With all this talk of the presidential campaign crowding our news cycle, Traveler’s contributing editor Andrew Nelson sought out a respite at our last sitting President’s new library.
The Roman Emperors constructed vast mausoleums and temples to commemorate their glory. Presidents of the United States build libraries. The William J Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock, Arkansas, is, even for Republicans, worth the effort, as it’s very much like our 42nd president: friendly, loquacious, and obsessed with arcane—and sometimes fascinating—detail. The museum, located just east of downtown, is a handsome building, with its chin jutting out to the Arkansas River. It’s landscaped with new trees and thick grass lawns that attract hordes of buzzing dragonflies (stand-ins for the White House press corps, perhaps?). Inside is open and airy with fine views of the river, its 16-mile-long promenade and Little Rock’s cluster of gleaming new highrises.
"The second floor’s got all the information," said one docent, referring to the time line of events and achievements that marked the Man from Hope’s two terms in the White House. "But the third floor’s got all the fun." By this she meant there are exhibits devoted to planning state dinners, displaying candid pictures of the Clintons relaxing in the White House, and five Clintonian saxophones. It even answers the question on what to do with presidential portraits of your pets (you hang them in your library). Both Socks and Buddy are immortalized for the ages.
Other highlights include the former President’s Cub Scout hat as well as his presidential limo (parked on the first floor). There’s also a re-creation of the Oval Offices, but velvet ropes prevent you from entering. Not so, Bill’s old cabinet room. People can sit at the table and look at computer screens that explain the decision-making process. Mostly, visitors seemed to want to find the chair Clinton once used and sit in it. (Hint: look for the one that’s two inches taller than anyone else’s.) The adjoining library holds approximately 78 million pages of documents, 2 million photographs, and the museums remaining 85,000 museum artifacts. It proclaims itself the largest within the presidential library system. For now, anyway. Let’s see if W. will top it.
Photo: Clinton Library and Museum, via eschipul’s Flickr.
- Nat Geo Expeditions