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Clinton Library still draws crowd

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CLINTON LIBRARY: Shining addition.
  • CLINTON LIBRARY: Shining addition.

The dispute over how many football games the Arkansas Razorbacks should play at Little Rock was settled before Dr. David Alsobrook came to town to direct the Clinton Presidential Library. But he knows which side he would have been on.

“I wish they played more games here,” he said. “When the Razorbacks are in town, we get not only Razorback fans but the other team’s fans too.” He remembers fondly the swarm of LSU fans who visited the library two years ago.

“But we know who makes those decisions, don’t we,” Alsobrook said. “He’s been here, by the way.” The reference was to Frank Broyles, the athletic director and former head coach at UA. It was Broyles who dictated a reduction in the number of Little Rock games from three to two, so that another game could be played in the larger stadium in Fayetteville. Broyles came to the library with Broyles Award nominees and their families. The Broyles Award is given annually to the assistant coach chosen as the best in the country. While Broyles was at the library, he had his picture made with a sheet-metal sculpture of a Razorback that was given to Clinton while he was president by one Jabe Jackson of Montana.

In Arkansas, Frank Broyles is about as celebrated as you can get, but famous people from out of state have shown up too — Tim McGraw, Henry Kissinger, Al Franken, Larry Hagman, to name a few. “This is one of the best celebrity-watching places in town,” Alsobrook said. Former presidential candidate George McGovern came and discovered a photograph of himself and Clinton together in 1972, when a youthful Clinton was working in the McGovern campaign.

Some celebrities get VIP treatment; others don’t want it and stand in line like everybody else.

The former president drops in from time to time. “A lot of people come here because they’ve heard he might be in town,” Alsobrook said.

The William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum opened in 2004 and quickly became a hit. To all appearances, anyway — Alsobrook and the library’s nominal spokesperson, Denise Persons, are close-mouthed about attendance, but Persons finally said that the library drew 271,000 from November 2005 through Sept. 27, 2006. “We’ve had no problem attracting visitors,” Alsobrook said. Much of that is because the former president and the former first lady remain very active, he said. Hillary Rodham Clinton is now a U.S. senator from New York and a potential presidential candidate. And the location of the center couldn’t be better, Alsobrook said. People coming through Little Rock on the interstate — from the Midwest to Texas, say — feel compelled to stop at the Clinton Library.

Can the library retain its popularity after the new has worn off? “We’re always looking for new programs,” Alsobrook said. “Every presidential library has to do that.” He should know. Before he came to Little Rock, Alsobrook worked at the Jimmy Carter Library in Atlanta and directed the George H.W. Bush Library at Texas A&M.

A current exhibit at the Clinton Library concerns old TV and movie cowboys and has proved very popular, Alsobrook said. It’s a spin-off of Clinton’s love for “High Noon,” he said. Coming up is a “Christmas in the White House” exhibit that was first presented two years ago. Next year, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Central High crisis, the library will have an exhibit on “The federal government and African-Americans” that will include the original Emancipation Proclamation.

An abandoned railroad bridge extends from the library property across the Arkansas River to North Little Rock. Plans have been made to renovate the bridge and convert it into a walking, jogging and biking trail, but nobody seems to know when that will come about. It depends on the success of fund-raising efforts.

The Clinton Library is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. It’s closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Admission ranges from $7 for adults to free for children under 6 and military personnel.

— Doug Smith

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