There are a number of things that stood out about the new George W. Bush Presidential Center, which will be formally dedicated tomorrow morning: a replica of the President’s Oval Office, W’s baseball collection, Laura Bush’s ball gowns, and Decision Points, an interactive theater that lets visitors second-guess significant Bush decisions.
And then there’s the beam: a massive, crumpled reminder of the most significant event during Bush’s presidency, the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
Visitors encounter the beam after walking past some biographic galleries and “all the things we thought we’d be working on all four years,” Laura Bush explained to the media this morning. Things like No Child Left Behind, the tax cuts, and community- and faith-based initiatives. “Then you turn the corner and see the big beam from the World Trade Center. Even in the way we tried to lay out the museum, you can see the way our lives changed and the way the lives of everyone in our country changed.”
The former First Lady said the gallery is the most meaningful part of the museum for her personally; her favorite “happy” part is the Oval Office, which has the same orientation as the real deal: “The south sun pours into the big bay window, just like it does in Washington.”
Mark Langdale, president of the George W. Bush Foundation, came up with the Decision Points idea. It focuses on the decision to invade Iraq, the surge in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, and the financial crisis at the end of Bush’s term. “It will show people what it’s like to have to make decisions quickly, with the press hounding you on when you’re going to decide and what you’re going to do, and also to rely on the information you’re given from every source,” Laura Bush said.
Other museum features: gifts from world leaders (including a stuffed lion from the President of Tanzania), a collection of pens used by Bush to sign the 12 vetoes he issued during his presidency, and an area dedicated the late First Dog, Barney. There’s also a theater that shows a video of the Bushes talking about their last day in the White House, what it’s like to be back in Dallas, and their goals relating to the policy issues they think are most important (education reform, global health, free enterprise, and human freedom). Says the President: “We don’t want to sit around and write papers; we want to put action plans into place that affect people’s lives.”
All five living U.S. Presidents are expected to attend tomorrow’s festivities. Langdale said the center is following the same security protocol that has been in place since 2001. Recent events in Boston didn’t change plans, he said: “It will be a secure spot. What Boston reminds us is that the threat of terrorist activities does not diminish over time.”
The 226,000-square-foot Presidential Center sits on 23 acres at Southern Methodist University. The dedication ceremony will start at 10 a.m. Thursday. The lighting of Freedom Hall and a concert will be held tomorrow night.
If you’re on the guest list, get there super early to make it through security in time. If you’re not, you’ll want to avoid the area. Either way, be aware of street closures—some of which take effect tonight.