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CURVE:Take a summer presidential road trip


July 12, 2007|By JOSEPH N. BELL

This is a mixed blessing. No more "smoking gun" hyped-up tape to entertain my visiting Eastern friends. Gone forever. I hope you didn't miss it. An announcer's voice over Nixon's explaining what the president really meant while what he really said was drowned out and fragmented. Or the historical record of Watergate that demonized the press while calling the break-in at Democratic national headquarters a "third-rate burglary" and ignoring the "dirty tricks" campaign. Or my favorite toy at the museum that allowed us to "interview" Nixon by bringing up fragments of self-serving speeches on a movie screen.

The other presidential museums I have visited slipped into this sort of lily-gilding occasionally — for example, the treatment in the Hoover museum in West Branch, Iowa, of the march of many thousands of World War I veterans on Washington to pressure Congress into passing a bonus bill the vets had been promised. The bonus was defeated, and on Hoover's orders, the vets were attacked and dispersed by heavily armed federal troops, an affair treated in the museum entirely through Chicago Tribune headlines calling the march a communist plot.


But this sort of one-dimensional treatment is the exception rather than the rule.

Some of these museums take an almost gleeful pleasure in giving space to presidential critics. This is especially true with presidents Truman and Roosevelt. Both have corridors of blistering cartoons and personal correspondence that allow frailties to show through.

If you are exploring the United States this summer, you might want to consider a presidential museum side trip.

Here's how you could do it in a few days. Fly into St. Louis, rent a car, and visit first the new and exciting Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Ill., then into Iowa for Hoover, followed by Truman in Independence, Mo., and Eisenhower in Abilene, Kan. None of these sites are more than a few driving hours apart.

And maybe in a few months, we can add the new and improved Nixon museum in our own backyard.

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