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A showroom of history

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Posted: Thursday, May 23, 2013 8:56 am

The library renamed the renovated Pierce-Arrow Garage, which houses the new exhibit on the history of the ‘Chariot of the President,’ Wilson’s beloved 1919 Pierce-Arrow limousine. The name honors Richard ‘Dick’ Robertson, who took care of the vehicle for more than 20 years, starting in the late 1980s. Robertson died in 2011.

“It was a lot of work,” said Curator Andrew Phillips. “We are very pleased with how it came out. The previous exhibit was a lot of gray and a lot of text. This provides more color, more interactive features. It gives a lot more depth. Pierce-Arrow was the Rolls-Royce at the time. It became [Wilson’s] favorite vehicle because of the luxury.”

Robertson Hall provides new and updated information on the car’s history and its close relationship with Wilson, featuring interactive components, including videos of Wilson in the vehicle and a replica of the limo’s horn. The vehicle was originally donated to Staunton by the president’s widow, Edith Bolling Wilson, in 1925. The vehicle has been in the museum’s care since the late 1920s, according to staff.

The exhibit is designed in orange and black, in honor of Princeton’s colors, which the car also sports.

One of the reasons the limo stood out to the nation’s 28th president, Phillips said, was due to an arch in the passenger doorways, which is believed to have been installed so Wilson could get out of the vehicle without removing his trademark top hat.

The limo famously transported Wilson from Union Station in Washington to the White House after peace talks in France in 1919, which culminated with the Treaty of Versailles.

The car became so beloved in the White House fleet during Wilson’s tenure as president that five of his Princeton classmates purchased the vehicle for him upon leaving office in 1921.

For more than 20 years, Robertson led the preservation and restoration, spending days in search of highly qualified mechanics and car parts. He also coordinated for the vehicle to appear on shows and in parades.

“This is an exhibit I’ve wanted to do for a long time, ever since Dick’s passing,” museum CEO and President Don Wilson said. “I thought this was an appropriate era to honor him. He maintained the car, made sure it was operable. It’s a very exciting time for the library. I think this will appeal to all people because it’s interactive. You can see the vehicle in motion. It’s really going to enhance the visitor experience.”

A private dedication ceremony was held Wednesday, with the public opening scheduled for Friday.

The cost to visit the museum and receive a guided tour is $14 for adults and $7 for children.

“The Pierce-Arrow has always been such a special asset to the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum, and this new exhibit showcases the limousine with updated information, beautiful new displays, and some interactive elements for tourists to enjoy. It will certainly be a draw for visitors to Staunton,” said city Tourism Director Sheryl Wagner.

For more information, visit www.woodrowwilson.org.

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