Between Inauguration and President's Day, the oval office takes center stage in the U.S. It provides the perfect opportunity to talk about an often overlooked cultural attraction -- presidential libraries.
Far from your traditional book-filled libraries, these repositories contain an archive of presidential photographs, documents and personal artifacts. Although access to their archives is usually limited to researchers, the museum exhibits offer the general public a historical glimpse into the era each president served. And since these museums are a very visible face of the former presidents, even the older buildings offer good access for wheelchair-users and slow walkers. Here's a sampling of some of my favorites.
A 1970s Flashback
If you're up for a touch of nostalgia, and an interesting look at the Watergate years, then the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum (tel. 616/254-0400; www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov) is a must-see. Located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, there is level access to the front entrance, elevator access to all floors and ample room to wheel around in all of the galleries.
Part of the museum focuses on the 38th President's career, family and military life; however the bulk of it is dedicated to events that occurred just prior to and during his presidency or those that were influenced by his presidency. Must-sees include the tools used in the Watergate break-in and a fascinating exhibit about the Nixon pardon.
No Tape Recorders
Interestingly enough, across the country in Yorba Linda, California, the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum (tel. 714/993-5075; www.nixonlibrary.org) tends to play down the whole Watergate period and instead focuses on Mr. Nixon's long political career. Along with the requisite replica of the Oval Office and a sampling of state gifts, there's an interesting exhibit of items collected by Vietnam POWs. Outside, there's the Richard Nixon birthplace and the presidential helicopter, which was used by presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford.
Access is good throughout the museum, with a ramped entrance at the back door of the birthplace. There are several steps up to the helicopter; however there is a wide level space around it, with plenty of room to navigate a wheelchair.
On the More Traditional Side
Down in Abilene, Kansas, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library (tel. 785-263-6700; www.eisenhower.archives.gov) is more of a traditional presidential museum, with nary an aircraft in sight. The museum complex consists of the Visitors Center, the Place of Meditation, Ike's boyhood home, the museum, and the library.
There is level access to the Visitors Center, and lift access to Ike's boyhood home, which contains original furnishings, photographs and personal items of the Eisenhower family. The museum itself features barrier-free access and a wheelchair-lift at the front entrance. It's really a must see for anyone interested in World War II history as it has an excellent D-Day exhibit.
Possible Presidential Sighting
And if you travels take you to Atlanta, don't miss the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum (tel. 404/865-7100; www.jimmycarterlibrary.gov), which features a replica of the Oval Office and memorabilia from the Carter Presidency. Access is excellent throughout the museum with barrier-free access to all of the galleries. As an added bonus, this is the presidential museum where you're most likely to spot a member of the former first family, as Mr. Carter and his wife Rosalynn spend a good part of each month on site managing their foundation. The former president has even been known to fish with his grandson out back.
For information about other presidential libraries across the US, visit www.archives.gov/presidential-libraries. Each one is different, yet collectively they highlight people and events that helped shape our nation.
Candy Harrington is the editor of Emerging Horizons and the author of 101 Accessible Vacations; Travel Ideas for Wheelers and Slow Walkers. She blogs regularly about accessible travel issues at www.barrierfreetravels.com.
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