In one of my trip planning internet searches, I came across a reference in Northwest Arkansas that said, "...visited by people on their Billgrimage". I had never heard of a "Billgrimage". Come to find out, a Billgrimage is a journey to all the places in Arkansas; Hope, Hot Springs, Fayetteville, and Little Rock; where President Bill Clinton grew up and honed his political skills. I searched and searched for plans and people who had done it but came up empty. To fill an obvious gap in the tourism information of Arkansas, I decided to embark on my own Billgrimage and document my experience. Full discloser: I grew up in Hot Springs, Bill Clinton's boyhood home; knew a few Clintons; and campaigned for him for his run for governor when I was 18. I'm already pretty much steeped in Clinton lore. Still, when I started mapping out my journey I thought of it more as a tongue-in-cheek kind of trip. "I Did the Billgrimage So You Don't Have To." Soon after being clutched to the bosom of everything Bill, my sardonic armor melted and I came to the conclusion that everyone needs to take their own Billgrimage. I met some of the finest people I have ever met on any of my travels when I made my way across Arkansas. It was as if Bill himself trained everyone to communicate just like him and make the visitors at all the sites feel like they were the most important people who had ever walked in the door.
My journey started at the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock. That's actually backwards but since I was traveling from Tennessee it made more sense for me to start there.
The library is a modern building overlooking the Arkansas River.
Like all good liberal venues, there is a place to plug in your electric car.
It was such a beautiful fall day that I took a turn around the grounds.
Everything is beautifully kept and well utilized by the locals.
I could have stayed outside all day but a sign caught my eye and drew me inside.
I love a bit of fashion with my presidential libraries.
The first thing you see (after going through security) is a presidential limo.
If I remember right, it was the one Ronald Reagan was getting out of when he was shot. Maybe they were just referencing the shooting, I don't know. I was ready to get upstairs to the good stuff and didn't pay much attention to the car.
At the top of the stairs is where the whole trip changed for me. The display of photographs and material from the 1992 and 1996 campaigns. I was living in Little Rock in '92 so I got to experience the whole thing. It wasn't unusual to run into Cindy Crawford or Barbara Walters. The best for me was Bianca Jagger. That was Victory Night, I think.
I'm the proud owner of a FOB pin!
A replica of a board room.
The Oval Office, where all the magic happens!
They don't let you go in, which is a shame.
Making your way around the main area, there are displays of all the highlights of his presidency.
I love a well traveled president!
Letters from important celebrities like Tony Danza (?)
I have to wonder with all these saxophones here if he still manages to play.
In my youth I carefully studied the Bride's Book of Etiquette. I could rock at a state dinner! Sadly, I wasn't FOB enough to get an invite. Maybe when Hillary gets in office!
One of my favorite things was thumbing through his daily schedules.
After getting through the meat it was time for the dessert.
Sad to say, it was a pretty small exhibit but I guess they got as much in as they had room for. This isn't the Met.
NASHVILLE CONNECTION ALERT! Taylor Swift dress!
Visiting a presidential library is like going to see an old established band play. When they were popular you thought, "Hey they are pretty cool." Twenty years later in concert you hear them play their entire body of work all in one night. Then you think, "Wow, they are legends!" What they accomplished seems staggering. Going through eight years of a presidency all at once you get that same feeling. It's like Bill Clinton is Paul McCartney or maybe more like the Eagles.
I needed to get fortified before abandoning for Hope. The River Market District is just a short walk from the library. I grabbed a quick sandwich at Boulevard Bread Company and was on my way.
Hope is about an hour and forty-five minute drive from Little Rock. There isn't much in Hope besides the his childhood home so I wouldn't plan on sticking around.
When I got to the site in Hope, I wasn't sure I was in the right place. There are two houses and I didn't know which one I was supposed to walk in. I was on the sidewalk of one of the houses when a man opened the front door and said with a big smile, "Hello!" It was like he had been expecting me. "Come on in! The rangers are in there and they will take you on a tour of the house. You're going to love it!" When I walked to the door, he stepped out of my way, walked down the sidewalk with a "Great day, isn't it", got in his car and left. I thought he worked there but he was a tourist like me! Was he high? What had they done to him in there? Is a Billgrimage a real religious journey? Like they say, in for a penny, in for a pound.
After waiting for the prescribed start time, I was led from an office by a very charming park ranger and was given a private tour of the house.
I remember my grandmother using the soft drink bottle with the sprinkler cap on the top when she ironed.
Little Bill's bedroom.
I don't think Bill was writing when he lived here but since he is left handed, that desk must have been a bitch!
My favorite part of the house was his mother's bedroom. It's as palatial and glamorous as she was!
Awwwwww....... I really wanted to pick up that book but something tells me it's not the real thing.
His mother's vanity is epic!
I told my private park ranger guide that I was on my Billgrimage. He said, "Oh, let's go get a stamp for your passport." My what?! He very kindly gave me an official state park passport that is specifically for the Billgrimage and told me how to use it. At every site they give you a unique stamp for that site's page plus it serves as a guide to all the places to go in that city. Genius! Being goal oriented I was overcome with glee. I was even planning my trip back to Little Rock to get that page stamped.
The desk in the office was appropriately adorned with Clinton tchotchke.
I would have loved to stay and chat but I had another city to get to and a passport to get stamped. The man was right, I had loved it and I left with a smile as big as his. Reminded me of one of my favorite Dolly Parton quotes, "If you see someone without a smile, give them yours."
Next up: Hot Springs and Fayetteville.