Note to several loyal followers: My apologies for posting an incomplete unedited draft last night! Post 111 came a day earlier than intended. Here is the official entry (unless I click the wrong window again).
Arrived in Little Rock, Arkansas and checked into the Residence Inn Little Rock Downtown Hotel.
Located in the River Market district, we had easy access to great restaurants, shops, trails and the William J. Clinton Presidential Library. We took full advantage, starting with dinner at the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium.
Saturday morning we got in our workouts, did laundry, and headed to the Clinton Library. Actually the facility is called the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and contains the Presidential Library, the Clinton Foundation, the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, and a hall for temporary exhibits (currently dinosaurs).
The center also has a really nice full service restaurant called “42”, since Clinton was the 42nd U.S. president. So far the Clinton Center wins the “best food” award in the Presidential Library Eatery category.
So instead of going into exhaustive detail on the Clinton years (I assume all readers experienced them first hand), I’m going to highlight our impression of the Center, which was very different from the other presidential libraries we have visited:
- So many docents! Most Libraries have nobody other than the cashier directing visitors. Typically you walk in, pay your entrance fee, are directed to the auditorium for a short film, given a map, and you are on your way. Here there are several docents in front of every major section of the facility. One of them even came into the auditorium to give us a short introductory lecture prior to the introductory film.
- This was the only presidential library to date requiring a security check prior to admission. Felt like we were getting on an airplane.
- Oval Office. Most libraries have a replica oval office decorated the way it looked for that particular president. Since many of the artifacts are authentic, entrance is typically limited to a 6 foot alcove. At the Clinton library you can actually walk through the replica office. We asked about it and the docent in charge of the Oval Office told us that the curator heard one of the Bush Libraries now allows entrance…..so….
- We were able to rent audio players that provided informative narrations by President Clinton at 36 different displays in the library. My favorite anecdote was Bill recalling the story of how he and Hillary met. Apparently he had been staring at her quite a bit while studying in the library at Yale. Having noticed his constant glances, she finally got up from her seat, went over to him and said, “If you’re going to keep staring at me, we might as well know each other’s names.”
- Like the Carter library, some of the catalogued and “blue boxed” presidential documents are visibly displayed. In total there are 80 million pages of documents on site.
- The exhibits at the Clinton Center are presented in a very different manner than the other libraries, which arrange displays in chronological order; the size and sophistication of the exhibit being in proportion to its importance. At Clinton, exhibits are arranged in two rows of nearly identical “policy” alcoves (restoring the economy, making communities safer, confronting conflicts, etc) with the timeline exhibits displayed on identical large poster boards (one for each year of his presidency) in-between the rows of alcoves. Very concise, but also a bit tedious.
- We both enjoyed the timeline’s pictures and text showing the most significant events (world, national and social) for each year of his presidency. The timeline exhibits also contain binders filled with Clinton’s daily schedule for every day of that particular year (nearly 3,000 in all). It is no wonder these guys appear to age much more than normal during their time spent in office!
- Although we thought the policy alcoves were interesting, we did not like how they were situated in the hall. It felt like we were constantly having to zigzag between conference room display boards and cubicles. Plus the amount of information in each alcove was immense, trying to read it all would have taken days.
- Perhaps the best way to explain our impression would be to compare the other libraries to picture books and the Clinton library to a legal document. It is a bit sterile and bland…..but the restaurant was really nice.
- Oh, and not too much about Monica Lewinsky. You won’t find her name anywhere in the library but there is some material on his impeachment and acquittal.
- Like all presidential library visits, we left feeling a sense of deja vu. In Clinton’s case he was elected during a nasty recession, lost a democratic majority in the house to republicans during the mid-term elections, had to deal with a very contentious minority on the right that forced 2 government shut-downs, had combative debates over national health care, gun control, taxes, medicare and social security. Yada yada yada….
- It was interesting to be reminded that one of the government closures was over what to do with the budget surplus. Yes, our elected officials actually balanced the budget, created a surplus, and still managed to shut down the government. Ah…kids will be kids.
- One board I found particularly amusing, depressing, fascinating, was this one from 1999:
We finished Saturday with a quick trip to the state capitol building, pizza at Damgoode Pies, and packed for our trip to Kansas City.
Situated between Little Rock and Kansas City are the towns of Conroy and Van Buren, Arkansas. We stopped in Conroy to see the striped football field at Central Arkansas University (thanks for Scottie Pippen),
and we stopped in Van Buren to see our friend William McKeever and get a tour of his place of business, Consolidated Printing, Inc. William is one of Adam’s business associates and has helped us attend many sporting events this past 18 months. His clients include numerous professional sports organizations for whom Consolidated prints season tickets. The plant is incredible. It was so interesting to learn how modern tickets are designed and produced. The specialized equipment is just ridiculous. We will never look at tickets the same way ever again. They are truly a work of art these days…colors, embossing, logos, banners, trophies, profiles, and all with unique bar coding for tens of thousands of seats. Then cut, bind and personalize for every season ticket holder……..what a nightmare! The plant was almost as impressive as William’s office, which is jam-packed with autographed memorabilia. It felt like a mini hall of fame display of signed baseballs, footballs, basketballs, pucks, stadium seats, bats, helmets, letters, etc.
He even has several vials of infield dirt from historic baseball stadiums. We could have stayed and browsed for hours. Thanks William!! We really enjoyed the tour and of course seeing you.
Arrived at the Sheraton Suites Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, MO.
Sadly the hotel is not up to the usual Starwood standards. It is dirty, smelly, dark and neglected. The staff is great and helpful but the rooms……not so much. We entered our first room and were overcome by the musty smell of decay. Here is what we saw looking out the window:
We moved into a different room, one with clean windows and an odor that was a bit more tolerable. Oh well, now when we are asked what was the worst place we stayed, we’ll have an answer.
Monday we drove to Independence, Missouri to visit the Library of our 33rd president, Harry S. Truman. Wonderful! This is a great presidential library. Truman’s rise to the presidency was very unique and his terms were during very perilous times. Our tour started with a 45 minute movie taking us from Truman’s very humble upbringing to his failed businesses, his enlistment in the army, courtship of Bess, entrance into politics, reluctant acceptance of the vice presidency, and subsequent death of FDR.
The exhibits were interesting and included an amazing amount of Truman’s personal journal entries. We walked through galleries highlighting:
- His first four months in office: He had virtually no relationship with FDR. In fact although Truman was VP for over 80 days before Roosevelt died, the two only met twice. Truman had a lot to learn and some big decisions to make…including droping Atomic bombs on Japan.
- Postwar America: Great displays on economic reconversion. A 1950s TV displaying period commercials and shows.
- The beginning of the Cold War: Events including the Berlin Airlift, the Truman Doctrine, Marshall Plan and formation of NATO.
- Recognition of Israel: His support almost cost him the 1948 election.
- The 1948 election: The “whistle-stop” campaign tour and his surprise victory over Thomas Dewey.
- China goes communist and Russia gets Atomic bombs.
- Spies in Government: McCarthyism.
- The Korean War: Included his meetings with and firing of General MacArthur.
- America in 1952. This was a wonderful exhibit room full of all the Life Magazine covers and articles from 1952.
We learned that Truman never went to college (no elitism here), he survived an assassination attempt, failed to get his national health insurance program passed, and was the last president to hold press conferences in the Oval Office.
The Library did an admirable job of demonstrating all points of view on Truman’s major decisions. In other Libraries, the controversies surrounding each president are usually glossed over (the depression, Watergate, impeachment, etc) and rationalized. Not so here, especially on the questions of dropping the atomic bombs and escalating the war in Korea without congressional approval. All controversies were prominently displayed.
The Truman Library was interesting, unique, and had very creative galleries and exhibits.
And some issues seem to be timeless………
We finished the day with a fun dinner at Jack Stack Barbecue,
where we met Joe, Liz and William Ruback. Joe is the eldest son of Robin’s best childhood friend, Marcy Ruback (see Omaha posts on Esther K. Newman Camp). Joe and Liz were married in Omaha a couple of years ago and now live in KC. Liz gave birth to this cute guy
just 5 months ago. We were so happy they agreed to pack up all the baby necessities and meet us for dinner. It was fun catching up on their lives and playing with William. Such a good baby! Looking forward to playing with baby girl Feldman…coming soon.
Tuesday was a free day (we had no prearranged plans) on our agenda, so we asked Joe and Liz for suggestions. Liz suggested we check out the World War I museum which she thought may be the only one of its kind in the country. We’ve learned to trust the locals, so we decided to pay a visit.
We were totally captivated. Going into the museum we both felt we knew the basics of the War. By the time we finished we realized we knew (next to) nothing. Nothing!
The initial movies and exhibits do an admirable job of describing the world as it was in the early 20th century. Learning about the various European monarchies, their ever-changing alliances, the impact of the industrial revolution on European society, and American Isolationism was intriguing. How quickly the uneasy peace throughout Europe deteriorated after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo was mind-boggling.
Besides the extremely well done 1914 through 1919 war timeline, the exhibits include weapons (from knives to tanks), trench warfare (including a re-creation of a western front trench, 35,000 miles of which existed by the end of the war), a crater from a 17″ howitzer firing a 1,700 pound shell (30′ in diameter, 15′ deep), uniforms, propaganda posters, and interactive displays on aerial dog fights.
The museum is divided into two sections which are separated by a theatre. The first half of the museum is all about the first 3 years of the war, prior to our entry. The second half is dedicated to the war after our involvement. Exhibits in the second half include American preparation and training efforts, how our involvement turned the tide, field hospitals, and the armistice that ended the war (and also set the stage for the next one). The theatre in-between describes the events and circumstances that finally convinced the USA to enter the conflict.
It was so interesting to see actual documents and read accounts of the primary events leading to our decision to join the conflict. I knew that the sinking of US ships in the Atlantic by German submarines was the main reason we declared war, but I did not know about the Zimmerman telegram. The telegram, sent from German Foreign Secretary Zimmerman to the Mexican ambassador to Germany, was intercepted and deciphered by the British, then given to president Wilson. In the telegram the Germans state that their decision to wage unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic was likely to lead to an American war declaration, and if that happened, they wanted Mexico to declare war on us. In return, the Germans offered to finance their effort and to give Mexico the states of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Wow.
The final gallery is all about the Armistice that ended the fighting and the Treaty of Versailles that ended the war between the Allies and Germany. It is argued that the harsh conditions placed on Germany by the Treaty kept the German economy in ruins, created a simmering hostility toward the rest of Europe, and paved the way for radicals to come into power. All of which sadly came true.
This museum is a must see if you ever find yourself in KC.
On to more museums and Presidential Libraries. I’ll try not to post anymore drafts!
Post 111, Clinton our 42nd president, Truman our 33rd president, World War 1