not orangutans, gorillas.

I still have the first gorilla they gave to me—complete with the diaper they dressed him in for unknown reasons. Now I have a few dozen gorillas in my home office—warm and fuzzy, fierce, plastic, rubber, on a drinking glass or cup, made of candle wax or carved from a coconut, a gorilla who sings Christmas carols and one who sings “Wild things, I think I love you” while holding a Valentine’s heart, carved wood, porcelain, even pewter. I have huge black gorilla slippers I’ve never worn and a gorilla Halloween mask that’s scared each and every grandchild in their toddler years, candy in a stick with a gorilla on top, a puppet, and a gorilla in a snow globe. Not to mention gorilla pics. I once had a gorilla tie and shirt, but they went by the by.

Some other time I'll talk about the gorilla exhibits I've visited in zoos around the country. Or we'll talk about gorillas as an endangered species.

I still get gorillas from time to time. Why? Why do any hobbies become hobbies? Maybe it’s the gorilla in me.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at or follow him at

One of my “bucket list” items is to visit all 13 official presidential and museums/libraries, along with the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois.

Until about four years ago I’d visited only one, the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Then my wife and I, along with our daughter in law, visited the Ronald W. Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California. Outstanding. Still, it didn’t occur to me that visiting all of them might be fun.

A couple of years later Sarah and I went to Kansas City and took time to drive the short distance to Independence to visit the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum. I had just finished reading David McCullough’s Truman, so my understanding of President’s Truman’s Administration and impact were fresh. He was a homespun but highly effective leader and the number of major decisions he made with long-term historical impact were amazing.

That did it. From there it dawned on me that visiting all the presidential museums might be both possible and fun. Since that time I’ve been able to visit a few more, including one in the past week. I recommend the same goal to you. Here’s a summary of what I’ve enjoyed so far:

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum – I always felt I had some distant emotional tie to Mr. Ford, largely because August 8, 1974, President Richard Nixon announced his intention to resign, August 9, 1974 President Nixon resigned and Mr. Ford took the oath of office as President, and August 10, 1974, Sarah and I got married. So it was a great weekend for a young man interested in politics and a certain young lady.

The museum is located along the river in Grand Rapids while the library is located at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The museum is not huge but nice, includes a replica of the Oval Office during the Ford Administration, and does a lot with the shortest presidency in history, focusing especially upon the Nixon Pardon. President Ford lived longer than any previous president, passed away at 93, and is buried on site.

Ronald W. Reagan Presidential Library and Museum – For me so far, the Reagan Museum is the Gold Standard of presidential museums. It is located on a hilltop with a view of the Pacific in the distance, features a large section on Reagan’s Hollywood years and another large section on the presidency. All the president’s signatures are engraved in the wood-paneled walls of the entryway, which is a distinctive and intriguing feature. Nancy Reagan is given her due as is the Reagans’s love for their mountaintop ranch. Reagan’s gifts as the “Great Communicator” are available in audio and video throughout.

Without question, though, the most impressive exhibit in the museum is the jet that Reagan, along with Ford, Carter, both Bushes, Clinton, used as Air Force One. Alongside the jet in what amounts to a museum hanger is the helicopter Reagan used as Marine One, as well as his automobile. You can walk through the jet. I had walked through FDR, Truman, and Eisenhower’s planes years before, which are housed at Wright Patterson Air Force Museum in Dayton, but seeing Reagan’s jet is on another level. President Reagan is buried on site.

Harry S. Truman Library and Museum – Truman’s museum is small by comparison to others built today, but I doubt you can find more significant history per square foot than this museum offers. Surviving an assassination attempt, firing General Douglas MacArthur, ending WWII with the Atom Bomb, the United Nations, NATO, full renovation of the White House, recognition of Israel in 1948, the Marshall Plan, and more. My favorite presidential picture is featured here. It’s Truman in Independence walking away from the camera in topcoat and hat, out for his traditional morning walk—alone—the next morning after arriving home from relinquishing the most powerful office in the world. Truman retired with no pension—that came later for him and subsequent presidents due to the work of his friends in Congress—and no continuing Secret Service protection. He didn’t believe he should use the stature of the presidency to earn money after the presidency. It was a different era. President and Mrs. Truman are buried on site.

Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library and Museum – Nixon’s museum is also small by comparison to the ones being built today, is located along a main street in Yorba Linda, California, includes his boyhood home on the property, and one of his helicopters. Watergate is featured, but a debate is currently underway about how to portray associated events and with what tone or critique. President and Mrs. Nixon are buried on site. I enjoyed the visit because it brought back so many memories from my early college interest in politics, and 1972 was the first presidential election in which I voted. But I left feeling a bit down and realized it was a feeling of betrayal (I used this in an article I wrote about betrayal). Nixon’s is a leadership that might have been.

Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum – The Eisenhower Museum is located in his hometown, Abilene, Kansas, is small by present standards, is beginning to show its age so is in need of a facelift, and is, like the Truman Museum, packed with World War II history, including an amazing array of medals given to General Eisenhower by grateful nations of the world. A distinctive feature is Eisenhower’s boyhood home located on its original foundation. In other words, the museum, library, and chapel where the President and Mrs. Eisenhower are buried are located on the family and nearby property in Abilene. So Ike played in that yard, walked barefoot in that field, etc. Interesting.

Jimmy Carter Library and Museum – Mr. Carter’s Museum, Library, and the Carter Center are located in Atlanta on Freedom Parkway, not far from the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. The museum was closed for several months in summer 2009 for total renovation, reopening in October. The museum is first class, features cutting edge technology including a tabletop touch screen computer that amounts to a kind of 22 foot iPhone. President Carter’s Nobel Prize and he and Mrs. Carter’s Presidential Freedom Medals are on display and there are an abundant number of videos of Carter Administration events or interviews with the Carters. It is truly a beautiful museum and setting.

I have a few more to go.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part but must include a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at or follow him at