Presidential suite

So the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza isn't exclusively obsessed with the assassination. That's probably a good thing. We wouldn't want such a fine establishment to take on the creepy, narrow compulsion of its chief subject: November 22, 1963.

For 10 years, the Sixth Floor Museum has offered far more than the expected paranoia-drenched conspiracy angle. Besides, if the museum bought into the various theories that the fatal shot came from the Grassy Knoll or the triple overpass or then-Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, instead of from Lee Harvey Oswald's rifle, there wouldn't be much need for the Sixth Floor Museum, would there? A nonprofit organization operating under the Dallas County Historical Foundation, it's one of the clearest resources on not only the dreadful motorcade sniping, but also the facts, moods, reporting, and legacy surrounding John F. Kennedy. Since its inception on President's Day in 1989, the museum has shifted and expanded its vision right along with public consciousness and theory.

Now, for its 10th anniversary, the museum broadens its interests further with Hail to the Chief: Presidents, Power, and Politics, a touring exhibit that spotlights the careers and legacies of other Oval Office residents--among them George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Johnson.

The show, organized by the National Endowment for the Humanities, unveils facts, dispels myths, and reminds viewers how and why these men rose to such a lofty post and what they achieved once they got there. What more perfect time to examine the backbones and weaknesses of our current leader's predecessors? In the process, we begin to see the office not so much as a sterile place of task and diplomacy, but as a position occupied by eccentric individuals with unique quirks and powerful visions.

Was Jefferson an infidel and a liar? Check the DNA tests. Was Teddy Roosevelt an effete idealist? You betcha. Was Johnson an abrasive redneck? Damn straight. Or were these men great leaders carving a path of American progress? It's not so much human character that's decayed over the years. It's that we forget that every one of these guys was raked across coals at some point, and their blisters are buried under so much grand historical poetics. Of course, CNN and CNBC weren't able to store previous presidents' misdeeds in their video vault for posterity, and very few, if any, previous presidents were asked about their choice of undergarments on national television.

Funny what an exhibit like this might reveal about ol' roundheel Clinton 10 years from now. We'll just have to wait for the museum's 20th. Unless in turns up in Penthouse sooner.

--Christina Rees

Hail to the Chief: Presidents, Power, and Politics is at The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, 411 Elm at Houston. Open daily 9 a.m.-6 p.m through May 31. (214) 747-6660. Admission to the exhibit is free. Admission to the rest of the museum is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and kids.

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Christina Rees