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David McCullough’s Must-See Experience

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If you traveled to Washington, D.C., and had time to see just one attraction, what would it be? The Capitol? The White House? Maybe the National Mall?

On Saturday, noted historian David McCullough, who was inducted as a “Living Legend,” said that our new exhibition “Creating the United States” — part of the new Library of Congress Experience — was tops on his list. The exact quote:

“I saw yesterday an exhibition which every American ought to see: ‘Creating the U.S.’ If visitors to this, our capital city, whether they’re from our own country or from abroad, were to see only one exhibition, one building, one place during their visit, seeing ‘Creating the U.S.’ would be the one to see.”

I shot some admittedly amateurish video at our April 12 grand opening festivities for the Experience, and I thought McCullough’s speech was what I just had to share first. (Sorry for the silhouette effect, though.) Hopefully, time permitting, more will follow.

UPDATE: A transcript of his full remarks follows the jump.

Remarks of David McCullough
Library of Congress Living Legends Ceremony
April 12, 2008

Thank You. Mr. Billington, thank you.

Ladies and gentlemen, I write history. You see here a line-up of people who have made history. And in that sense especially I feel honored to be included.

We are here on Capitol Hill, which is our American acropolis, and it’s all together appropriate, fitting, in the right spirit that our Capitol is side-by-side with our greatest library.

You go to Philadelphia to Carpenter’s Hall where the first Continental Congress met; upstairs is the first library, a very small building that every American ought to see.

I saw yesterday an exhibition which every American ought to see, “Creating the U.S.” If visitors to this, our capital city, whether they’re from our own country or from abroad, were to see only one exhibition, one building, one place during their visit, seeing “Creating the U.S.” would be the one to see.

And I want to emphasize as strongly as I can that the power of this great institution isn’t just in its collections, isn’t just in its accessibility, it’s in the staff. The very able, knowledgeable, dedicated staff.


And I just want to single out one person from that staff, because in this particular weekend he deserves to be recognized: Gerry Gawalt, right up there, who created the “Creating the U.S.” exhibition.


One of the innumerable lessons of history is there’s no such thing as a self-made man or woman. Never happened. We’re all the results of people who have helped us, who’ve guided, who’ve inspired us. We are all in many ways in their debt for all of our lives, to our parents to teachers to so many people.

I am infinitely indebted for my way of life to this institution. It was here in this building, in one of the collections in the 1960s, that I, a former English major, then working for the U.S. Information Agency, discovered the thrill, the pull of history quite by chance. And it changed my life, and I knew as soon as I got involved with the work that that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. So to be honored in this way here on this day on these steps in this part of our acropolis for me is as high a moment in my life as I can imagine.

But there’s one more great influence that I want to tell you about because it’s the most important of all, and that’s my editor-in-chief, my wife Rosalee. Would you stand up for me?


We have five children, 18 grandchildren. She’s mission control.

I try to write for the ear as well as the eye, because most of the writers from other days that I’ve enjoyed and admired the most, particularly the poets, all do that. And she has read everything that I’ve ever written aloud to me, and I read aloud to her, and she gives me most of the big words that I use.


Thank you, Dr. Billington. Thank you, fellow Living Legends. Thank you, U.S. of A.

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Comments (3)

  1. Matt, I love the video. Please do more. 🙂

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