Cowboy hats, secret files and more headed to Bush library

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By Steve Campbell
Monday, December 28, 2009

LEWISVILLE, TEX. -- Eight years of "still-evolving" American history is meticulously catalogued, wrapped, stored and guarded in the climate-controlled warehouse.

Included here are 68 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 9mm Glock pistol that Saddam Hussein was armed with when he was rooted out of his spider hole in Iraq.

Welcome to the Bush White House, now in storage in Lewisville, where there is even wood flooring from the Oval Office and chairs from the press room.

It will all eventually move to the $300 million George W. Bush Presidential Library opening at Southern Methodist University 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 the diamond-and-sapphire jewelry given to first lady Laura Bush by the king of Saudi Arabia and custom cowboy boots with the large "GWB" monogram from Houston bootmaker Rocky Carroll -- grab one's attention first.

"I like to think of them 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. The gifts really reveal more than just politics."

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

"When you're the president, you don't get cubic zirconium," Schulle said.

But some of Bush's favorites are more all-American.

"The president truly prized a baseball bat signed by all the living members of the [National] Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001," Schulle said.

Sports paraphernalia is well represented in the collection, said Shannon Jarrett, supervisory archivist at the facility.

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© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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