Friday, January 9, 2009

A Lincoln presence in Nixon's haunts

On our recent visit to California, my husband, son-in-law and I visited the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. Since today would have been Nixon’s 96th birthday, I thought it would be a good time to talk about the Lincoln connections there.

The first Lincoln connection was as soon as I walked past the ticket counter. There I found one of the squashed penny machines about which my fellow blogger, Mike Kienzler of the State Journal-Register often writes. Of course, I had to get my own commemorative squashed penny.

Inaugurating Lincoln
As we prepare for the upcoming inauguration of our 44th president, Barack Obama, the library is hosting a special exhibit, “Called Upon By the Voice of My Country.” The exhibit runs through April 19 and celebrates the history and pageantry of presidential inaugurations.

Among the items featured in the exhibit are a bill of fare from Lincoln’s inaugural dinner, a ticket to the inauguration, a first-hand account of Lincoln’s second inaugural celebration and a Lincoln photo. Several of these items are on loan from the collection of Tom Charles Huston, who served as a White House aide during the Nixon presidency.

Nixon’s fave digs bore Lincoln’s name
Another highlight for me was the recreated Lincoln sitting room. The room, which adjoins the Lincoln bedroom, was Nixon’s favorite room in the White House. He was said to have loved the fireplace so much that he was known to even have a fire built in it in the summer with the air conditioning also running. He apparently did much of his work there, perched in a cozy chair with a matching ottoman. The replicated room even includes recreations of the red chairs Mary Todd Lincoln purchased for the White House.

From the pens of babes
Those of us who write about Lincoln today because of an interest that began in grade school had a kindred spirit in Nixon. The Nixon Library displays a copy of a school report Nixon wrote as a youngster about Lincoln and his sons. It’s accompanied by a typed version for those who may have trouble discerning the grade-schooler’s handwriting.

A day well spent
Before we went, I had wondered what a visit to the Nixon library would be like. Would I like it? How could any presidential library compare to Lincoln’s? I was busy working and raising a little one during Nixon’s administration. I buried my head in the sand when it came to politics so I wouldn’t have to face the things going on outside my little world. Would this museum really mean anything to me?

The answer is yes. I learned about the boy who was born in a farmhouse like my own parents – just in California, rather than Illinois. I learned of the young man who worked with his parents and brothers around the house and in the family store, like my own parents, uncles, cousins and brothers. I saw exhibits which took me back to the days when I was young – the scary feelings about war, the confusing feelings about a government scandal, the relief when prisoners left Vietnam, the fun thanks to memorabilia from the days when I was growing up – a black and white TV, an old wood-paneled station wagon, a Jimi Hendrix album, a daisy-adorned empire waist dress.

And along the way, I learned about our 37th president, the one from Whittier, the California town my three uncles and their families called home. I brought away a greater appreciation for this president and the challenges he faced. I saw a beautiful facility with its stately columns, glistening reflecting pool and tranquil gardens, and I felt there a reverence for this country and those who serve in the highest office – a monumental task in any century.

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