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Cataloging the Bush years

Presidential library in waiting.

This gold replica of the Temple of Heaven, a gift from China, is accented with Swarovski crystals. Library registrar Jennifer Schulle, standing nearby, says presidents get pricey and priceless gifts.
This gold replica of the Temple of Heaven, a gift from China, is accented with Swarovski crystals. Library registrar Jennifer Schulle, standing nearby, says presidents get pricey and priceless gifts.Read moreMAX FAULKNER / Fort Worth Star-Telegram

LEWISVILLE, Texas - Sixty-eight million pages of documents; a surfboard; 175 million e-mails; countless cowboy hats; 3,845,912 photographs; Stan "The Man" Musial's autograph; gold and silver swords; handmade quilts; diamond jewelry; cowboy boots; classified files; a gift from the pope; and the 9mm Glock pistol Saddam Hussein was armed with when he was rooted out of his spider hole in Iraq.

These are all part of the Bush White House and now in storage in a climate-controlled warehouse in Lewisville.

They will eventually be moved to the $300 million George W. Bush Presidential Library, opening at Southern Methodist University in 2013.

But for now, archivists are trying to get their arms around the massive collection of documents and "museum objects" stored in the 60,000-square-foot facility managed by the National Archives and Records Administration.

Lavish personal gifts - including diamond and sapphire jewelry given to first lady Laura Bush by the king of Saudi Arabia and custom cowboy boots with the large "GWB" monogram from Houston bootmaker Rocky Carroll - are the first attention-grabbers.

"I like to think of them as a good time capsule that reveals everything that was going on during his eight years in office," said Jennifer Schulle, the library registrar.

"You get to see not only things going on politically, but you see things going on in terms of fashion, social customs, culture," she said. "We've got gifts from American Idol winners and the Jonas Brothers. The gifts really reveal more than just politics."

The art objects range from an incredible mosaic of St. Peter's Square given to President Bush by Pope Benedict XVI to a stunning gold replica of the Temple of Heaven, given by the Chinese minister of foreign affairs, with the five figurines from the Beijing Olympics accented with Swarovski crystals.

"When you're the president, you don't get cubic zirconium," Schulle said.

But some of Bush's favorites are all-American.

"The president truly prized a baseball bat signed by all the living members of the [National] Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001," Schulle said.

Sports paraphernalia are well-represented in the collection, said Shannon Jarrett, supervisory archivist at the facility, located just east of Interstate 35E and a couple of miles north of President George Bush Turnpike, named in honor of Bush's father.

"There's a lot of cowboy hats and baseball memorabilia, jerseys from championship teams, bicycles, and, of course, every Texas president gets saddles," Jarrett said.

But in the historic realm, documents from momentous events such as the 9/11 attacks and the wars with Iraq and Afghanistan are what will prove to be of more lasting value and interest, said Alan Lowe, director of the library.

Lowe, who majored in history at the University of Kentucky, has found his niche in presidential libraries.

Fresh out of college, he became an archivist at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. He later worked at the central office of presidential libraries in Washington for 11 years.

Then he got the "out-of-the-blue" call about the Bush library job in January.

"The Bushes are very much involved in the library," he said.

George W. and Laura Bush are writing books, and "they are probably our main customers right now. They rely very heavily on the records," said Jarrett, a former English teacher who got her start as an archivist at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, when she was a graduate student at the University of Texas.

Eleven people are on staff, Lowe said, with 10 new archivists scheduled to start by mid-January. Eventually, the staff will number about 35, he said.

They will have their work cut out for them as they prepare for the first release of Bush presidential records on Jan. 20, 2013, five years after he left office.