Yorba Linda, California is about forty miles from Loma Linda and Lisa and I traveled there yesterday to visit the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. Nixon was born on the property and the original farmhouse where he lived until the age of nine is still standing and can be viewed by visitors. Nixon is probably the most controversial President in history and to view exhibits detailing the Watergate scandal seemed surreal. The Museum holds nothing back about the scandal and eventual resignation of our 37th President.
But much that is displayed was memorable for Lisa and I beyond all the controversy. The space program and Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon is highlighted as is the work Nixon did in China and, of course, Vietnam. In one corner of the courtyard you can see Buzz Aldrin’s footprints imbedded in concrete and displays feature recordings of Nixon on the phone with the astronauts on the moon and food that was taken to the moon on Apollo 11 that was never opened. Nixon’s presidency reminded Lisa and I of our childhood and many of the displays feature sets designed to reflect the 1960s.
I was struck with Nixon’s fortitude. We remember his resignation speech and the way he smiled and saluted when he and his family left the White House on the Presidential Helicopter. His famous “you won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore” speech came after he lost the California governor’s race in 1962 and is detailed at the museum. The amazing thing is that Nixon lost that election after serving eight years as Vice-President under Eisenhower. And yet he came back in 1968 and in 1972 and won the Presidency. It was impressive that the museum did nothing to hide the man’s defeats and I find that admirable. It was interesting to Lisa and I that while living in Gettysburg – we visited Eisenhower’s farm and home located near the famous Civil War battlefield and here in California we were able to visit Nixon’s birthplace and realized they served as President and Vice-President together for eight years.
There is also some attention given to the famous Nixon meeting with Elvis Presley and we were told the photo of Elvis and Nixon together in the Oval Office is the most requested picture at the National Archives.
One room is dedicated to gifts Nixon received while in office. Interestingly enough – presidents then were not allowed to keep any gift valued over $50. Today that minimum amount is $350. There is also a banquet room that is an exact replica of the White House “East Room” and workers were setting up for what looked like a wedding and reception while we were there.
The funniest story detailed at the museum is one about Nixon presenting Russian leader, Leonid Brezhvev with an automobile as a gift while at Camp David. Bezhnev insisted on taking it for a ride around the camp and Nixon didn’t think he would live through the experience. Brezhnev was taking turns designed for twenty miles an hour doing fifty. Really funny to read and imagine those two in that car spinning around Camp David.
But, perhaps the most interesting part of the Nixon museum was touring the helicopter. Seeing where the President and first lady sat as they were flown away from the White House after his resignation left me wondering what that ride must have been like and feeling a bit sad for he and his family.
Nixon and his wife, Pat, are buried on the museum’s grounds.
Steve and Lisa