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December 2004: Picture This

The National Archives Experience continues to expand. In September we celebrated the opening of the William G. McGowan Theater. In November we unlocked the Public Vaults, our interactive permanent exhibition. Now we are pleased to inaugurate our temporary exhibit hall, the Lawrence F. O'Brien Gallery, and welcome visitors to the first exhibit hosted in the newly named space.

The exhibit, "The American Presidency: Photographic Treasures of the National Archives," is presented by U.S. News & World Report and will open to the public on December 7, between the Presidential election and the inauguration. This timely exhibit features 40 photographs that will take visitors behind the scenes to see unexpected moments that reveal the character of our Chief Executives over the last 150 years.

Aboard Air Force One, President Ronald Reagan laughs at one of his own jokes. Photographs such as this reveal the human side of our leaders. (Photo by Pete Souza/Reagan Library)

Starting with a portrait of President James Buchanan, the exhibit traces the ways in which camera technologies and political imperatives have intertwined to reshape our image of the Presidency. Photojournalists and editors from the magazine have combed the files of the Presidential libraries and the still picture holdings at the National Archives at College Park to find exceptional images that capture not just the events of public life, but also the human qualities of our leaders. The photographs reflect the work of talented White House photographers and their exceptional access to the corridors of power. Most of these images have rarely been seen by the general public.

As his grandson looks on, President Lyndon Johnson sings with his dog. This is one of many surprising images featured in the exhibit "The American Presidency." (Photo by Yoichi Okamoto/Johnson Library)

It is appropriate that the topic of the American Presidency be the subject of the first exhibit in the O'Brien Gallery. The gallery has been named in honor of Lawrence F. O'Brien, who served in the administrations of both John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Born in 1917 in Springfield, MA, O'Brien directed John Kennedy's first successful Senate campaign, was the National Campaign Organizer of the Kennedy-Johnson campaign in 1960, and then served as JFK's Special Assistant for Congressional Relations. At President Johnson's request, O'Brien continued working in the White House after President Kennedy's assassination and played a direct role in enactment of legislation such as the Medicare Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

President Lyndon Johnson confers with Lawrence F. O'Brien in March 1965. (Photo by Yoichi Okamoto/Johnson Library)

President Johnson later appointed him Postmaster General. O'Brien subsequently served on two separate occasions as chairman of the Democratic Party, and the Watergate break-in occurred in his offices. In 1975 O'Brien left politics to serve nine years as Commissioner of the National Basketball Association. Upon his retirement in 1983, the NBA named in perpetuity its championship trophy the "Larry O'Brien Trophy."

The O'Brien family have long been supporters of the National Archives. Lawrence O'Brien III served as president of the Foundation for the National Archives from 1994 to 2000. Earlier this year, the O'Briens made a major capital gift to support the educational and exhibit efforts of the National Archives Experience. Thanks to their support, the O'Brien Gallery will serve as host to topical, original exhibits of National Archives records and exceptional traveling exhibits from the Presidential libraries and other history museums across the country.

Photographers have documented the American Presidency for years. These fellows were on hand to cover President Herbert Hoover's dedication of the Arlington Memorial Bridge on January 16, 1932. (Hoover Library)

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