John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
Boston / Opened Oct. 20, 1979 / Kennedy was in office from 1961 to 1963.
“Tonight we unite art and politics under one roof as a tangible and permanent reminder of President Kennedy’s conviction that neither is whole and true without the other.” That’s what Dan H. Fenn, then the director of the Kennedy Library, said at the dedication of the building’s Ernest Hemingway Room in 1980. The room currently holds the largest collection of the Pulitzer Prize–winning author’s material in one location. Kennedy not only greatly admired the writer’s contribution to American literature, he helped Hemingway’s widow, Mary, retrieve many of her late husband’s paintings and papers from his home in Cuba amidst the political tension between the U.S. and Cuba in the early 1960s, leading Mary to donate materials to the Library. This collection explores the writer’s life and work and lends the Kennedy Library a uniquely literary character.
Lyndon Baines Johnson Library & Museum
Austin, Texas / Opened May 22, 1971 / Johnson was in office from 1963 to 1969.
Behind every great president is a great first lady. In Johnson’s case, that guiding star was Lady Bird Johnson, who had a particular influence on her husband’s presidential library and museum. Specifically, she helped design one of the library’s most notable features, the Great Hall, which holds the library’s archives in red boxes decorated with a gold presidential seal and stored behind soaring glass walls. LBJ’s library was the first of its kind to affiliate itself with a university (the University of Texas) and the first to make broad use of video in its exhibits. It is the only presidential library and museum closed only one day out of the year — Christmas. www.lbjlibrary.org
Richard Nixon Presidential Library & Museum (two locations)
Yorba Linda, Calif., and College Park, Md. / Nixon was in office from 1969 to 1974.
The Yorba Linda complex, originally opened in 1991 by a private foundation, became part of the National Archives on July 11, 2007, and it’s where the majority of Nixon materials have resided since spring 2010. Yorba Linda boasts a restored helicopter used by former presidents Nixon, Kennedy, Johnson and Ford. The curious can step aboard this piece of presidential history if they visit the museum. www.nixonlibrary.gov
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum (two locations)
Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids, Mich. / The Ann Arbor location opened on April 27, 1981. The Grand Rapids complex opened in September 1981. / Ford was in office from 1974 to 1977.
Ford’s library and museum has a unique twist: The library and museum are two separate facilities, each located in a different city but governed as one institution by a single director. Ann Arbor is home to Ford’s library, while Grand Rapids hosts the museum. Herein lies the special appeal for historians and visitors: One can visit the museum in Ford’s old congressional district and hometown of Grand Rapids, then take a scenic drive east about 130 miles and see the library on the University of Michigan campus, Ford’s alma mater. www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov (for both sites)
Jimmy Carter Library & Museum
Atlanta / Opened Oct. 1, 1986 / Carter was in office from 1977 to 1981.
When Carter was initially trying to decide where his library and museum would be, he knew only that it would be in his home state of Georgia. In an ironic twist, he ultimately chose a spot near downtown Atlanta that had once been meant for an interstate highway — a project that had been halted by then-Gov. Carter. About three hours south, in contrast to the bustling metropolis of Atlanta, lies tiny Plains, Ga., where Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter were born. Fans of the Carters can visit the library and museum in urban Atlanta and make the drive to rural Plains, home to the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site. www.jimmycarterlibrary.gov