Bush hopes library makes history clear
November 6, 1997
Web posted at: 10:36 a.m. EST (1536 GMT)
COLLEGE STATION, Texas (CNN) -- "Intimate" is an odd description for displays at a presidential library. But that's what the director says visitors can expect to find at the George Bush Library and Museum which opens Thursday.
"This will be a very special, very intimate experience with George and Barbara Bush," says director David Alsobrook.
Among the displays are home movies of Bush's first steps in Kennebunkport, Maine, circa 1925. The displays follow Bush from those wobbly beginnings to his baseball career at Yale, his long career of public service, his tenure as President and his defeat in the 1992 election.
Bush told the designers that he wanted the library to be a research center into the workings of the government, not a personal memorial. Bush's upbringing is partly responsible for this. According to popular legend, Bush's mother taught him humility by punishing him for beginning sentences with the word "I."
"I'm nervous that if my mother is looking down and hears people saying only nice things about her son and she sees an exhibit that is a bit of an ego trip, she'll be rolling around up there, bawling me out," Bush told the Associated Press.
Big opening planned
About 40,000 people were invited to the dedication Thursday, an affair expected to combine America's political elite and Bush's family.
President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton are expected to attend, as are former presidents Carter and Ford and former first ladies Nancy Reagan and Lady Bird Johnson.
More than 60 of Bush's relatives are also expected, ranging from his Uncle Lou and Aunt Grace Walker, in their 90s, to infant grandchildren Robert and Georgette.
The $83 million complex at Texas A&M University, some 85 miles from Bush's home in Houston, was built with private funds and donations. It will be staffed by about 20 federal employees and about 300 volunteers.
Museum traces Bush's life
Inside the museum hangs an actual Avenger dive bomber like the one Bush was flying when he was shot down over the Pacific in World War II. He was later rescued by a submarine.
In a letter to his parents, Bush described himself as "a sissy" for his handling of the incident, in which two other crew members died. "I sobbed while sitting in my raft," he wrote.
There's also a 1947 Studebaker like the one in which Bush drove his family to West Texas to start an oil company.
The museum allows a view few can see for themselves -- replicas of the North Portico of the White House, Bush's office at the Camp David presidential retreat and his office aboard Air Force One, complete with engine noise.
Bush's role as the chief executive who presided over the end of the cold war is represented, with a section of the Berlin Wall inside and a sculpture of horses leaping over the wall outside the museum.
There is a Gulf War display, of course, complete with a Scud missile hanging from the ceiling. Nearby stands the "Gate of Kuwait," a 100-year-old door framed in gold and inscribed with the names of America's gulf war dead. The door was a token of gratitude from the Emir of Kuwait.
Gifts from other notables are on display, too, including a solid gold replica of a Saudi fortress and a carriage clock from the late Princess Diana.
Perhaps the most touching display contains keepsakes Barbara carried in her wallet for 40 years: a four-leaf clover, a newspaper clipping with her engagement photo and a gold charm in memory of daughter Robin, who died at the age of four.
Documents available for research
The library portion of the library and museum is centered on some 40 million documents from Bush's career as president, vice president, ambassador to China and CIA director.
The story the documents tell, according to presidential historian Michael Bechloss, is of a president who made himself politically obsolete.
"By helping to end the Cold War he caused Americans instead to look to a president like Bill Clinton who was more emotionally involved in domestic issues and the domestic economy than a president who was skilled in foreign affairs," Bechloss says.
Bush hopes visitors come away with a simpler conclusion.
"I hope they'll say we had a clean administration," he says, "And that we respected the office of the presidency both Barbara and I and that we did it with honor."
Correspondent Charles Zewe contributed to this report.