At Lewisville warehouse, archivists catalog items for George W. Bush Presidential Library at SMU


by By LORI STAHL / The Dallas Morning News

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:47 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 1:58 PM

What do Saddam Hussein's pistol, a mosaic from the pope and a bat from the National Baseball Hall of Fame have in common?

Library director Alan C. Lowe shows a mosaic of St. Peter's Basilica that Pope Benedict XVI gave to then-President George W. Bush last year.

They're all stored in a Lewisville warehouse off Interstate 35.

Those items and about 40,000 others are part of the massive collection of documents, artifacts and memorabilia that former President George W. Bush amassed during eight years in the White House.

The entire collection, which includes 100 terabytes of digital files, was delivered to Texas after he left office. National Archives and Records Administration personnel have spent the past few months trying to inventory everything.

Certain items, such as the bullhorn Bush used at Ground Zero, will almost certainly be on display when his presidential library at Southern Methodist University is complete.

Calling it "one of the most iconic pieces we have," library director Alan C. Lowe said the bullhorn is one of a number of everyday items imbued with special significance because of the terrorist attacks.

While U.S. presidents often receive depictions of American eagles, those given to Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks have a unique feature.

"This is really the first time in history you see an eagle shedding a tear," said Dr. Jennifer M. Schulle, registrar at the George W. Bush Presidential Library.

She also said it has "one of the largest quilt collections of all the presidential libraries," theorizing that many Americans turned to home-based activities to express their patriotism after the attacks.

Other gifts, such as cowboy hats and bicycles, reflect the former president's personal interests. He also got his fair share of jewelry, swords and other gifts from foreign heads of state.

Bush visited the Lewisville warehouse earlier this month to tour the facility and reminisce. Aides said he greeted each member of the library staff and spent time surfing through the massive photo collection.

"You could tell he's very interested in the library," said Shannon Jarrett, the library's supervisory archivist.

The National Archives, which now has control of the items in the warehouse, will operate the presidential library and museum after the facility is built at SMU.

Jarrett and Schulle were assigned to the project shortly before Bush left office. Both moved to Washington, D.C., to work inside the White House and become familiar with the administration's database and operating systems to smooth the transition.

Lowe, who has worked within the National Archives' presidential library system for 14 years, moved to Dallas in April from Tennessee, where he launched the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy.

He has helped oversee 12 presidential libraries and served as interim director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library in Hyde Park, N.Y. Lowe also worked as an archivist at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

Right now, Lowe is focused on hiring more archivists in Lewisville to speed up the process of organizing the material. Eleven people work there now; the number should be 25 by the end of the year. In time, the staff will grow to 35 people, he said.

The George W. Bush Foundation is raising $300 million to finance construction of the presidential center, which will include a policy institute along with the library and museum. The foundation will fund and operate the institute, which will be in the same building as the library, although there will be separate entrances.

No fundraising details have been made public, but foundation officials do not dispute reports that they've already passed the $100 million mark. With an architect and landscape architect already on board, the next step will be to bring in museum designers to begin the process of deciding how to use the indoor space for temporary and permanent exhibits.

Groundbreaking is scheduled for late 2010 and the building is expected to open in 2013.

Foundation officials say they may launch some programs as early as this fall. Those will take place at existing SMU facilities until the library is built.