Image Gallery: Novice in the Archives
 
One of the most interesting adventures on my research for my Nixon project was my trip to the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace Foundation.  With funding from Professor Gallagher and the College Scholar Program, I spent five days as a "novice in the archives."  I was able to look at personal family photos, campaign memorabilia dating back to Nixon's early senate years, and even drafts of speeches with his comments on them!  Luckily, since I was there over Nixon's birthday I was able to see a wreath-laying ceremony (both President and Mrs. Nixon are buried there) and also hear Herb Klein, Nixon's White House Communication Director, give an insightful talk on the president.

The archives’ main collection is Richard Nixon's private pre-Presidential papers, which contain campaign files, 1946-1968; Congressional and Senatorial files, 1947-1952; foreign correspondence files, 1947-1968; special correspondence files with, e.g., John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Martin Luther King, and J. Edgar Hoover; correspondence, trip, and appearance files for 1963-1968; and two major runs of research subject files: 1960 and 1968.  The archive also holds Richard Nixon's post-Presidential papers dating from August 1974 to April 1994.  The Library is also the site of Nixon's small Yorba Linda home and will soon hold an exact replication of the White House's Oval Office as it looked when Nixon was there.  I believe that if we are truly going to "reconsider Nixon" and his legacy without the baggage of Vietnam and Watergate, it is collections like these that focus on Nixon's early life that will be most helpful for scholars.  Nixon's Presidential Library is the only one not funded by public money (private donations), which also poses a risk to research, because the Library has the final word on whether documents can be released to the public.  This begins to become really important when one considers the library housing the NARA collection that contains papers relevant to the events of the Vietnam War.  The Nixon Library is currently trying to become the one-stop research center for Nixon scholars, and I believe that with the acquisition of major records from the NARA and College Park, Maryland (the tape recordings), I will definitely be making a return trip!

 

The most moving part of the tour of the Nixon Library and Birthplace grounds was Nixon's small Yorba Linda house that his father built from a Sears Catalog Kit.  Tours are allowed through the main part of the first floor but not through the back room and attic.  Unlike other presidential collections where much of the room are often filled with reconstructions and copies, 75% of the items in the Nixon birthplace are authentic -- including my two most favorite items, pictured above.  The first photo is of the bed where all of the Nixon boys took their first breaths and the quilt and bed covers are also antique.  The beautiful wooden high-chair was also used by all four Nixon brothers, and it is amazing to think that it has survived so long and still looks beautiful. 


Behind Nixon's birthplace is a large garden dedicated to his wife Patricia Nixon.  There is a large reflecting pool, several alcoves, and the Nixon graves adjacent to the house.  In the second picture above, behind my head, you can see the roof of Nixon's birthplace, to my right you can see the construction of the new East Room, and at the far corner on the left side, is the site of Richard and Pat Nixon's graves.   


The most important part of the trip were the documents -- the notes, photos, and papers from the personal collection.  A wonderful find was the postcard above; the front shows a beautiful picture of the Nixon family, and, on the back, Nixon has written to his friend Donald P. Loker, "Dear friend, This is just a note to tell you how deeply Pat and I appreciated your expression of confidence after the broadcast last Tuesday.  We want you to know we shall do our best never to let you down. Dick Nixon."  What broadcast is Nixon referring to?  The famous Checkers Speech made only five days before, on September 23.

 

The Nixon Library and Birthplace has been criticized by architects and historians for "glossing" over the Vietnam and Watergate years by creating a building that forces people to only quickly consider the events of Watergate and rush into another room featuring campaign memorabilia and Tricia Nixon's wedding dresses.  The Library is constructed so that the first thing you would see on your tour is a large wall of Time magazine covers that leads into a tunnel-like room that features a timeline of the events of Watergate and the recordings of the "Smoking Gun" tape.  I don't find this to be sneaky or deceptive -- any Presidential Library is built to honor the accomplishments and not dwell on the negative aspects of the President's life.  The construction of the room echoes the message of the Nixon Library loud and clear that, yes, Watergate occured, but, as the Time covers show us, Nixon lived a lengthy political career which is overshadowed by the events of Watergate.  At the time of my visit, January 2004, Nixon still held the record for most appearances on the cover of Time -- a total of 54 covers!  Pictured above are the first (1952) and last covers (1994) Nixon appeared on.

 

The Nixon Library also holds negative materials regarding the Nixon's policies and administration.  In the posters above Nixon is compared to Hitler and a Moses like-figure who has misled his flock.  Next to which is printed the "Ten Commandments of the Nixon" administrations, which include:

1)  Thou shalt not speak out or disagree with thee administration.  If thou does, thou will be placed upon the enemies list...
2)  Thou shalt bug thee democrats -- because they have a tendency to disagree with our administraton.
3)  Thou shalt use illegal entry, kidnapping, wire-tapping, purgery, and prostitution to gain any needed information...
4)  Thou shalt implant and organize persons to riot and make it look like the democrats had done it.
5)  Thou shalt collect big business and large corporation contributions, (illegally) so I can return to my residential throne.
6)  Thou shalt raise money to keep thee Watergate Defendants quiet and have them perjure themselves to protect thee... 7)  Thou shalt destroy all Gemstone files, tapes, and any sensitive materials that would be destructive to the Nixon administration.
8)  Thou shalt monopolize and control the Justice Department...
9)  Thou shalt use any means necessary to cover up Watergate and keep thee American People, Congress, and thee courts from finding out the whole truth about Watergate. (Just ask Martha Mitchell...).
10)  Thou shalt "honor thy President and administration regardless of any unethical, criminal, or immoral activities."

The satirical posters reflect real concerns about the dishonesty or maliciousness regarding Nixon's administration, but I am reminded of the saying, "Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the Governed."  As the last picture of a campaign poster from Nixon's second presidential run tells us, the nation did want Nixon as their leader, even as policies and actions from his administration were questioned. 

The Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace Center also houses countless documents, videos, and images, that give us personal imformation that cannot be easily found on normal media sources, or allows us to re-visit resources that are easily overlooked.  I was able to see several interesting campaign "artifacts" such as battle plans for reaching out to voters during Nixon's earlier campaigns, including using "Nixonettes," or young women, to rally behind Nixon.  Slogans such as "Pretty girls for Nixon" wouldn't probably be allowed in our politically-charged climate, but I'd love one of those outfits!  Although many critics would find such campaign tactics to smack of sexism, one of Nixon's major achievements during his career, was extending the right to vote to 18-year-olds -- a man who had a contentious relationship with the nation's youth still respected them enough to believe they should be allowed to make such an important decision.

The Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., is also a site for Nixon memorabilia from campaigns and especially the foreign trips that the president and his wife made throughout the world.  Pictured above is a bucket from the Eisenhower-Nixon race that says "Let's Clean Up with Eisenhower and Nixon."  The museum also houses gifts received by Presidential children by their parents or the American public, including dollhouses, guns, and international items.