What if Chicago doesn’t get the Obama Presidential Library?

February 2013

By Paige Wiser


The Obama Girl could be just one of the attractions at the Obama Presidential Library.

Imagine: distinguished scholars entering the stately entrance of the Obama Presidential Library at the University of Chicago, nodding respectfully at the words carved above in marble in some noble font — Fontenay Fancy, perhaps — immortalizing the legacy of our 44th head of state: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

Now picture the Obama Presidential Library in Honolulu, where tourists in tankinis, their skin pink and peeling, traipse sand in on their flip-flops, cranky from haggling at the ABC store next door over a set of “Hang Loose” shot glasses. This library, too, memorializes appropriate words from Barack Obama, in the form of a bumper sticker: “I’m so overexposed, I’m making Paris Hilton look like a recluse.”

No we can’t. We just can’t.

We could be years away from settling on a location for the Presidential Library, and already the Johnny-Come-Lately Aloha State has tossed its bucket hat into the ring.

“It is a matter of great state pride that President Obama is the first Hawaii-born citizen to hold that high office,” reads an official Hawaii resolution. “A presidential library in Hawaii would provide the people of Hawaii with access to the documents and artifacts of the Obama administration.”

It would also provide the rest of us with a $1,000 entrance fee for the airfare to get there.

At least we can breathe a sigh of relief that Kenya, so far, is staying out of it. But Chicago has a serious challenge ahead: to bully Hawaii into whimpering submission.

Our claim? Chicago is where President Obama actualized all his political dreams. Chicago is where he met his wife and best asset. Chicago is where he had his hair cut once a week by his favorite Hyde Park barber, Zariff.

And, notably: Chicago is NOT where Obama “inhaled frequently.”

The University of Chicago, of course, is not our only option. Developers of the defunct U.S. Steel South Works site on the southeast side have also put in a bid to host the library. And history-rich Bronzeville should be a contender, says the president of the Black Metropolis Convention and Tourism Council.

And here’s a wild card: At press time, the Rezko-tainted vacant lot next to Obama’s Kenwood home was up for sale. Price? $899,000. Obama could raise that much with one text to Eva Longoria.

These are exciting times for Presidential Libraries. Obama would be competing with George Washington himself, who is finally getting it together and opening his institution with the help of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association. It’s scheduled to open in the fall.

Obama is also competing with the popular Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, Ill., which recently launched an “Abe app.”

As for content, Obama can’t just rely on birth certificate magnets in the gift store. JFK’s library holds an impressive collection of Ernest Hemingway’s writings. Nixon’s library’s boasts his gravesite. And the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library has designated a “Wikipedian in Residence.”

Obama’s modern museum could feature interactive exhibits like “Lift the President!,” where guests can test their strength hoisting a lifesize dummy a la Scott Van Duzer. In another room, visitors can both “Ask and Tell!” in up to 130 decibels, sponsored by Marshall Stacks. And in a large Lucite case, it’s “The Obama Girl Herself!,” Amber Lee Ettinger, go-go dancing between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m. (Tips are encouraged.)

Of course, with e-books on the rise on our paperless planet, the Obama Presidential Library might be short on actual books. But whatever there is – e-mails, Tweets, Post-Its – should be ours. Because Obama is one of us.

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