In his narration for a DVD on his presidential library, former President Clinton said he “wanted to build a building that they would want to come to 100 years from now.”
The appeal to those future visitors may be that it offers a view of America at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st.
If it seems hard to picture the people of 2104 descending on the Clinton Presidential Center and Park to learn more about, say, the Brady Law, think of this: Around 5,000 people a year visit President Benjamin Harrison’s 10,000-square-foot home in Indianapolis, where three-fourths of the furnishings were his own. Of those visitors, 40 percent are adults; the rest come from schools throughout Indiana. Many of the adult visitors are people whose goal it is to see every presidential memorial. Some, though, may visit out of a genuine interest in Harrison, since the house contains “a fairly large collection of books and manuscripts,” a spokesperson for the museum said. Harrison’s claims to fame include the fact that he was president from 1889-1893, 100 years after George Washington, making him the “Centennial President” (which would make Clinton the Bicentennial President, though not the president during the bicentennial), and the fact that William Henry Harrison (9) and Benjamin Harrison (23) are the only grandfather and grandson presidential team. Like 43, he did not win the popular vote of the people but carried the Electoral College.
Interestingly, he was only 5 feet 6 inches tall.
Arkansas educators take note: The spokesperson for the Harrison home said Indianapolis schoolchildren are well-schooled in Indiana’s history and know all about their state’s president — though Ohio claims him, too, since he was born on a farm there.
Grover Cleveland took a second turn, though not consecutive, at being president in 1893-1897. Visitors to his birthplace, in Caldwell, N.J., will find among his possessions his big suits, since he had the distinction of being one of the heaviest presidents to be elected, weighing in at over 250. A sign on a nearby interstate directs people to Cleveland’s home, so there are some drop-ins, but like the Harrison library, many visitors are those checking presidential libraries off their life lists.
The staff of the William McKinley Memorial Library and Museum in Niles, Ohio, are active in their work to preserve his memory, having completed in 1992 a replica of the home where he was born. Too, his name has been in the news of late, raised by historians who compare his imperialist tendencies to the current administration. His “splendid little war” to annex the Philippines cost 4,000 American lives (thousands more died from diseases they caught there) and was a dismal failure. McKinley (1897-1901) also made history by being assassinated, by an anarchist who shot him twice as he stood in a receiving line at the Buffalo Pan-American Exposition.
When Harry S Truman was in office (1945-1953), Congress decided to establish libraries to maintain presidential papers. Truman’s library is in Independence, Mo. Friends of this writer who are from the Greatest Generation recall visiting Truman’s library and then heading off to a cocktail party at a friend’s home some 25 miles away. No one at the party had ever visited the Truman library.