A July 20 article incorrectly reported the status of the more than 40 million papers from the Nixon administration that are stored at the National Archives. Under a law enacted in 1974, those papers must be kept in or near Washington. Unless the law is changed the papers may not be transferred to the new Nixon library in California, Archives officials said. (Published 8/2/90)
YORBA LINDA, CALIF., JULY 19 -- Flanked by his three immediate Republican predecessors, President Bush hailed Richard M. Nixon today as an "architect of peace" as the museum and library that chronicle the triumphs and the downfall of the 37th president were officially dedicated.
Bush and former presidents Gerald R. Ford and Ronald Reagan praised Nixon's leadership in foreign policy and ignored the controversies, culminating with the Watergate scandal, that made his tenure in the White House among the most tumultuous chapters in American political history.
Only Bush mentioned Watergate, which he listed as Nixon's seventh crisis, as he outlined the chapters of the former president's life that are depicted in the $21 million museum and library. Future generations, Bush said, would remember Nixon not for controversies but "for dedicating his life to the greatest cause offered any president -- the cause of peace among nations."
"Mr. President, you helped America answer its 'summons to greatness,' " Bush said to Nixon. "Thank you for serving the cause of peace."
The 38th president, Ford, followed by the 40th, Reagan, struck similar themes. The Democrat who served between them, Jimmy Carter, did not attend. His aides said he had a prior engagement.
Nixon said little about his years in public life or of the 16 years since he was forced from office in disgrace. Instead, he spoke of the nation's future and offered a homily to young people on persevering in the face of adversity.
"I believe in the American dream because I have seen it come true," Nixon said. "You will suffer disappointments. It is sad to lose, but the greatest sadness is to travel through life not knowing either victory or defeat."
Hundreds of those who served in the Nixon administration, from the famous such as former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger to little-known staff aides, sat in sweltering heat to cheer and watch the rare sight of four men who served as president and their First Ladies gathered on one stage.
Behind the stage, the adobe-tile roof of the museum complex was visible and, beside it, the tiny white farmhouse where Nixon was born and spent his early years.
The four presidents took a brief tour of the simple two-bedroom house, gazing at the piano where Nixon learned to play, the highchair he used, and the bed in which he was born.
The four also took a brief tour of the 52,000 square-foot museum, the only one of the presidential facilities paid for completely with private donations. It was designed as a three-dimensional walk-through tour memorializing the history Nixon witnessed and created. One of its largest areas is devoted to the Watergate scandal that forced Nixon to become the first president in America's history to resign.
Television sets scattered through the musem show famous moments in Nixon's political life: The "Checkers" speech in 1952 that generated the support he needed to remain presidential candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower's running mate; his 1960 campaign debates with John F. Kennedy, and his 1969 "silent majority" speech calling on Americans to support his Vietnam War policy.
His less triumphant speeches -- the bitter vow to bow out of public life after he lost the 1962 California gubernatorial race and his rambling, emotional resignation speech -- are not included in the repertoire.
In Watergate Hall, the second largest exhibit space in the museum, the scandal that brought Nixon to disgrace is told in newspaper headlines and stories matched with Nixon's commentary beneath. In a separate area, visitors can engage in a video conversation with the 37th president by using consoles to select from 400 questions and see the answer delivered by a pre-recorded Nixon on a screen.
The four presidents posed briefly for pictures inside the museum lobby before their tour. In a compromise to avoid controversy, Nixon aides rescinded a previous order that no reporters -- only television and still-camera operators -- be allowed inside the facility with Nixon and the other chief executives. Nixon aides said he did not want to be questioned. Reporters were allowed inside for the picture session, but not for the tour.
The millions of Nixon papers that are to form the historical record of his presidency remain with the National Archives. When disputes over their release and cataloguing are settled, they are to be located here in an archives that will open next year.
The dedication ceremonies were the centerpiece today in a moving Nixon carnival under the hot California sun. Peddlers selling Nixon hats, t-shirts and mugs from tents competed with hawkers selling "Tricky Dick" buttons and other less complimentary souvenirs. Official signs welcoming Nixon home competed with hand-scrawled protest signs.
Hundreds of people waited for hours before the four presidents arrived on stage to the sound of a dedication fanfare played by costumed trumpeteers. The crowds gaped as some of the famous names from the Nixon era -- chief of staff H.R. (Bob) Haldeman, national security adviser Alexander M. Haig Jr., press secretary Ronald Ziegler, and businessman and friend Bebe Rebozo -- arrived. Many of the Nixon friends gave on-the-spot television interviews, uniformly predicting Nixon would be remembered as a great president and citing the dedication as the latest step in his public rehabilitation.