The American Presidency Exhibit

By Jerilyn WatsonThe Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC is inviting the public to learn more about America's presidents. A new show at the National Museum of American History shows visitors the history of the presidency. I'm Shirley Griffith.And I'm Steve Ember. The exhibit called "The American Presidency" is our report today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.

((INSTEAD OF THEME, "HAIL TO THE CHIEF"))Thousands of people are visiting a new permanent exhibit at the National Museum of American History. The exhibit tells about the forty-two American presidents. The show brings together more than nine-hundred presidential letters, papers, pictures and other objects. It is called "The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden."

The name means that serving as president is a powerful and wonderful experience. But it also means that a president faces serious responsibilities and risks. Many objects in the museum show demonstrate this. A large sign on the front of the museum tells what the thirty-third American president thought about his job. Harry S Truman was president during the last days of World War Two and immediately afterward. He said, "Being a president is like riding a tiger."Visitors can see a small, moveable desk that belonged to Thomas Jefferson. He became the third president of the United States in Eighteen-Oh-One. Years earlier, he used the desk to write America's Declaration of Independence from England. That happened in Seventeen-Seventy-Six.

But it took more than Mr. Jefferson's document to gain independence. The American colonies had to fight to create a new nation. George Washington led the American Colonial Army in defeating the British. General Washington's battle sword is shown in a glass case in the exhibit. After the war, General Washington became the first president of the United States.Another of America's greatest presidents was Abraham Lincoln. A number of objects in the exhibit tell about his life. Visitors seem to look longest at the tall hat President Lincoln wore the night he was shot and killed. He was attending a play at Ford's Theatre. The sixteenth president of the United States died the next day, April Fifteenth, Eighteen-Sixty-Five. President Lincoln had just guided the nation through the Civil War. But he died before he could enjoy easier days.A small table in the American Presidency exhibit does not look very important. But it was. Ulysses S. Grant accepted and signed the surrender terms of the rebellious Southern Army on this table. General Grant led the Union's troops in the Civil War. He became the eighteenth president of the United States in Eighteen-Sixty-Nine.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))A radio microphone is among objects in the exhibit which honor Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He was the thirty-second president of the United States. President Roosevelt spoke to the nation on radio during the great economic depression of the Nineteen-Thirties. His broadcasts were called "Fireside Chats" because he sat near a fireplace. Historians say his talks helped many people remain hopeful during difficult times.The military uniform of Dwight D. Eisenhower is also part of the exhibit. General Eisenhower organized the Allied invasion of Europe in Nineteen-Forty-Four during World War Two. About six years later he was named top commander of NATO forces in Europe.

Dwight Eisenhower was elected the thirty-fourth American president in Nineteen-Fifty-Two. He won the election after promising to end the Korean War.Another president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, lost public support because of American involvement in the war in Vietnam. A film helps visitors relive the day when President Johnson told the nation that he would not seek re-election. America's thirty-sixth president broadcast this surprise news on national television. This happened in Nineteen-Sixty-Eight.

((BRIDGE MUSIC))The exhibit also describes many happy times and events in the lives of the presidents. Grover Cleveland served as the twenty-second and the twenty-fourth president. He served terms during the Eighteen-Eighties and Eighteen-Nineties. President Cleveland liked to escape from official responsibilities by going fishing. His colorful fishing equipment represents him in the museum collection.Theodore Roosevelt was the twenty-sixth president. Photographs and movies show him playing with his children. The Roosevelt children kept snakes and other unusual pets. They also had a small horse called Algonquin. One child rode the pony into a White House bedroom. Theodore Roosevelt said he and his family had more fun in the presidential home than anyone ever had.Another film shows restful moments in the life of Calvin Coolidge, America's thirtieth president. He liked to sit in the North Portico of the White House. From this outdoor area he watched people pass by on the street. However, the people walking by also were able to watch him. So President Coolidge had to retreat inside the White House.President John F. Kennedy was killed in office thirty-seven years ago. But visitors to the museum exhibit can relive happy moments in the life of America's thirty-fifth president. Photos and films show him and his wife Jacqueline attending an official state dinner in France. The visitor gets the feeling they were the best-looking people at the dinner.

The camera also caught President Kennedy as he played with his children Caroline and John. They were the first young children to live in the White House since Nineteen-Oh-One.George H. W. Bush has spent many years of his life in the state of Texas. Some of them were before he became America's forty-first president in Nineteen-Eighty-Nine. The exhibit remembers his Texas days with a colorful cowboy hat. It is topped with a flag and red, white and blue ribbons. A delegate supporting Mr. Bush wore the hat at the Nineteen-Ninety-Two Republican Party nominating convention.

((MUSIC BRIDGE))Another exhibit in the National Museum of American History offers detailed information about the wives of presidents. The first ladies' exhibit tells their stories through letters, photographs, and other objects from family and public life. The museum points out that these women are not elected officials. But they have always worked to help the country in some way.

The earliest presidential wives probably were best known for the parties they gave. Then, as now, they also welcomed foreign leaders. But the first ladies' other public duties have changed and grown over the years.For example, a film in the exhibit tells about President Theodore Roosevelt's wife Edith. She wanted to spend more time with her family. So she took a step toward freedom from social duties. She became the first presidential wife to employ assistants to help plan parties.

Edith Galt Wilson was the wife of President Woodrow Wilson. He was America's twenty-eighth president. Edith Wilson probably had the most power of any presidential wife. But most citizens did not know this at the time.

President Wilson suffered a stroke in Nineteen-Nineteen. The exhibit explains that for the next seventeen months Edith Wilson received all official documents.Visitors to the first ladies' exhibit can hear radio speeches to the nation by Eleanor Roosevelt. She was the wife of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Eleanor Roosevelt worked for social reforms. And she wrote her opinions for newspapers.

Hillary Rodham Clinton took an active interest in her husband's administration. Visitors can hear and see President Clinton's wife speak to Congress about health care. Hillary Rodham Clinton recently was elected to the United States Senate from New York state. She is the first president's wife ever to seek and gain public office.A young woman leaving the National Museum of American History praised both exhibits on America's presidents and first ladies. She hopes the museum will some day open another, similar exhibit. She says it should be called "Husbands of American Presidents."

This program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Shirley Griffith.And I'm Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.