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Only in America: How to Meet Ronald Reagan, Tour Richard Nixon’s Limousine, and See the White House Built in a Day

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Walking down the narrow passageway between the theatre and china display, I find myself in the midst of several former Presidents of the United States, each standing tall, some with their wives, and seemingly ready to deliver a response to a question posed by a visitor such as myself. Nearly all have been dead for decades, if not centuries, but nonetheless have managed to make their presence here today — somewhat.

After I have finished digesting their respective stories, from Hoover’s to F.D. Roosevelt’s to Clinton’s — I stroll into the Oval Office and notice, but who else, President Obama himself staring back at me from behind the Executive Desk. Moving along, I manage to tour virtually every room of historical significance in the White House, as well as get a close look at campaign paraphernalia from elections dating back to the early 1900ds. Comparing Ross Perot’s pins to Calvin Coolidge’s is quite an interesting activity, to put it mildly. If only I could somehow get my hands on their bumperstickers. After this, walking out into the gift shop, I glance over at the State Dining Room, where the unlikely trio of George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter seem to be preparing for dinner.

Leaving them, as well as our country’s other Chief Executives, on a high note, I exit the building, admiring a not-quite-life-sized rendition of Daniel Chester French’s sculpture of Abraham Lincoln as I do so. Stepping towards my car, I pass the parade limousine used by both Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. Parked inside of a chain-linked barricade, it sits seemingly in wait for its two former occupants, who are now either in that great briefing room in the sky or inside the place from which I came, depending on your point of view.

By this point, those of you reading this must be wondering just exactly where it is that I am at. It is a place that anyone seeking information about American history should attempt to visit at least once, where perhaps the largest private collection of presidential-related artifacts resides, and most definitely the only locale in which it is possible to view a mechanized simulation of the White House’s construction and a real, live voting booth used in Palm Beach County during the 2000 federal elections at the same moment. It is the House of Presidents, a longstanding museum known for its full-scale wax figures of every Head of State in United States history, situated roughly thirty minutes northwest of Orlando in the sloping suburban community of Clermont.

I chose to write about my experiences at the House of Presidents in this week’s piece because, well, focusing on current events relating to politics is a blast, no doubt about that, but it can get a little tedious at times. So, instead of opining at length on the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (Which was inevitable), or the extension of the Bush-era income tax brackets (It is not a tax cut, despite what many on the fiscal left would have to say), or the conclusion of Sarah Palin’s reality show on The Learning Channel (Give me a break), I feel it best to relay the message of how important it is to get out there and actually live our nation’s history. Whether it be a trip to a battlefield, museum, or governmental institution, what can be gained from an intimate knowledge of America’s past could certainly shape her present, and undoubtedly her future.

Regardless of our respective political philosophies, I truly believe that the single issue on which all of us can come to agreement is the necessity for a brighter future for our country, and there is no need for any of us to hesitate even an instant in achieving that goal.

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About Joseph F. Cotto