U.S. Presidents while in office…are frequently not in office. The “Leader of the Free World,” often has to get out into the world, so that means travel via helicopter in addition to the planes, trains and automobiles for the Commander in Chief.
The George HW Bush Presidential Museum, on campus at Texas A & M in College Station, Texas, will spotlight transportation even more than it already does by adding a decommissioned Marine One helicopter; Air Force One jumbo jet; and the locomotive which carried the 41st President to his final resting place on the museum grounds in December, 2018. Bush, who passed away at age 94, was very active in his post-presidency including parachuting onto the museum grounds on more than one occasion.
At present the first thing visitors to the museum encounter upon entering is the Ford Motor Company, 22-foot, custom Lincoln Presidential limousine Bush was given upon his inauguration in 1989. The car has built-in security features and roof is 2.5 inches higher than normal. Fluorescent lights illuminate the interior so the public could better see the President during parades and motorcades. Flags and the Presidential Seal adorn the extended, six-seat limousine.
Nearly a half-century earlier, newlyweds George and Barbara Bush drove from Connecticut to Midland, Texas in a 1947 Studebaker. That vintage vehicle is on display in the museum.
Bush Flew In Not So Friendly Skies
Rounding the corner guests find themselves underneath a 1944 TBM Avenger fighter plane like the one Bush leapt from over the Pacific during his service as the Navy’s youngest aviator during the Second World War.
The WWII aircraft he flew is seemingly romantic in appearance when contrasted with the later exhibit displaying the Iraqi scud and U.S. Patriot missiles used in the Gulf War Bush commanded during his presidency.
The closest Bush ever came to the feeling of flying a fighter plane was speeding on the ocean off Kennebunkport at the helm of his original, 28-foot cigarette boat “Fidelity,” which is on display toward the end of the museum. World leaders who visited Bush at his oceanfront Walker’s Point home in Maine, including Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, French President Francois Mitterrand, United Kingdom Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and former President Bill Clinton.
Coincidentally, the day I visited the museum I encountered former U.K. Prime Minister John Major touring the exhibits after giving a speech. It must have been ironic for him to stroll though the section of the museum in which gifts and honors bestowed upon Bush from world leaders are on display. Maybe the most meaningful is a slab of the Berlin Wall, which fell during his presidency when Bush’s diplomacy helped bring about the relatively peaceful end of the Cold War and Soviet Union.
Foreign Policy Honed During Stint at United Nations
Bush is the only president to have served as Ambassador to the United Nations, so he had a special respect for that position during his term as Commander in Chief.
“Hello, world traveler,” is the way Bush greeted Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar in a phone call after a diplomatic trip to Baghdad.
There are a number of statues of Bush throughout his museum, but the most accessible is the one of Ambassador Bush seated in a chair in front of the recognizable U.N. General Assembly backdrop. There is a chair on each side of the life-sized statue so those touring the museum can have their photo taken caucusing with him.
Vice-President Bush was a Frequent Flier
“You die, I’ll fly” was the irreverent phrase Bush colleague James Baker applied to Vice-President Bush who, while serving under President Ronald Reagan, was often sent to represent the president at funerals around the world. The sheer numbers of miles traveled and countries visited in the interest of diplomacy is staggering – and represented at the museum by an animated, digital world map displaying the 1,276,122 miles Bush journeyed during two terms as “Veep” between 1981 and 1988.
Oval Office Experience
Most every visitor enjoys a chance pretend they are president for a moment by sitting in a recreated White House Oval Office at a replica of the President’s desk or by standing at the press briefing podium with the Presidential Seal to have their photo taken. A museum volunteer docent is always present and seemed happy to snap the photos.
Bush favored a two-person, collaborative working desk instead of the ornate Resolute Desk used by other presidents, and yes, the second drawer from the top on the left does contain a representation of the baseball glove the former Yale first baseman kept there. Bush’s big collection of framed personal photos are also there on the credenza behind the desk and the telephone on the desk is the same as the one seen in so many photos of him on the line an working. There is a world globe in the background, a model sailing ship, and other recognizable items faithfully and accurately placed from his term in the actual office from 1989 – 1993.
Maryland Mountain Getaway
Bush met with plenty of celebrities and dignitaries and athletes and media types in the Oval Office, and visitors get some access to the White House almost every day. But very few outside people get access to Camp David – the woodsy Presidential Retreat outside Washington D.C. in the Maryland foothills. The Bush Museum offers a walk-through office replica of the one he enjoyed while on weekend getaways and holiday vacation days at Camp David and some intimate, personal photos of activities enjoyed there ranging from Wallyball to sledding in the snow.
Final Resting Place is Natural and Serene
Visitors can pay respects to Bush by walking through a breezeway between the museum and the Bush School of Government and down around a scenic pond (catch and release fishing, perhaps the President’s favorite pastime, is appropriately permitted.) Beyond the pond a small wooden bridge leads across a creek in a wooded area to the gravesite.
President Bush’s grave is in a grassy, manicured, gated area. Through the decorative iron bars visitors can see the Presidential Seal on the sidewalk. Bush’s grave is also marked with the white military cross memorializing sailors and airmen who served their country. He lies in rest next to his late wife and former First Lady Barbara Bush and their daughter Robin.
The George H.W. Bush Library and Museum, just over 90-minutes drive from Houston, is open seven days a week until 5 p.m, but closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day. Admission is $9 for adults.