Texas is known for many things – oil, NASA, and also the Bush family. When President George W. Bush stepped down in 2009, he decided to call Dallas home. In April of 2013, after many years of selection, the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum was officially opened to the public on the grounds of Southern Methodist University. I decided to go check it out back in late December.
Being that this museum is located on the grounds of a university, parking was definitely not going to be free. At least not after a half hour anyway. My total for parking came out to be around $4 for about two and a half hours.
Once inside, everyone had to go through airport-style security. Fortunately, the line wasn’t too long. Buying the ticket at the admissions desk was pretty painless as well.
The museum is presented in a chronological format, starting from the early days of Bush’s life living in Midland and attending school. Pictures, artifacts, and videos show him on the campaign trail, election night, and the subsequent voting tie with Democrat Al Gore. A video of news media coverage is shown from that night, and how the State of Florida and Gore’s campaign ordered a recount of all the votes is explained pretty well. I also learned that the Supreme Court eventually got involved and settled the matter.
The next section talked about Bush’s first year, and covered key domestic and foreign policy issues such as No Child Left Behind. This law, proposed by Bush himself in January of 2001, and enacted one year later, set standardized testing requirements that all K-12 schools must meet, among other things.
Obviously, one of the events that marked Bush’s presidency was 9/11, and it got a special section. Up for exhibit are many interesting and unique items that were significant to that horrible day in history. An item that I really found amazing was a pair of steel columns from the World Trade Center. The docents allowed us to touch it, and it really showed the marvels of engineering and the horrors of terrorism.
All around the beams, engraved in panels, were the names of those that were killed on that fateful day. Video screens show media footage of when news of the attack first broke out. As I was walking thru, I couldn’t help but feel the somberness of the room. This was an emotional day for so many, and an event that changed how we Americans deal with foreign threats and national security.
As I moved along, one of the most famous artifacts used in the immediate aftermath caught my eye: the bullhorn used in President Bush’s first visit to the still smoldering WTC site.
For Americans, this was a sign that there was still law and order. The exhibit then talked about the subsequent invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, George’s Thanksgiving dinner with the troops in Baghdad, and other domestic and foreign issues during that time frame.
From there, I explored what is probably the most crowded room of the museum- the Oval Office mock-up.
There was a bit of a line as we all waited to take our photo seated behind the desk. If it wasn’t for Central Expressway that was outside those windows, you pretty much couldn’t tell it apart from the real Oval Office. The phone on the desk looked super realistic, with different buttons that linked the leader of the most powerful country in the world to different commanders and top aides. I wonder if it was taken straight from W’s desk when he stepped down.
All around the office were different artifacts and items. From the books on the bookshelf, to family photos, the designers really paid tremendous attention to detail. There was even a little wooden box that contained a call button, most likely linked to the aides outside or perhaps even the Secret Service.
Upon exiting the Oval Office, the rest of the museum primarily focused on W’s last few years in office, and touched upon the different humanitarian objectives that he was a part of. The main exhibit hall ended with a video message from George and Laura, thanking us for visiting.
In the holiday spirit, there was also a small limited time exhibit when I went- the All Things Bright and Beautiful: Christmas at the White House 2005. It featured the Christmas tree that was on the lawn, photos of Christmas arrangements and decorations of various rooms, and some ornaments and decorative items that were at the White House in the 2005 year. Very cool!
Although most people leave after seeing the exhibits, there is a hidden treasure- the library. Anybody can register to be a researcher and look at documents from Bush’s tenure. Creating my research card was easy- an archivist met me in the lobby, took me to the back, and took down my info. Within three minutes, I had my researcher card. The best part is that this section of the building is free!
I was then led to the research room, a quiet and peaceful place to examine the files of ‘W. Although I was the only researcher there that afternoon, I heard that it is frequented by the students of SMU and other colleges for gathering information to write papers and such.
I was given a binder containing different subjects and their respective call numbers. Pretty much anything can be found here, from correspondence on Iraq to letters sent to the White House for Asian Pacific Heritage Month!
After selecting what topics I was interested in, I filled out a form and the archivists pulled the respective cases for me. Inside contained letters, memos, cards, and other documents pertaining to the subject matter.
There is also an abundance of digital records, mainly containing e-mails and other electronic correspondence. Three computers in the research room allow for the viewing of these records.
In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. The National Archives and SMU really did a great job in putting everything together!