You might be surprised to learn that the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum isn’t just a collection of pro-Nixon propaganda. While the museum houses an impressive exhibit on Watergate and plenty of Nixon parodies, one of the most high-profile items that you might not expect to see in the library’s collection is the notorious helicopter that he used to leave the White House after his resignation.
In fact, this helicopter served two presidents before Nixon (Kennedy and Johnson) and one after him (Ford) as Marine One. But it has found its home at this particular presidential library because of its specific association with Nixon’s last day in office. On the morning of August 9, 1974, with years of furor over the Watergate Scandal coming to a head, Nixon became the first (and so far only) president in American history to resign from office. After making it official, he climbed up the stairs to the helicopter, flashed his now-famous “peace sign” farewell in front of it, and then clambered aboard with his wife Pat Nixon to fly off to California, never to be president again.
The helicopter is located outside of the main building, near Nixon’s gravesite and the single-story family home in which he was born (the library sits on the former site of the Nixon family farm in Yorba Linda). The helicopter is right next to the parking lot, so it’s technically accessible without buying a ticket. However, the library succeeds in offering a nuanced and interesting account of what the curator herself calls a “failed presidency”, making it worth your time regardless of your thoughts on Nixon himself.