Lyndon Baines Johnson became our thirty-sixth president on the night of November 22, 1963 after his predecessor, President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated. He was inaugurated on Air Force One beside Lady Bird Johnson and Jackie Kennedy who was still in her blood stained pink Chanel suit. In an instant neither his life nor the lives of the American people would ever be the same.
While the country morned and the government supposedly sought out those behind the assassination, the newly appointed President had to move forward. Having to step into those giant, empty footsteps had to be a nightmare. No job had ever been less enviable.
Despite the hard times Johnson faced he managed to do a great deal of good for this country including signing into law the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act. He also is the man behind the law (to see the long list of laws he signed into law see the second link below) that requires us to wear seat belts while riding in cars; a fact I did not know until my visit to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas.
After my visit to The Bullock Museum (see previous blog) I headed straight to the LBJ Library. Of all of the sights I would take in, this was the one I longed to see the most. It was the fourth presidential library I have visited and aided me a great deal on my way to see all thirteen.
Most recently I visited the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library back in October (http://bit.ly/2tASvU0). In 2014 I visited Boston for the Thanksgiving weekend and took my family to see JFK’s Presidential Library, which remains the greatest one I have yet to see, although each library has their own special qualities. Prior to that I spent some time at Springwood, FDR’s home as well as the grounds for his presidential library (http://bit.ly/2tBhXZx). FDR was the first president to establish a library but he creation continues to this day.
The LBJ Presidential Library is located on the edge of the University of Texas campus. When I think of that campus I am reminded of another violent shooting, the one that took place back in 1966. Then it was a disturbed student who took to the tower in the main building at the University killing eighteen and wounding thirty-one. I would get to glimpse the tower in full view the day after my visit to this presidential library during a city wide tour.
President Johnson’s wife of thirty-nine years and mother of their two daughters (Luci Baines Johnson and Lynda Bird Johnson Robb) was Claudia Alta Johnson, better known by her childhood nickname, Lady Bird. Lady Bird was her husband’s greatest source of support. As First Lady she did her part to impact the county including the Highway Beautification Act. She was known for saying: “where flowers bloom so does hope”. Lady Bird was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Gerald Ford in 1977, all of which is on display at LBJ’s Presidential Library.
Since family came first for LBJ there are a great deal of family photographs on display. There is even a video playing of the immediate family telling about their time spent in the White House. That home was so integral in the Johnson’s life that both daughters were married there.
The most impressive aspect about this library is the amount of archives it holds. There are approximately forty-five million pages of historical documents from President Johnson’s entire political career including those from the times while he was a Senator, Vice President, and President. You can see the many, many red books as you ascent the main staircase.
On the ground floor, when you walk into the library you will notice right away the presidential limo from 1968. While this car had a television, phone, and reserve gas tank, it was not armored or bullet proof. The limo stands between the gift shop and ticket purchasing desk.
The first floor also has a life size animatronic version of LBJ that begins telling his favorite funny political stories once a nearby button is pushed. However that was a bit creepy to me.
The final exhibits are the exact replicas of President Johnson’s Oval Office (of course on a smaller scale) as it was when he was there as well as Lady Bird’s office as it was when she occupied it in the East Wing.
As I did in Jimmy Carter’s Oval Office, I proudly stood and took my picture in front of Lyndon Johnson’s. Now I have a matching pair.
On that floor you will also see many of the gifts given to the Johnson’s from visiting heads of state while they were in office. There are also many personal belongings of the Johnson’s like their cowboy boots. There was also a model of the Texas ranch they called home.
There is also a balcony you can step out on which provides a beautiful view of the surrounding area. On the day I was there the clouds photographed so wonderfully it looked as though I had photoshopped them. I assure you I did not.
The most unique feature of LBJ’s Presidential Library were the photographs of all Presidents along side their First Ladies, from George and Martha Washington all the way up to the Obamas. I hadn't seen anything like it in the previous four presidential libraries I have visited. Seeing the long lineage was proof of what we can be proud of. I dread the day the current leader of our nation and his wife are added to this wall.
I have long been a fan of President Johnson and the man that portrayed him so well both Broadway and in the HBO Movie “All The Way with LBJ”; Brian Cranston. I was able to see the 2014 Broadway play and meet that magnificent actor afterward (http://bit.ly/2vYXtL4). From that moment on I had an even greater appreciation for this man and his presidency. My visit to his library has only made me a more devoted fan.
Up next, I take the city by storm.
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