Road Trip: Traveling Through Texas in the Footsteps of Presidents

It takes an ego as big as Texas to sit in the White House. A centerpiece in the Great Hall of the LBJ Library is the photo-engraving mural by artist Naomi Savage. Each etched magnesium plate measures eight feet by ten feet.
It takes an ego as big as Texas to sit in the White House. A centerpiece in the Great Hall of the LBJ Library is the photo-engraving mural by artist Naomi Savage. Each etched magnesium plate measures eight feet by ten feet. Photo by Jay Godwin/Flickr (public domain)
This summer we're taking a look at interesting, odd, historic and just plain worth it road trips in and around the Lone Star State.

We've got a few outside chances at putting another Texan in the White House come 2020: there's Julián Castro, Mark Cuban, Jeb Bush (born in Midland) and the perennial "one foot in, one foot out" Rick Perry, plus a few others perfecting their look, polishing their taglines and (if they're smart) covering tracks.

But until and if that happens, there's no shortage of commander-in-chief cred right here in the Lone Star State. We have a trifecta of presidential libraries (LBJ, Bush 41, Bush 43); a Fort Worth mausoleum that pays homage to Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison; Ike's gigantic head; and the very sad but equally fascinating documentation of JFK's final days.

Not a president but universally loved, the recent death of former First Lady Barbara Bush just about seals the deal for this "In the Footsteps of Presidents" Texas road trip. The literacy advocate is buried at George H.W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station.

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The George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum also is a research institution. Archives include two million photographs, 10,000 video recordings, and a whopping 44 million pages of records.
Photo courtesy of the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum
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At the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum in College Station, you can have your picture taken while seated at the desk in the replica Oval Office.
Photo courtesy of the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum
Permanent exhibits at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum include symbols of the presidency (including a limousine and a three-foot presidential seal made of crystal), family traditions (photos and videos from the family scrapbook), the First Lady's ancestry (the Pierce family), the CIA years, gifts received from foreign heads of state and a chance to have your picture taken while seated at the desk in the replica Oval Office.
George H.W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum, 1000 George Bush Drive West, College Station, Texas 77845, 979-845-5851, bush41.org.

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Photographs at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum focus on the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the President's leadership during that time. Shown: smoke rising from the site of the World Trade Center.
Photo courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum

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President George W. Bush watches news footage from Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, of Flight 175 hitting the south tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
Photo courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum
The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum is located on the campus of Southern Methodist University. The "A Nation Under Attack" exhibit remembers the horrific events of September 11, 2001 and also honors those who lost their lives through artifacts, images and even a piece of steel from the World Trade Center that visitors can touch.

Other exhibits include a look at life in the White House (pets, state dinners, the Bush Ranch), a replica of the Oval Office (natch), and a 360-degree LED screen that shows clips of art, history and entertainment. Don't overlook "Critical Decisions," where visitors can sit in the hot seat and decide how they would react when faced with major crises; then meander through the pet-friendly network of trails at the 15-acre Native Texas Park.
George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, 2943 SMU Boulevard, Dallas, 214-346-1650, georgewbushlibrary.smu.edu.

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This replica of the Oval Office is at seven-eighths scale and reflects the technology available during this pre-Twitter era: teletype machines, a massive phone system and a trio of televisions.
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The LBJ Museum and Library has been updated, as seen in these tenth floor exhibits.
Insiders at the LBJ Presidential Library tell us that far and away the most popular exhibit is the replica of the Oval Office. Permanent exhibits include Lyndon Baines Johnson's presidential limousine, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Act of 1968, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Jr. which paved the way for LBJ's ascension into the top spot. The funniest exhibit is a life-sized animatronic of LBJ that recites some of the witty Texan's stories and anecdotes.
LBJ Presidential Library, 2313 Red River, Austin, 512-721-0200, lbjlibrary.org.

Other LBJ-themed stops around Texas include his boyhood home and the LBJ Ranch, set about 14 miles apart from each other.
Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, 100 Ladybyrd Lane, Johnson City, 830-868-7128, nps.gov/lyjo.
Lyndon B. Johnson State Park & Historic Site, 199 Park Road 52, Stonewall, 830-644-2252, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/lyndon-b-johnson.

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This monument to the five-star general was dedicated in 2011, "in appreciation for and in honor of all veterans who have served to protect our freedom."
When it comes to megalithic monuments of presidents past, there's no shortage here in Texas. Denison, the birthplace of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, has a bust of Ike sculpted by legendary local artist David Adickes. The Eisenhower Birthplace State Historic Site showcases the home where the 34th president was born.
Eisenhower Veterans Monument, Loy Lake Park, South Polaris and 100 RC Vaughn, Denison
Eisenhower Birthplace State Historic Site, 609 South Lamar, Denison, 903-465-8908, thc.texas.gov/historic-sites/eisenhower-birthplace-state-historic-site.

And speaking of David Adickes, it doesn't take much of a road trip to view 43 of his gigantic presidents heads outside his studio on Nance. Adickes has been given his marching orders — this time by TxDOT when they begin the massive expansion project on I-45 — but until that happens we can view this spectacle right here in our own back yard.
David Adickes Studio, 2401 Nance, Houston.

We're calling a technical and labeling General Sam Houston a president. He was twice elected president of the Republic of Texas when it was its own country from 1836 to 1845. Adickes' 67-foot tall statue of Sam Houston in Huntsville is a monument not to be missed. Be sure to also stop by the 15-acre Sam Houston Memorial Museum on the site of Houston's homestead.
Giant statue of Sam Houston, "A Tribute to Courage," 7600 Highway 75 South, Huntsville.
The Sam Houston Memorial Museum, 1402 19th Street, Huntsville, 936-294-1832, samhoustonmemorialmuseum.com.

We can view statues of our nation's first four presidents inside a mausoleum at Fort Worth's Greenwood Memorial Park. George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison overlook a marble mosaic of the Great Seal of the United States on the floor, while a stained glass scene of a patriot is framed above an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence.
Greenwood Funeral Home, 3100 White Settlement Road, Fort Worth, 817-336-0584, greenwoodfuneralhomes.com.

President John F. Kennedy wasn't born in Texas but certainly met his demise here in the most gruesome of ways. His assassination on November 22, 1963 gave rise to conspiracy theories (was it orchestrated by the mob, LBJ or the CIA?) and an expanded glossary of catch phrases: Zapruder analysis, grassy knoll, lone gunman. We could devote pages and pages to landmarks associated with his death but RoadsideAmerica.com has done us a solid by cataloguing even the most esoteric of connections.

In Dallas there's the grave of Abraham Zapruder (who filmed the assassination), a Philip Johnson-designed 30-foot-tall Kennedy assassination cenotaph, Lee Harvey Oswald's boarding room and matinee seat, the Sixth Floor Museum (from where the shots were fired), a historical marker referring to the basement where Jack Ruby shot Oswald, and the grave of veteran Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit (who was shot by Oswald less than an hour after the assassination).

In Fort Worth there's a bronze statue of JFK where he gave his last speech, a marker outside the entrance of the former Hotel Texas where JFK spent his last night, and Oswald's grave in the only cemetery that would accept his body: now called Rose Hill Park. The town of Handley has a saloon with a morbid shrine devoted to the assassination; the Ruth Paine House Museum in Irving offers tours of the private home where Oswald spent the night and stashed his gun; and Oak Cliff marks the spot where Oswald shot officer Tippit four times, fatally killing the eagle-eyed policeman who attempted to apprehend the perpetrator.
To view Texas Attractions and Oddities visit roadsideamerica.com/location/tx/all. They also are selling a Roadside Presidents app for $2.99 that covers notable landmarks all over the United states; visit roadsideamerica.com/mobile/presidents/ios.
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Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.
Contact: Susie Tommaney