Does the 2016 Presidential election already seem old? To reinvigorate your interest, here’s what’s new at America’s Presidential Libraries and Museums.
Whether you’re a Democrat, a Republican or apolitical, election enthusiasm could be revived by these Presidential special exhibits. They range from commemorating August’s 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two; to The Beatles; football; and even Iraqi Jewish artifacts. They augment fascinating permanent exhibits at the 13 Presidential Libraries administered by the National Archives.
The newest and biggest highlight will be the new permanent exhibit, “Young Jack”, opening this November at Boston’s John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
“Young Jack” provides glimpses of him as a student — he was an underachiever with a rebellious streak in high school, says the National Archives — as a decorated war hero, and as a young man seeking his life’s path. The items include 20-year-old Jack’s travel journal revealing a growing interest in world affairs and his sense of humor, and two of his most treasured possessions, his Navy dog tag and the coconut he carved with the message that led to his rescue after his PT 109 boat was rammed by a Japanese destroyer during World War Two.
But no need to wait until November for what’s new. Here are some timely reasons to visit these living monuments:
The Truman and the Eisenhower Libraries are commemorating World War Two’s end.
The Harry S. Truman Library & Museum in Independence, Mo. takes visitors back to the tumultuous year of 1945, including the death of President Franklin Roosevelt, Truman’s unexpected rise to the Presidency, the Allied victory in Europe, battles in the Pacific, and the atomic bomb. The actual surrender papers signed by Germany in May 1945 and by Japan on Sept. 2, 1945 are shown, along with newsreels and Truman’s diary pages in “Till We Meet Again: The Greatest Generation in War and Peace.” The exhibit is on through January 2016.
The Truman Library also has “WWII Weekends” through mid-September, with films including “They Were Expendable” on Aug. 9 and “Weekend at the Waldorf” on Sept. 13. Talks include “The Liberation of Auschwitz” on Sept. 12.
The Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum, and Boyhood Home in Abilene, Kansas is hosting two World War Two exhibits through December 2016. It’s a fitting tribute for General Eisenhower, who was Supreme Allied Commander before he was President. “World War II Remembered: Leaders, Battles and Heroes, 1941-1945” showcases special units including the Tuskegee Airmen and Native American Code Talkers, plus contributions of the Ritchie Boys, Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany who returned to Europe as U.S. soldiers. It also features heroic stories of women at war and at work on our home front.
“Be Ye Men of Valour: Allies of World War II,” taking its title from a Winston Churchill speech, honors contributions of 19 lesser-known Allied countries. One surprise hero was Audrey Hepburn, who volunteered to carry secret messages back and forth to the Dutch underground, and also gave ballet performances to raise money for resistance activities.
Lyndon. B. Johnson’s LBJ Library in Austin presents “Ladies and Gentlemen…The Beatles!” through Jan. 10, 2016. LBJ was President when The Beatles arrived in America in early 1964. Their first U.S. concert was, in fact, in Washington, D.C. Among the display’s 400 items of memorabilia, records, rare photographs, tour artifacts and videos is the original Ludwig drum head Ringo played on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif. permanently displays his very own Air Force One. But an even bigger draw is the blockbuster exhibit “Football! The Exhibition” through January. It has more than 500 artifacts, including:
— Game-worn jerseys, some autographed by football greats such as Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, Terry Bradshaw, Brett Favre, Fran Tarkenton, Joe Theisman…
— Heisman trophies from Doug Flutie, Marcus Allen, among others.
— Lombardi trophies signed by Joe Namath, Eli Manning, Bart Starr, and others.
— Some of the very first footballs, cleats, helmets, uniforms, and an unparalleled collection of football cards and photographs.
“I couldn’t play baseball, because I couldn’t see good enough. That’s why I turned to football. The ball was bigger, and so were the fellows,” The Gipper quipped at the opening of the Champions of American Sport Exhibition, 1981.
The former President wrote in his memoirs about playing football for his high school team — “Filling out one of those purple and white jerseys became the noblest and most glamorous goal in my life.” Reagan played football also in college and in films, most famously “Knute Rockne: All American,” and declared, “Win one for the Gipper!”
The Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, Calif. will exhibit precious Iraqi Jewish artifacts from Sept. 4 through Nov. 15. Thousands of Iraqi Jewish precious items and documents were discovered by a U.S. Army team in the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters. Then, they were painstakingly restored for ten years by the National Archives. “Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Heritage” has 23 of the items. Some date back as far as the mid-16th century.
Jews in Iraq/Babylonia/Mesopotamia date back at least to 586 B.C., and lived peacefully until 1941, when the anti-Jewish “Farhud” (pogrom) broke out. In 1948, when Iraq entered the war against the newly founded State of Israel, Iraqi Jews were increasingly arrested and persecuted, and one was publicly executed. Although losing all assets and citizenship, Iraqi Jews rushed to emigrate, mainly to Israel. In 1950 and 1951, almost 120,000 Jews left Iraq, leaving only a small number behind, according to the National Archives’ 2013-2014 exhibit now online, “Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage.” All the artifacts must eventually be returned to Iraq.
The Presidential library concept began with Franklin Roosevelt, who wanted to preserve the vast amounts of documents he was accumulating. He knew that many past Presidential records had been lost, destroyed, sold, or ruined by poor storage conditions. So he created the National Archives, raised private funds for a Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, N.Y., and turned it over to the National Archives to operate, a tradition that continues today.
The FDR Library, with renewed interest due to Ken Burns’ PBS documentary “The Roosevelts,” has had a recent major renovation. The library’s current exhibit, “The Spirit of the Gift,” showcases about 100 presents from movie stars like Shirley Temple and Roy Rogers, World War Two leaders like Josef Stalin and from ordinary people like a Polish airman who built a Spitfire aircraft model from pieces of a downed Nazi warplane. Other gifts were presented to President Obama. One is a chew toy sent to first dog Bo by “Larry the Cat,” the official mouser of 10 Downing Street, the residence and office of Britain’s Prime Minister.
The National Archives offers a popular keepsake, the $5 “Passport to Presidential Libraries,” with photographs from their collections, quotes from Presidents, and info about visiting each location. Everyone who gets their passport stamped by every Presidential Library within the National Archives gets a special memento and a signed certificate from the Archivist of the United States and the Director of Presidential Libraries.
Check out the latest also at the other Presidential Libraries and Museums: Herbert Hoover Library, West Branch, Iowa; Gerald Ford Library, Ann Arbor, Mich.; Gerald Ford Museum, Grand Rapids, Mich.; Jimmy Carter Library, Atlanta; George (H.W.) Bush Library, College Station, Tex.; William J. Clinton Library, Little Rock, Ark.; George W. Bush Library, Dallas, Tex.
And now, back to the current Presidential hopefuls, all 20 and counting…
For more info: Presidential Libraries and Museums, National Archives.