A new exhibit will give the public its first glimpse into the archives of former President George W. Bush, including the bullhorn Bush used when he visited ground zero days after Sept. 11 and the pistol taken from Saddam Hussein when he was captured.
"I think they'll really love some of the interesting items like the bullhorn," said Alan Lowe, director of the George W. Bush Presidential Library. "There's such an emotional connection with these objects that I think people will have because they'll remember those points in history: remember what they were doing on 9/11 or the war in Iraq. They'll remember the day Saddam was pulled out of that spider hole."
The free exhibit, "Breaking New Ground: Presenting the George W. Bush Presidential Center," opens Saturday and runs through Feb. 6 at the Meadows Museum on the campus of Dallas' Southern Methodist University, where the center will be built.
Ground will be broken next month on the about 225,000-square-foot center, which will include the presidential library and the George W. Bush Institute. The center is expected to be open by early 2013. Aside from the artifacts, the exhibit will also give the public a look at a model of the building and its grounds.
"We want to give them a sneak peek at what the library and center will be," Lowe said.
Among the items featured in the exhibit are an aqua Oscar de la Renta gown with a matching bolero that former first lady Laura Bush wore to a White House dinner with Queen Elizabeth II and handwritten notes Bush scrawled in large lettering in preparation of his first speech after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"To see the notes the president actually made on that day, when everything changed, is pretty overwhelming," Lowe said.
Letters to Bush will also be on display, including one from rock star Bono on AIDS relief in Africa and several to the president from soldiers and school children. Also featured are gifts to the Bushes, including sapphire and diamond jewelry given to Laura Bush from the king of Saudi Arabia.
Even the water bowls the Bushes' Scottish terriers Barney and Miss Beazley used on Air Force One, complete with the presidential seal, made their way into the exhibit.
For children, small drawers are placed throughout the exhibit asking questions relating to the Bushes. Opening the drawers reveals the answers. One asks what the former president liked to write with. The answer is revealed with a drawer of Sharpie pens specially made for Bush with his signature. Another asks about Mrs. Bush's favorite flower. The answer? The bluebonnet, of course, which is Texas' state flower.
Lowe said that the presidential library's permanent exhibit will be centered on themes of freedom, opportunity, compassion and responsibility. There will also be a space at the center for temporary exhibits featuring items from the archives.
Once completed, the library will also feature a "decision theater," where museum-goers can hear a set of facts and then try quickly decide what they would have done, Lowe said. "They see the complexity of presidential decision-making," Lowe said.
Amy Polley, curator of the presidential library, said the exhibit provides an opportunity to show the public "just a small sliver of everything we work on on a daily basis."
At about 50 items, the exhibit is indeed just a "sliver" of the archives. Currently housed in a warehouse north of Dallas in Lewisville, the archives include more than 42,000 artifacts and 70 million pages of paper records. It also has about 80 terabytes of electronic records, including e-mails and digital photographs _ by far the most of any presidential collection.
George W. Bush Presidential Center, http://www.georgewbushcenter.com
Meadows Museum, http://smu.edu/meadowsmuseum/