Presidential Tourism

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Hoover's birthplace

You will all know by now that a statue of the former US president, Ronald Reagan, was unveiled in London yesterday. In honour of his centenary, this is just one of a few that are being set up around the world and follows one in Budapest last Wednesday.
But if you were to travel to the US where they have been planning his centenary for some time, you will find many more celebrations. Although his birthday was last February, events will continue throughout the year. Visiting presidential libraries or houses connected with US politicians is not something that we tend to consider when on holiday. Yet in America, hundreds of thousands of people do just that. Reagan was a president that many of us remember. His funeral in Washington DC was a huge affair as I remember as I was caught up in the crowds outside the main railway station there.
We might visit Hughendon as the house of Benjamin Disraeli but this is probably more because of the architecture and splendour of the house rather than the link with the former prime minister. We didn’t visit the house of Edward Heath in Salisbury when it became open to the public as a museum and now it has closed. So what is the attraction with former presidents particularly the recent ones. I can understand seeing George Washington’s house or Abraham Lincoln’s or even war leaders like Franklyn Roosevelt’s house at Hyde Park in New York State. Could the only visitors be politics students or academics?
Gerald Ford who was the president from 1974-1976 has a library in Grand Rapids, Michigan and a library in Ann Arbor in the same state. The appeal seems to be that it runs exhibitions and holds library collections relating to not only Ford but the time around his life. So for those interested in the cold war and the aftermath of Nixon, the appeal is obvious.
I think I am right in saying that the first presidential museum to be especially constructed to celebrate the role was that of Herbert Hoover who was president during the early years of the great depression. So his library and museum in West Branch, Iowa has great material on how life was like as it spiralled from the heady days of the roaring twenties into the despair of poverty of the depression. In the grounds it even has the two roomed cottage in which he was born in 1874. (the same year as Churchill)
Today the National Archives look after 13 presidential museums and libraries covering much of the last eighty years. For more information click here.

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