“I’m Not A Crook!”
Tracy and I are fortunate enough to have two presidential libraries (Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan) within a relatively short distance of our house. The Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum is located in Yorba Linda (Orange County), the birthplace of the 37th president. I was in college when Nixon was president, and I honestly detested him.
Over the years, I have softened my view a bit, as he was a very complex man. I thought it would be interesting to see his presidential museum (also his birthplace and the final resting place for both Nixon and his wife Pat), which presents his triumphs, defeats and disgrace in great detail. There was also a special exhibit commemorating his 100th birthday that ran through the end of 2012.
Walking through the gift store (where we purchased tickets), we first saw some letters that Nixon wrote. Since I have never been a good loser, this one hit home. There were also letters to wife Pat and other personal notes.
The first exhibit focuses on returning POWs from Vietnam. There is a video and information (including life-sized cut-outs of some who attended) on the All American Homecoming at the White House, which saluted the POWs. It remains as the largest dinner ever hosted at the White House. Nixon sang Irving Berlin’s God Bless America (Berlin attended). Below are the cut-outs of some of the celebrities: Phyllis Diller, Miss America Mary Ann Mobley, Joey Heatherton, Nixon, Berlin, Sammy Davis Jr., Pat Nixon and Bob Hope.
Dwight Eisenhower selected Nixon to be his vice-presidential running mate in 1952, but questions about Nixon’s finances dogged him. Ironically, it was a dog who helped him out. In a speech watched by 60 million Americans, Nixon defended himself, but said he would not give back a cocker spaniel (Checkers) that was a gift and who was adored by his daughters. You can watch the speech at the museum.
Of course, the debates between Kennedy and Nixon were crucial, and the younger looking, not-so-sweaty Kennedy took advantage of them.
Kennedy won the election in an incredibly close contest. It is interesting to see which states (Nixon in blue…Kennedy in tan) voted for the two candidates (a far cry from today’s map).
We stepped into a room filled with many familiar historical icons. It is also a room that is filled with controversy. I n this area are life-sized (each figure is the correct height) statues of communist leaders Mao Tse-tung and Chou En-lai, Soviet leaders Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev, Egypt’s Anwar Sadat, Israel’s Golda Meir, France’s Charles de Gaulle, Germany’s Konrad Adenauer and Britain’s Winston Churchill.
On the wall is a quote by Nixon: “They are leaders who have made a difference. Not because they wished it, but because they willed it.” Once the National Archives took over the museum in 2007, a new sign went up that says, “Why are these leaders here? The presence of the statues in this gallery does not imply that the United States government, which has operated this museum since July 2007, takes a position on their legacies.” I stopped to chat with a few of them, and then we were on our way.
Nixon was the president who opened the door to China, which he visited in 1972. A large exhibit on his visit, “Ping Pong Diplomacy” and even the crate in which China sent the United States a panda fills that room.
Richard Nixon’s favorite spot in the White House was the Lincoln Sitting Room. It is replicated at the museum. Nixon worked here, listened to music (probably tapes) here and sat on those tiny (and I mean tiny) chairs discussing policy with Henry Kissinger.
While Nixon was president, the American space program fulfilled Kennedy’s wish of putting a man on the moon in the decade of the 60s. There is a room highlighting space accomplishments and tragedies complete with a video of men walking on the moon.
After looking at some gowns (went quickly through that one), we came upon the 1967 Lincoln Continental limousine used by Presidents Johnson, Nixon, and Ford. Very neat!
There was an old Watergate exhibit, but in 2007 when the National Archives took over ownership, they took it down, because they wanted it show every aspect of the scandal. The new Watergate exhibit opened in 2011, and it has an extensive look at the entire fiasco.
Back outside, we wandered past the reflecting pool to a beautiful Rose Garden. Many of the First Ladies have roses named after them. I thought that if Rose Kennedy ha been first lady she could have had the first Rose rose.
The setting was tranquil, unlike his presidency.
Above the Rose Garden (although it’s below here) is the final resting place of the Nixons.
We walked past the home where Nixon was born (a tour was going on) and our next stop was Army/Marine One, the helicopter that transported Nixon from the White House after he resigned on August 9, 1974, which forced me to do my best Nixon impersonation. Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford all used this helicopter, too.
Nixon was born on January 9, 1913, in the house located on this property, which his father, Frank Nixon, built in 1912. One of his favorite quotes was, “I was born in a house my father built.” It is obviously a tiny house, and when we came back from the helicopter the next tour was just starting, so we were able to take it (lasts just about 15 minutes).
Wandering back inside, we saw a replica of the East Room of the White House (aka..The Party Room). The Nixons were the first First Family to have rock & roll and R&B acts perform in the East Room, including the Guess Who and The Temptations.
Our final stop for the day was a special exhibit in a large room that had much more Nixon memorabilia celebrating his 100th birthday in 2013. There was a painting of all the presidents up until Nixon’s presidency that greets guests as they walk inside the exhibit.
The famous “Kitchen Debate” with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was highlighted in the next section. In 1959, while visiting the American National Exhibition in Moscow, Nixon and Khrushchev stopped at a model of an American kitchen. They engaged in an impromptu “discussion” about which was better… capitalism or communism. This famously became known as the “Kitchen Debate.” He is also pictured below with president Dwight Eisenhower.
Photos and displays of Nixon’s life were presented throughout the exhibition, including videos of his inauguration speeches.
There were tributes to his accomplishments during his administration such as opening the door to China and the amendment allowing 18-year-olds the right to vote.
This was an interesting addition to the rest of the museum that I believe was only there for the 100th birthday celebration..
We were told by one of the docents that we could buy a “Presidential Passport,” which includes the president’s libraries and museums in it and will be stamped at each library/museum we visit. Wanting to help our nation’s economy, we, of course, bought one and had it stamped.
Love him or loathe him, Nixon is without a doubt one of the most interesting American politicians of the 20th century, which is why a visit to the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum is a must for those with an interest in politics and history.
Tracy and I are going to attempt to visit all the presidential libraries.
Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum
18001 Yorba Linda Blvd.
Yorba Linda, CA 92886
Hours: Daily 10 AM to 5 PM • Sundays 11 AM to 5 PM
Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day
Cost: Adults: $11.95 • Seniors: $8.50 • Active Military: $6.95
Children (7-11): $4.75 • Children (6-under): Free