Bush memorabilia waiting to go on display

Mcclatchy Newspapers

Eight years of American history is meticulously cataloged, wrapped, stored and guarded in a climate-controlled warehouse.

Sixty-eight million pages of documents, a surfboard, 175 million e-mails, countless cowboy hats, 3,845,912 photographs, Stan “The Man” Musial’s autograph, gold and silver swords, handmade quilts, diamond jewelry, cowboy boots, classified files, a gift from the pope and the 9-millimeter Glock Saddam Hussein was armed with when he was rooted out of his spider hole in Iraq.

Welcome to the George W. Bush White House, now in storage in Lewisville, where there’s even wood flooring from the Oval Office and chairs from the pressroom.

It all eventually will move to the $300-million George W. Bush Presidential Library, opening at Southern Methodist University in Dallas in 2013. But for now, archivists are trying to get their arms around the massive collection of documents and “museum objects” stored in the 60,000-square-foot facility managed by the National Archives and Records Administration.

Lavish personal gifts -- such as diamond and sapphire jewelry given to First Lady Laura Bush by the king of Saudi Arabia and custom cowboy boots with a large “GWB” monogram from Houston boot-maker Rocky Carroll -- are attention grabbers.

“I like to think of [the collection] as a good time capsule that reveals everything that is going on during his eight years in office,” said Jennifer Schulle, the library’s registrar.

“You get to see not only things going on politically, but you see things going on in terms of fashion, social customs, culture,” she said. “We’ve got gifts from ‘American Idol’ winners and the Jonas Brothers.”

Art objects include a mosaic of St. Peter’s Square given to President Bush by Pope Benedict XVI and a gold replica of the Temple of Heaven from the Chinese minister of foreign affairs, with the five figurines from the Beijing Olympics accented with Swarovski crystals.

“When you’re the president, you don’t get cubic zirconia,” Schulle said.

Some of Bush’s favorites are more all-American, she said, adding that “the president truly prized a baseball bat signed by all the living members of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001.”

But it is the historic documents -- from events such as the Sept. 11 attacks and the wars with Iraq and Afghanistan -- that will prove to be of more lasting value and interest, said Alan Lowe, director of the library.

“The Bushes are very much involved in the library,” Lowe said. “President Bush has been here looking through photographs. He has been very engaged.”

Eleven people are on staff at the Bush library, Lowe said, with 10 new archivists slated to start by mid-January. Eventually, the staff will number about 35.

And they’ll have their work cut out for them as they prepare for the first release of Bush documents on Jan. 20, 2013 -- five years after he left office -- as called for under the 1978 Presidential Records Act. Documents involving national defense and other sensitive issues can be withheld longer. Classified documents are stored in a sealed area of the warehouse.

The library eventually will include materials from Bush’s post-White House years.