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Presidential perspectives

Courtesy Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

Gaze at the centuries-old Bible that Ronald Reagan used to take the oath of office or experience new perspectives of the courage it takes to sit behind the nation’s most influential desk — presidential libraries across the country offer a chance for groups to immerse themselves in the history, personalities and faiths of the presidents who have shaped this country.

There are 13 presidential libraries spread across the nation, each providing a focused glimpse into the life and legacy surrounding the president it honors. With features including vast archives for history buffs, interactive exhibits and monumental displays, each site has a story to tell to groups willing to listen and learn from the past.

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum
[ Simi Valley, California ]
Although this establishment contains both a library and a museum component, when groups visit the area, it’s the recently renovated Reagan museum where they’re spending most of their time. In the Hollywood exhibit area, green-screen technology lets visitors act in a movie with Reagan. Guests can also try using a teleprompter to deliver the inaugural address or check out Reagan’s Air Force One.

The Reagans were involved in every stage of the construction until the opening date in November 1991, and the library and museum are great reminders of the couple’s famous style; the buildings feature a Spanish Mission-style feel throughout that is reminiscent of the Reagans’ ranch home nearby. The institution sits on a hilltop overlooking the Pacific Ocean, with more than 300 acres of gorgeous grounds. One section of orange trees is dedicated to Nancy Reagan’s campaign tradition of rolling an orange down the aisle of a plane during takeoff.

“It’s that kind of area that he loved to live in himself, which is nice,” said Melissa Giller, director of communications and programs for the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. “We recommend people just come up here to have a picnic and even pick an orange off the tree. It’s a great place for a church group to come. Ronald Reagan was very faith based, and you’ll see that in the quotes along the walls here. His mother’s Bible that he used to swear in at both inaugurations is on display in our exhibit, and he’s actually buried here; so visitors are able to go up to his memorial site and reflect if they want.”

Harry S. Truman Library and Museum

[ Independence, Missouri ]
Upon Harry S. Truman’s return home to Independence after concluding his time in office this former president set to work constructing his own presidential library.

“We opened in 1957, and Mr. Truman had an office here and was here five days a week almost for the first 10 years,” said Amy Williams, deputy director for the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum. “He was very much here. He used to walk from his house — about a 15-minute walk — here and back every morning. He wrote his memoirs here, and he welcomed anyone who came to visit.

“He was a real integral part of the library those first 10 years; he taught the first group of docents how to give the tours to the public. Mr. Truman left a very firm, clear mark on the library. There’s an entire generation of people here that have their story of when they met Mr. Truman, which really makes him not just a part of this library but also very much a living part of this community.”

President during a pivotal period in American history, Truman is the only world leader who has ever authorized the use of an atomic weapon. He also recognized the new state of Israel and desegregated the American armed forces. At the museum, groups can personalize Truman’s life with interactive experiences such as sorting letters in a replica of the mail room where Truman worked his first job.