As people travel the country most of them have categories of things they would like to see. Some of our friends have visited the highest points in all states, and others love to visit wineries or distilleries. We tend to have multiple lists going at the same time and when one of our friends started visiting presidential sites we were intrigued. Previously we visited the LBJ ranch so I almost skipped the library and wow am I glad I didn’t.
The main thing that attracted me to the library was the exhibit they had on Lady Bird Johnson. I love learning about the first ladies (even more than the presidents) and her exhibit looked great online. So when we headed to Austin for the day this was the first thing on my list. Turns out the library is on the University of Texas campus and the signage wasn’t that great. Despite being a huge building it was hidden by a building in the forefront, but eventually we found it.
Masks were mandatory because of COVID and all the theaters were closed but it was still a really great building. The entrance has his presidential limo (love seeing those) and a great gift shop. It also had the section dedicated to Lady Bird.
Claudia or Lady bird as she was nicknamed by her childhood nanny grew up in a small town in East Texas. Her father owned the local mercantile and was successful by rural standards which allowed her to go to the University of Texas and get a degree in journalism. She was an amazing woman by any standards and was the first woman to campaign without her husband. She also was his personal documentarian, using a 16mm movie camera on their press junkets to capture the moments. Consequently they had lots of film and audio in the museum and it was great seeing and hearing them throughout the various exhibits. She also was an excellent writer and I loved many of her quotes sprinkled throughout the museum.
Her mother passed away when she was young and she found solace in nature. This became a lifelong passion and she eventually won a congressional medal of honor for that work. Although she is largely known for her work planting wildflowers throughout Texas her work was so much more than that and she was an active participant in her husbands career and work. I particularly credit her for managing to do this in such a way that did not upset the more conservative southerners of the time.
And of course the clothes were amazing. I could easily say that I could see myself wearing most of her clothes. They were simple yet stylish and I loved the colors.
The rest of the sections of the library were about the president and they were equally fascinating. I’ll be honest I didn’t have a great opinion of LBJ going into this museum, but I walked out with a much higher level of respect. Yes, the source material is somewhat biased, but I had no idea all of the different racial laws he signed into being during his time in the White House. He also took the office as the result of an assassination, was in the middle of a terrible war, and a time of social unrest. Despite those challenges he managed to get some good things done and most impressively decided not to run for a second term so he could focus on trying to get out of Vietnam.
One of the coolest things was a complete recreation of the oval office as it was at his time. He had a very interesting old fashion chair in the room and he had a coffee table made with a phone in it which was super cool. By all accounts he spent as much time at his ranch as he could but I always like these recreations to see what presidents chose to display. Since they have access to most of the national treasures I think it says a lot about their character.
Obviously he wasn’t all great. He could be condescending and since he was tall he often towered over people, leaning forward to physically intimidate them. Many of his campaign contributors and friends benefited from the Vietnam War but it was never proven that he personally did. I also got the impression that he didn’t really want to be the President, but for someone who was thrown into the job under the worst set of circumstances, he worked hard at it by all accounts.
The building itself has a ton of documentation and the inside was beautifully constructed. I particularly liked two of the walls that had the presidential pictures of every president and First Lady. I had never seen them all displayed together like that and it was interesting starting with George and Martha and walking to the end. Barack, Michelle, Donald, and Melania were not displayed because their official portraits have not been released yet. I guess this process can take several years.
One of my favorite sections was a very good animatronic of LBJ surrounded by political cartoons. He had quite the sense of humor and although his jokes were definitely folksy they were part of his charm.
As always this presidential library was absolutely worth the visit and more than worth the money. Getting to know these historical figures and seeing their artifacts (especially those related to the First Ladies) is always a pleasure.
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