AUSTIN (KXAN) - In a matter of days, the popular animatronic LBJ will be taken apart, moved and re-wardrobed.
The full-size, talking LBJ look-a-like machine, commissioned by Neiman Marcus and used to promote the upscale clothing store chain, was later donated to the library and has served as a centerpiece for the LBJ Library and Museum for years.
"Everyone loves the animatronic LBJ," said museum spokeswoman Anne Wheeler. "Everyone can relate to it; people enjoy humor."
Now, though, virtually every square inch of the museum's exhibit space is undergoing a year-long redesign construction project and the animatronic version of the late president is getting a makeover of its own.
Before the staff greatly curtailed access to the museum for the duration of the project, LBJ, dressed in western wear and cowboy boots, kicked a leg up on the bottom rung of a corral fence and spun his yarns, using audio of jokes and stories from Johnson's speech archive.
When he re-emerges, he will have moved downstairs from his current location in the museum's great hall and he will have changed his clothes.
"You will see the president of the United States behind a podium, in a suit, telling wonderful, masterful stories," Wheeler said.
The idea of all the changes is to update the exhibits using modern technology.
"You will have the opportunity to pick up a phone and hear the telephone conversations President Johnson had," said Wheeler. "You will be able to hear the anguish in his voice when he speaks about Vietnam.
"You can hear him cajoling members of Congress to get legislation passed. You can hear the personal conversations he had with friends and with Mrs. Johnson.
"In the section on the Vietnam war," said Wheeler, "visitors will be able to take a crisis point in that war and they will be given the options of making decisions and advising the president on what he should do.
"Then they will get to see what they would have decided, what they would have advised the president, compared to what was actually done."
Beyond technological updates, though, the new exhibits will add substance, as well.
"One of the most exciting parts of the new redesign will be an explanation of how the vast body of legislation passed by the Johnson administration impacts people today," Wheeler noted.
"Many of the laws that were passed during the Johnson administration are still hot button topics today: health care, immigration, civil rights, voting rights, aid to education, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. All of those are issues that people are talking about today, and should be talking about today."
As the work continues, the main exhibit floors are closed down for the redesign construction, although the museum gift shop, now doubled in size, will reopen in the next few days.
For now, the First Lady exhibit on the tenth floor remains open and the Oval Office exhibit will likely close only briefly, later in the year.
The goal is to have the entire outfit reopened to the public by Dec. 22, the day that would have been Lady Bird Johnson's 100th birthday.
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