Judy Keen @judykeen USA TODAY
Dallas, TX-- The George W. Bush Presidential Center's museum, was dedicated Thursday. It is "a personal scrapbook" of the 43rd president and his wife, says Mark Langdale, the Center's president.
The artifacts in the 43,620-square-foot museum, recall the opulence, tension, drama and occasional absurdity of life in the White House. Displays of gifts to Bush and his wife, Laura, include a stuffed lion and a silver and gold sculpture of a team of oxen pulling a nomad's tent.
Bush's baseball collection is here, and so are salutes to his beloved late dogs, Spot and Barney. Visitors can pose for photos behind the desk in the full-scale replica of the Oval Office and step into a recreated White House Rose Garden where Texas bluebonnets have replaced some of the roses in the original.
There's an interactive video exhibit called Decision Points Theater that gives players chances to compete against each other by second-guessing or affirming Bush's decisions about Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by weighing arguments for or against them that are delivered by actors.
All living presidents planned to attend the ceremony: Bush, 66; his father George H.W. Bush, 88; President Obama, 51;Bill Clinton, 66; and Jimmy Carter, 88.
The last time the five men were together was in January 2009, before Obama was sworn in. George W. Bush hosted them at a White House lunch.
The most striking element of the museum is a looming, twisted beam from the World Trade Center. There is a low wall around the scarred steel that invites visitors to reach in and touch it. The walls that surround it are engraved with the names of that day's victims.
Bush told USA TODAY last week that the museum is not an attempt to "correct the record" about his eight years in office or to defend his legacy. "Eventually," he said, "the record will be properly analyzed by historians who will come to the archives and do research and ... look at the impact of the decisions I made" with the benefit of "enough time to objectively analyze" them.
Laura Bush said at a news conference Wednesday that the museum also is intended to remind visitors of parts of her husband's record they "might not know." She mentioned his ongoing efforts to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS in Africa and his decision to give protected status to more than 300,000 square miles of ocean.
The Bush Center, on the campus of Southern Methodist University - Laura Bush's alma mater - opens to the public May 1. The library's archives include more than 43,000 artifacts, 70 million pages of paper and 200 million emails. The Center also includes the Bush Institute, a public policy center.
More than $500 million was raised for the Center and its programs. The library and museum were turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration on Wednesday and now belong, Laura Bush said, "to the American people."
The dedication is a reunion for many former Bush administration people. Former White House chief of staff Josh Bolten, former senior adviser Karen Hughes, former national security adviser Steve Hadley and Mark McKinnon, a Bush campaign adviser, all made appearances Wednesday.
There's also a political undercurrent amid the nostalgia. Two possible 2016 presidential candidates, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Jeb Bush, the former president's brother, gave speeches in Dallas Wednesday. Obama spoke at a fundraiser here that was expected to raise $1 million for the Democratic Party.