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Lady Bird Flies Though Portsmouth

Ladybird Johnson in New Hampshire 1967 (c) Strawbery Banke Museum on SeacoastNH.comLADY BIRD JOHNSON (1912 – 2007)

The mayor made it official. June 10, 1957 was declared Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson Day in Portsmouth. Four decades later "Lady Bird" Johnson died at age 94. recalls the details in this footnote to history. A year later, her husband chose not to run for office at the height of the Viet Nam War.




Footnote to History June 10, 1967

Sitting Presidents starting with George Washington have found their way to New Hampshire’s only seaport -- Madison, Polk, Harrison, Pierce, Grant, Arthur, Taft, Roosevelt, and more. When the roar of a large low-flying helicopter interrupted the dedication of the new Carter Collection Center building at Strawbery Banke recently, guest speaker Jane Nylander looked skyward and said, "Is it the President?" That’s because two Presidents named George Bush have used the former Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth as a jumping-off point to the Bush summer compound at Kennebunkport, Maine. But in 1967 President Lyndon Johnson sent his wife instead.

Lady Bird dedicates Dunaway Store June 10, 1967 (c) Strawbery Banke Collection/ Photo gift of Portsmouth Herald on"Her brief visit should be of untold value in national publicity for Strawbery Banke" The Portsmouth Herald announced days before the arrival of "Lady Bird" Johnson. Mrs. Johnson had declined to become an Overseer at the Portsmouth historic restoration project, but did agree to dedicate the museum’s new gift shop. The Herald editorial was more blunt, calling the event the biggest "break" for the museum since it opened in 1965. In anticipation, city officials passed a resolution proclaiming June 10, 1967 to be Lady Bird Johnson Day, although according to another report, the title was Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson Day.

At 10:30 am on a sweltering morning in New Hampshire, First Lady Claudia Alta Taylor Johnson touched down at Pease AFB. Johnson was accompanied by NH Governor John King, state Senator Thomas McIntyre and Secretary of the Interior Morris Udall. Johnson stepped onto a red carpet that, according to the Herald, was actually pink and decorated with small crowns and strips of ermine, having reportedly been used by Queen Elizabeth on a state visit to Canada. Mrs. Johnson lost her balance while exiting the plane, but quickly regained her composure and greeted 300 well-wishers and local dignitaries on the runway. Her four-day good will visit included historic sites and recreation areas in Massachusetts and Vermont and was dubbed the "New England, Then and Now" tour by White House press agents. The First Lady was scheduled to spend a single hour in Portsmouth.

With the national media in tow, a motorcade whisked Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson through downtown Portsmouth to the spot, according to the press accounts, where "those English pilgrims" had landed 337 years before." The reference, obscure even to many Portsmouth residents, was to the Great House, built on the waterfront at Puddle Dock in 1630, near where Strawbery Banke Museum now stands. Johnson had come to dedicate the new Dunaway General Store – currently a restaurant -- built a few hundred yards from the site of the long-lost 17th-century plantation operated by the city’s first European settlers. In the intervening three centuries the Portsmouth waterfront had gone from a bustling seaport to a low-income ethnic neighborhood that was cleared out by urban renewal in the early 1960s and adapted into an outdoor history museum campus.

Johnson said the Dunaway Store reminded her of her father’s country store in Karnack, Texas where she favored crunchy peanut bars, striped peppermint sticks and lemon drops.. A gathering of about 1,000 invited guests stood by as Johnson, dressed in a three-piece lime green suit, became the first paying customer of the country store and souvenir shop.

CONTINUE Lady Bird Johnson in Portsmouth 

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