A few years ago while in Austin my husband and I visited the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library simply because it was on the recommended list of things to do in Austin. We happened to visit during a time of political upheaval in America and at that time, wars of words were flying back and forth between the two parties. Part of me didn’t want to walk into a library /museum of a President because I was already sick of hearing the two sides tear into each other and to be truthful, he was a democrat and I’m a republican.
However that one visit truly opened my eyes to the human side of Lyndon B. Johnson and the fact that the platforms and laws he pushed for, he did because he had heart and cared about those issues. I might not agree with him but after walking through the entire Library, I could easily respect his point of view. After that visit my husband and I both agreed that we wanted to visit more Presidential Libraries, regardless of political party.
The next closest Presidential Library to us was the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station. We waited until our kids could all go with us, loaded up the car and made the day trip over to College Station.
Let me tell you this – I loved the Lyndon B. Johnson Library because it was very well done and put together. I left there feeling like I understood more about his platforms and work he achieved as president. The main difference is that being in the George Bush Presidential Library almost felt like we were walking through their own personal home and I left there feeling like I knew both of them personally.
We started our tour of the Library by watching a short film and then proceeded into a hall that was lined with family pictures and short captions starting at the birth of both George and Barbara Bush. It told their story growing up and as they started dating and was later married. Honestly, this is the weakest part of the entire Library. At that point I started questioning how great the Library was going to be – not because their story isn’t great but because it lacked personality.
However as that hall came to an end you could see the cockpit of a plane hanging from the ceiling and everything changed. At that point the purpose of the Library became helping you fully immerse into their lives and going forward, I felt like I was walking through their lives.
The color scheme and decorations quickly changed to a military theme where you learned about George Bush’s service as a combat pilot. During one mission he had to eject from his plane and spent hours in the ocean until he was rescued.
The Library has posted a copy of the letter he wrote home to his parents about the ordeal that is both heartbreaking and harrowing since his two co-pilots did not survive.
After that area of the library, you enter a section devoted to his early political service and campaigns. It’s fun to look through the exhibits and learn even more about how he went from an oil man to a congressman. The library also showcases art such as purses decorated by Barbara Bush , done to pass the time while she was on the campaign trail with him.
The library has an area full of hidden drawers and secret files that tells you about the time that Bush served as the head of the CIA. You can also see a lot of information about the years they spent serving the US in China and learn all about what Barbara Bush thought of the food and customs.
Eventually the path through the library leads to a replica of the Oval Office where you are able to sit at the desk and take pictures. The day we visited the crowds were very light so each of my kids got to take turns ruling the country from behind the desk in the mock Oval Office.
After the replica of the Oval Office we were able to spend time in a section devoted to Barbara Bush and her love for literacy. I was delighted to learn that her favorite book is Pride and Prejudice, which you might have noticed is also my favorite book.
After viewing a replica of George Bush’s private office at their home, I was amazed to find a large section of the Berlin Wall. I had always wanted to see it in person and there it was, a real section from the Berlin Wall at the George Bush Presidential Library. (The very next day we wound up exploring Rice University in Houston and rounding a corner, found another section of the Berlin Wall on their campus.)
The Library also hosts a mock situation room and an area where you will learn a little more about Dessert Storm before opening into an area that talks about what they have done since retiring from public service.
One of the main things that you will take away from the library is how much they loved people and truly wanted to serve them. It was awe inspiring to learn about how much time they have spent with others and how much they have done to raise money to help those who need it.
After we were done with the inside of the library we followed a long path behind the library and into the woods to a clearing where there was three grave sites surrounded by a large fence. Their daughter Robin, who passed away from Leukemia as a child is already buried there but two other spots remain for George and Barbara Bush to be buried.
The library and area surrounded truly makes you feel like you are part of the story and pulls you into their lives. It doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you are on, the hours and lifetime that they have devoted to public service is amazing.
The Library is great for all ages. It’s very interactive so kids won’t get bored and no matter your political affiliation, it’s a great way to learn about two people who gave their entire life for this country. Go visit the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, TX – you will enjoy it.