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Presidential experience was a chief attraction

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By Robert Howey

Labor Day weekend was quite a treat for me, especially that Sunday.
I was aboard Air Force One and I visited the Oval Office, just a few feet from the president’s famous desk.
You might find that hard to believe, and if I tell you I wasn’t even in Washington, you are probably scratching your head more than an undecided voter.
OK, I’ll let you in on what went down.
My family and I visited the American Presidential Experience,, billed as a “nonpartisan interactive exhibit of the American Presidency.”
It was all part of the recent Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, a grand way to be a part of the DNC.
On the way to the exhbit that Sunday afternoon, we saw just a sampling of the heavy security for the Queen City. You didn’t go far without encountering some form of law enforcement – local, state and federal – but you knew it was going to be like this because of the national stage.
We figured the American Presidential Experience would be a good way to take in a part of the historic event.
There was plenty of history inside the exhibit. We took in what the president often experiences each day.
One of the first exhibits is a replica of the president’s desk complete with a telephone. Visitors snapped photos of people at the desk as if making some major decision. I used my time to place an order for two tickets to a Washington Redskins’ game. Don’t think it’s going to happen because I couldn’t get a dial tone.
Then there’s another photo op, the podium complete with the president’s seal where he addresses the nation from the White House. Plenty of photos were made there, too.
The replica Oval Office was interesting. What caught my eye upon entering was a photo of Andrew Jackson. Of couse, it was since he’s a native son and our nation’s seventh president.
The main attraction in the replica Oval Office was the replica Resolute Desk, a large, 19th century partners’ desk often chosen by presidents as the Oval Office desk. The desk was a gift from Queen Victoria to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880 and was built from the timbers of the British Arctic Exploration ship Resolute.
Air Force One was a replica of the Boeing 707 Air Force One of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. It featured a desk area for the First Lady and a desk area for the president. Today’s Air Force One, which brought President Obama to Charlotte for the DNC, is a larger Boeing 747 with more space to conduct business.
Ground transportation was also feaured, including a replica 1961 Lincoln from the Kennedy era. The automobile was used in several movies and TV shows about JFK.
A 1939 Fore Deluxe Convertible Sedan was displayed. It was used by President Franklin D. Roosevelt after being received from the Ford Motor Company that year by the U.S. Secret Service.
Clothing was also spotlighted, including several replica gowns worn by first ladies. Then there was an exhibit of shoes worn by the presidents. Each was made for him and included their name inside the shoes.
It seemed the shoes reflected the styles of the era.
The exhibit also included presidential chairs, including Kennedy’s rocker. There was also a replica of FDR’s chair. It was used cleverly to hide his polio. Of course that was a time before TV, but amazingly enough because of that chair and the way he used it, many Americans were stunned to learn after he left the White House that he was sticken with the disease.
Each president was highlighted in a special exhibit on each president, from Washington to Obama.
On President Jackson’s bio, I noticed his birthplace said Waxhaw, S.C./N.C. Some things never change, and we could have helped them with that fact, but we were in North Carolina and we didn’t want to raise too much of a pride of the Palmetto State ruckus with all the security around.
Still, there was a sense of pride. Call it Southern pride.
Heading back through Charlotte’s downtown, I was reminded the exhibit was also featured in Tampa. By the way, did you know the NFL’s opening weekend featured a convention clash – (Charlotte) Carolina Panthers vs. the Tampa Bay Bucs.
More importantly, it shows just how far the South has come. A few years back, never in my lifetime would I had thought a national political convention would be held in not one, but two Southern cities. It was part of the reason the exhibit was there and well worth the visit.
They were right. The South has risen.
Come November, the South will play a key role in deciding who will be next big attraction in the American Presidential Experience.

Robert Howey is sports editor for The Lancaster News.