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Preview Of George W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum

Bud Gillett, CBS 11 News | CBSDFW.COM
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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – The George W. Bush presidential library and museum at Southern Methodist University has been handed over to the U.S. National Archives.

Its 70-million paper records and 200-million e-mails are now public domain and in the hands of archivists.  Its dedication is tomorrow when all five living Presidents will attend.  But Wednesday reporters got an advance look at the museum.  While between them the library and museum could host up to 400,000 people a year, it’s the museum that most Americans will likely find to be interesting.

Museum-goers are greeted by a larger-than-life statue of two President Bushes, George W. Bush, President number 43 and his father George H.W. Bush, President number 41, before going into Freedom Hall, a reception area that also displays gifts foreign dignitaries gave to the President when they visited.

PHOTOS: George W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum

The museum traces the President’s early life and the first  months of his administration when goals were Education and Immigration.  But it all changed September 11, 2001.

“The most challenging moment in our history…for a long number of years,” according to then-First Lady Laura Bush.  She told reporters a beam from the World Trade Center, framed by names of the victims of 9-11, is emotionally staggering.

“That’s the most moving part to me,” said Mrs. Bush.

The museum has the famous bullhorn the President used days later at Ground Zero.

Other historic artifacts on display include the gun Saddam Hussein was carrying when U.S. troops found him hiding in a hole, interactive maps of Iraq and Afghanistan and Pens used in Presidential Bill signings.

A recreation of the Oval Office is one of the most unique parts of the museum.  “I love the Oval Office,” said Mrs. Bush, “It was fun to decorate it when I did it 12 years ago and it’s fun to see it recreated here.”  Karen Hughes agreed.  “That’s what first gave me goose bumps,” she told CBS 11 News.

Karen Hughes was an adviser to Mr. Bush both as Governor of Texas and as President, and later Undersecretary of State.  “I’m so delighted that other people will have the same experience and the same thing I did when I was privileged to walk into the Oval Office,” she said.

Mrs. Bush offered some light-hearted observations about what went into the museum – like beautiful gowns she wore to state dinners.  “Well, it was not that difficult to give up the ball gowns because I will probably never wear them again anyway, because you know George is not wild about black tie (events).”   But baseballs are a different matter.  “George was really thrilled at the opportunity to have his baseball collection as part of the library” she chuckled.

This is the 13th of the Presidential Libraries, a practice that was begun under President Franklin Roosevelt.

“George did not want this to be a monument to himself,” said the former First Lady.  “He said that from the very beginning…If it’s based on one personality it becomes less and less relevant over time, but if it’s based on the principles we believe are most important in our country then it can stay relevant.”

There was some push-back initially from some of the SMU faculty who were deeply critical of the Bush administration.  But SMU President Gerald Turner says that was healthy.

“Obviously, any time you’re at a University and something is brought up there’s going to be some controversy…and there was a group that asked some very good questions, but I think they’ve been resolved generally,” he told CBS 11 News.  “Basically the faculty’s concern, those that did raise a question, was whether or not it would just be a ‘Republican think-tank’ or would it really take a broad spectrum of approaches?  And the President has always said, “’I want all points of view.’”

For archivists and historians the unfiltered nature of the records in the library is paramount.

“We have all the materials from the executive office of the President ,” according Bush Presidential Archivist Alan Lowe. “ We always say archives are the raw material of history.  If you really want to understand a person, an issue, a development, look at the primary sources.  That’s what we have here.  The record speaks here.”

The formal dedication is Thursday and all five living presidents are expected to attend.  That means five motorcades and Police and Secret Service everywhere.

This is an invitation-only event, so the best thing for most of us is to avoid the SMU area until mid-afternoon.

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