Monday was a government holiday, so Kathleen and I went down to Yorba Linda to visit the Nixon Library and Museum. I’d been there before, many years ago, but I’d read recently that it had been taken over by the National Archives, and that they’d reworked the exhibits into a more fact-based form. So that made it worth the trip.
Some of my earliest childhood memories are of my mother ranting about how much she hated Richard Nixon. She’d gone to high school for a year in Whittier in about 1953 or 1954, so I guess he was prominent around there then. And of course, he’d run for President in 1960, just after I was born. Then, in 1973, my mother and I spent the summer watching the Senate Watergate Committee hearings on TV. This, of course, culminated in watching Nixon’s resignation in August of 1974. So you might say that Richard Nixon was a big part of my upbringing.
The museum isn’t nearly as glamorous a setting as the Reagan Library, which we visited on this holiday last year. But it’s still interesting to see. The first portion of it covers Richard Nixon’s life from the beginning up to his second term as President, with a small detour with a gallery devoted to Pat Nixon’s life. A lot of interesting and significant things happened during his time in office. The trip to China was one that he could take credit for. The moon landings, not so much, but he was still there for it.
Then we came to the final gallery. The color scheme changed, and we went into Watergate. The old museum had a gallery devoted to Watergate, but it was told from the Nixon point of view. Which is to say, it was a sort of bizarro-world version of the story. There used to be an exhibit where you could listen to an excerpt from the so-called ‘Smoking Gun tape‘ where Nixon and Haldeman are discussing the cover-up of their involvement in the Watergate break-in. And the sign on the exhibit told us that we could listen to it and hear clearly that they were not talking about a cover-up. But listening to it, it seemed pretty obvious that they were. So now, the exhibit has a series of touch screens where you can listen to excerpts from the tapes, and the synopsis on each one actually tells what it’s about, and the pieces of the story all fit together.
And then there was an entire exhibit devoted to the 18 1/2 minute gap. They had a picture of Rosemary Woods stretching across her desk to show how she might have ‘accidentally’ erased part of the tape. They also had a listening station where you could listen to the entire gap tape, complete with the clicks that indicated where there were multiple erasures. The only thing missing was the song.
They even had the lock picks that were found on the Watergate burglars. Being that lock picking is a hobby of mine, I found this amusing.
After that, we went outside to take a tour of the former Marine One helicopter, which was the Presidential helicopter for Presidents from Kennedy to Ford. We finished up with the tour of the family home and a visit to Richard and Pat’s graves.
It was an interesting day.