Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

10-31 Museums

MON, 10-31-05

Syndicated Columnist

NEW ENGLAND -- Once again, we're off on a journey laced with political history. This time, it is Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty and the presidential libraries of Jack Kennedy and the Adams family.
I had never visited Ellis Island. It fell into disrepair after 1924 laws were passed severely restricting immigration. The arguments then were the same as they are now. There's too many of them. They'll take over. They'll take our jobs, our culture and our language.
For awhile after that, Ellis Island reversed roles and served as a deportation center. During World War II, it was an interment center for Japanese, Italian and German aliens. After the war, it was completely abandoned.
In the mid-1980s, while the Statue of Liberty was being restored for its 100th birthday in 1986, interest turned to some restoration of the neighboring Ellis Island. In 1990, the restored main building was reopened as an immigration museum.
The building is impressive, giving visitors a feeling of what it was like to be one of the 12 million immigrants, who passed through between 1892 and 1924. On an interactive computer in the building, Jeanette and I both found relatives, who had passed through Ellis Island.
That also told us something we suspected. First- and second-class passengers aboard the steamships from Europe were quickly processed aboard ship. The passengers in "steerage" were taken by ferries and barges to Ellis Island.
Ferries make the trip from either New York or New Jersey to both islands. We didn't bother disembarking at Liberty Island. There no longer is much to do other than walk around the base. Since 2001, access to the crown has not been permitted. For the first 30 years of its existence, visitors could go all the way up to the base of the torch.
In Boston, we had the opportunity to add the Adams and Kennedy libraries to our growing list of presidential libraries visited. Only since Herbert Hoover have presidents had official libraries, paid for by the government. So most past presidents don't actually have libraries.
But the Adams family is an exception. John and John Quincy were both voracious readers, as were the next two generations. It was John Adams' dying wish that if a member of the family ever had the money, that a library be built for all his books.
John Quincy married quite well and was able to build a large stone library next to the family home. Two succeeding generations of distinguished Adams also added to the collection.
Then, it was on to the Kennedy Library. The day was cold, windy and rainy, reminiscent of the day of his funeral. The library is the best organized of any we have seen. The tour began with a 15-minute movie of Kennedy's young life, ending with his nomination as president.
Then, began a tour down the 1960 campaign trail to the election and inauguration. Next, came his major initiatives, such as the Peace Corps and the space program, followed by sections on Robert Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy and the rest of the Kennedy family. The tour ended with brief coverage of his assassination and legacy.
Every presidential library has given us a different feeling. This one wasn't particularly good. Maybe it was the gray day. Or was it the tragedy of his death and a mission unfinished? There was no effort to glorify him or cast him as a martyr.
All presidential libraries undergo constant change. Millions have been spent revising this one. We felt we could see the strong hand of the Kennedy family, mainly that of daughter Caroline.
If you want an uplifting experience, visit the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California. Dozens of sweet, little ladies, dressed in pink greet you and guide you through exhibits giving one the "Morning in America" feeling.
George H.W. Bush's library in College Station, Texas is very much a father-son event, with many references to the Adams Family. And today, we got to come full circle.



Post a Comment

<< Home