This election year, as Americans consider who to put in the Oval Office, the New-York Historical Society invites visitors to step inside a re-creation of that most famous room in the White House. Through a series of special exhibitions and events, the museum will explore the cornerstones of citizenship and American democracy throughout 2020. Starting on Presidents’ Day Weekend, visitors to the new Meet the Presidents exhibition will discover how the role and powers of the president have evolved since George Washington, and find out what the view looks like from behind the president’s desk.
The new exhibition will be a permanent fixture of the museum’s fourth floor galleries. Serving as the centerpiece, a detailed re-creation of the White House Oval Office will give visitors the opportunity to sit, and take a photo, in a replica of the room where presidents have exercised their powers, duties, and responsibilities since 1909. Each president has slightly altered the room to fit his own tastes, but the version represented at the New-York Historical Society reflects the most widely considered classic interpretation. The room appears how it would have during the second term of President Ronald Regan.
The desk at the center of the room is a replication of The Resolute Desk, a present from Queen Victoria of England to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880. Nearly every president since Hayes has used it. The original was made from timbers from the British Arctic explorer ship H.M.S. Resolute. The vessel was trapped in ice until it was recovered by an American whaling ship and returned to England. Other elements reminiscent of the Reagan-era on view include a famous jar of jelly beans, an inspirational plaque reading “It can be done,” and artist Frederic Remington’s Bronco Buster bronze sculpture of a rugged cowboy fighting to stay on a rearing horse. Audio recordings of presidential musings will play throughout the room.
The Suzanne Peck and Brian Friedman Meet the Presidents Gallery traces, through artwork and objects, the evolution of the presidency and executive branch and how presidents have interpreted and fulfilled their leadership role. Highlights include the actual Bible used during George Washington’s inauguration in 1789 (which has been on display in Federal Hall, the site of Washington’s 1789 inauguration) and a student scrapbook from 1962 chronicling JFK’s leadership during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Meet the Presidents is curated by Marci Reaven, vice president of history exhibits, and Lily Wong, assistant curator.
Meet the Presidents will be accompanied by three other new exhibitions that explore citizenry in America. Opening on the eve of Women’s History Month, Women March marks the centennial of the 19th Amendment with an immersive celebration of 200 years of women’s political and social activism. Colonists, Citizens, Constitutions: Creating the American Republic explores the important roles state constitutions have played in the history of our country. The People Count: The Census in the Making of America documents the critical role played by the U.S. Census in the 19th century—just in time for the 2020 Census. To encourage first-time voters to learn about our nation’s history as they get ready to vote in the presidential election, New-York Historical Society offers free admission to all of the new exhibitions to college students with ID through 2020.
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