I spent some time this summer being a tourist in my own city. So often, we neglect the treasures that are in our own back yard. I had heard so much about the Richard Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California over the years and finally went to see it.
I was out of the country for most of his presidency and knew his reputation by the Watergate scandal and the war in Vietnam. So it surprised me to learn that there were many facets to the man. One of his writers said that he was a seven-layer cake and to get to know the man you had to cut through all of the layers.
One of four brothers, Nixon was born in a very small house that is available to tour on the grounds. His dad built it from a kit
and hoped to make it as lemon grower. When that didn’t work out, Nixon’s father moved the family to Whittier and sold groceries and gas. One of the big tragedies in his life was the loss of two of his brothers to tuberculosis. He was an accomplished musician and played the piano and violin. Growing up poor surely shaped the man he became.
He was a very determined man. Elected to Congress in 1946 and then the senate in 1950, he then ran as VP with Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and served two terms. He ran for president in 1960 and lost to Kennedy by only 113,000 votes. I was amused by one of the exhibits: the debate leading up to the election. Both men were arguing over the same things that concern us today, the economy and how much should government be involved in our lives. After losing the election to Kennedy, he brushed himself off and ran again and won in 1968 and was re-elected in 1972.
In 1972, he traveled to China and worked to normalize relationships between our two countries. This is a double-sided embroidery called Shungmianxiu. One of these was in their guesthouse throughout their stay in Peking and Pat Nixon, his wife, commented on how much she loved it. The next time they visited they were presented this one as a gift. It is an amazing piece of work and shimmers beautifully in its frame.
Other interesting things on display are gifts given to them by visiting heads of state. Did you know that presidents don’t get to hang on to any gift valued over $350? If they want to keep something, then they have to purchase it. Here are some other gifts given to the Nixon’s.
You could spend several hours in the Watergate room. There are interactive screens with the recordings and the location of the listening devices in the Oval Office. There is also a piece of the Berlin wall, video of the welcome home party for the POW’s from Vietnam featuring Sammy Davis Jr. and a display of Trisha’s and Julie’s wedding gowns.
The gardens are beautiful and host weddings and other special events. Pat Nixon even has her own rose named after her. The Nixon’s died within one year of each other and buried on the grounds close to where he was born.
Nixon still fascinates today. CNN aired a documentary titled “Our Nixon” earlier this year that featured home movies from three of his closet aides.
Released in 2012, “Nixon’s Darkest Secrets” by Don Fulsom purports that Nixon had an affair with mafia fixer Bebe Rebozo. So as you can see, we are still trying to understand all of his layers to this day. Perhaps Bill Clinton said it best, “ May the day of judging President Nixon on anything less than his entire life and career, come to a close.”
What are your impressions of the Nixon Library and have you visited other presidential libraries?