[LBJ Library photo #DIG13449-019 by Lauren Gerson]

A presidential tour of Austin

Mar 08, 2013

by Alison J. Stein
[published on BBC.com on March 8, 2013]

Of all the US presidents, Lyndon B. Johnson is not the most likely choice for holiday itinerary inspiration.

Although he was president during an era that is perennially retro cool (1963 to 1969), the man himself was known as a consummate politician and something of a workaholic. And while his home city of Austin, Texas, is both defined by the credo “Keep Austin weird” and its live music scene, for LBJ, as he was known, “fun” meant reminiscing with friends, probably about politics, and his preferred tunes from musicals including Oklahoma and Hello Dolly are unlikely to be heard at venues on Sixth Street today.

But the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, located on the University of Texas campus in Austin, has just undergone an impressive $10 million refresh, and its new, multimedia-to-the-max exhibitions provide a deep, broad look at the man, his vast political legacy and the era in which he governed. And it turns out that the 36th US president can indeed inspire a new way to visit Austin – involving romance, ice cream and speakeasies – in a way that even the least political creature can appreciate.

The first stop, of course, is the museum, which reopened to the public on 22 December, the day that would have been first lady Lady Bird Johnson’s 100th birthday.  As the president was best known for a series of legislative initiatives called The Great Society –  divisive reforms aimed at eliminating poverty and racial injustice – the museum’s video and photography shed light on LBJ’s unique method of persuasion, something that became known as “The Johnson Treatment”. He would position his more than 6ft-tall frame practically chest-to-chest with someone he wanted to influence, and lean in nearly nose-to-nose as his quarry would try to squirm away. read more