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Jimmy Carter Museum Opens in Atlanta After Overhaul
Jay Hakes, director of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, demonstrates a new interactive exhibit Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2009 at the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum in Atlanta. The museum is scheduled to reopen Sept. 30 after a $10 million redesign. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

ATLANTA, GA (AP).- The Jimmy Carter Library and Museum reopened on the former president's 85th birthday after an overhaul that devotes more space than any other presidential library to a commander-in-chief's work after the White House.

Carter beamed Thursday as he spoke to hundreds at the opening ceremony, saying: "There's no way any of you can imagine the emotions that fill my heart and my mind in this moment."

About a third of the Atlanta museum explores the Georgia Democrat's life after he was defeated by Ronald Reagan. It includes dozens of photos and videos detailing his efforts to eradicate disease, resolve conflicts and monitor elections.

As if to remind visitors of the impact of his work since leaving the White House, the exhibit ends by featuring the Nobel Peace Prize and other humanitarian awards that Carter has received for his work in and out of the Oval Office.

The museum was closed in late April. The $10 million project, which took about five months to complete, is the first major update to the museum since it was built 23 years ago. Attendance had fallen about 50 percent in the last five years as newer Atlanta attractions, such as the Georgia Aquarium, drew in more tourists and students, said Jay Hakes, the library and museum's director.

Hakes points to two "awe factors" in the updated museum that he hopes will command people's attention.

The first is an interactive exhibit with six towering high-resolution video screens giving visitors a behind-the-scenes look at a day in the life of a president.

It focuses on a busy day — December 11, 1978 — that starts with Carter receiving a wake-up call at 5:30 a.m. and follows him as he grapples with the aftermath of a Middle East peace deal, the teetering regime of a U.S. ally in Iran and efforts to normalize relations with China.

"The major lesson is that the president is juggling a lot of balls in a day," said Hakes. "And a lot of the things he was struggling with then, we are still struggling with today."

The second comes later, in the section on Carter's work beyond Washington. It's a smooth touch-screen video table dotted with interactives that take visitors to countries where Carter and staff at the nonprofit Carter Center have worked. They can learn more about the mission and meet some of the people the Carter Center has helped.

The museum tour starts with exhibits on Carter's childhood in segregated southwest Georgia and a model of a nuclear submarine where the president once worked as a young naval officer. It then tracks his political career, first as a state senator, then as governor and finally as president.

The White House section includes a full-scale replica of the Oval Office — one of the few exhibits from the old museum that's largely untouched — and an exhibit depicting Camp David, where Carter's "cabin diplomacy" helped broker a peace deal between Egypt and Israel. Some 27 million pages of documents from Carter's term sit behind a glass wall in a nearby rotunda.

Hakes said he sought to present Carter's term, warts and all. One area tackles his final year in office, with an exhibit on rising inflation rates, the Iran hostage crisis and other foreign and domestic issues that contributed to his defeat.

Carter said he hopes the challenges and triumphs that he and his wife Rosalynn have faced will inspire visitors to do more to help others.

"We want the visitors who come here to have an exciting and challenging opportunity to learn more about our nation and our world," he said. "It also shows how our lives have been tied into the most momentous things on Earth and every single visitor who comes here will have the same feeling: 'My life can be meaningful.'"

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

Jimmy Carter Library and Museum | White House | Nobel Peace Prize | Oval Office |

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