Pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV these days and you'll likely hear something about US presidents -electing them, chronicling their lives, reading their letters. It's enough to make a person wonder about ... presidential libraries.
For a break from the daily political machinations, consider visiting one of these repositories to see items ranging from the red station wagon Nancy Reagan used for carpooling in the 1970s to the clothes J.F.K. and Jackie wore during their White House years. Most of the libraries house replicas of the Oval Office, among other things, providing a way for people around the country to sample what's in Washington without actually going there.
Thanks to the Internet, even if you don't live near one of the 10 libraries, you can glean tidbits from their holdings. Find out what Bible verse President Carter chose for his inaugural address (Micah 6:8), or what the elder George Bush told a West Point class he regards as the president's most important role (commander in chief). Some even hold unexpected collections, like the papers of Ernest Hemingway (Kennedy) and Laura Ingalls Wilder (Hoover).
Presidential libraries have evolved since 1939, when the first one was set up by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This month marks the 20th anniversary of the Kennedy Library in Boston, a place that hosts kings and queens, forums on community issues, and puppet shows for children. Like many of the libraries, it aims to play a role beyond that of biographer.
In the coming years we'll get a look at two new libraries - those for Presidents Clinton and Lincoln, both of which will undoubtedly make the nightly news.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society