Caro exhibit ‘Turn the Page’ is a window into his world

Oct 22, 2021, 8:40 AM | Updated: 8:54 am
Author and biographer Robert Caro is photographed after touring a permanent exhibit in his honor, "...

Author and biographer Robert Caro is photographed after touring a permanent exhibit in his honor, "Turn Every Page": Inside the Robert A. Caro Archive, at the New York Historical Society Museum & Library in New York on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

NEW YORK (AP) — Days shy of his 86th birthday, Robert A. Caro has reached the point where his own life is a piece of history.

The New-York Historical Society has established a permanent exhibit dedicated to Caro, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes and many other honors for his epic biography of Robert Moses, “The Power Broker,” and his ongoing series on President Lyndon Johnson. The exhibit, “Turn Every Page,” begins Friday and draws upon Caro’s archives, which he donated to the society in 2020. It includes videos, photographs, draft manuscripts, reporters notebooks, an outline he keeps on the wall of his office, newspaper clippings and such everyday items as a Smith-Corona typewriter.

Walking through the exhibit on a recent morning, Caro explains that his only dream growing up was to be a writer, “maybe a well known writer.” The wall displays on the second floor of the society trace his evolution from editor of his high school newspaper, The Horace Mann Record, to his years as an investigative reporter for Newsday, to his famously lengthy and detailed books.

Asked what kind of impression “Turn Every Page” might leave with young visitors who don’t know a lot about him, he responds that “the quality of the writing matters as much in nonfiction as in fiction.” He also anticipates a less reverent take:

“This guy is sort of nuts.”

Caro began “The Power Broker” more than 50 years ago, but has completed just five other books since the Moses biography came out in 1974: his first four Johnson books and the relatively brief “Working,” a compilation of essays and speeches released in 2019. His most recent Johnson biography, “The Passage of Power,” was published in 2012, and he answers the inevitable question about the fifth and presumed last volume by saying no release is likely in the near future.

Some artifacts here help explain why.

— Caro points out a handwritten list he compiled in the early 1970s when he was trying to show that Moses had plotted to keep people of color out of Jones Beach State Park, which opened in 1929. Caro knew that Moses had worked to limit mass transportation to Jones Beach, but he wanted tangible evidence of the results. So Caro and his wife and collaborator, Ina Caro, stood near the entrance to the beach, tracked the people coming in and determined that the overwhelming majority were white.

— Pictures from rural Texas, where Johnson was born and raised, remind Caro of how much he — a child of New York City private schools and Princeton University — needed to educate himself. For his Johnson books, he expected to interview a few Texans for “a little more color.” He ended up living there for three years, “at the edge of the Hill Country.” He remembers the heavy water buckets that women had to haul because their homes had no plumbing, and poking the hard, infertile earth on the former Johnson family ranch.

— The exhibit includes a manuscript page from “Master of the Senate,” Caro’s third Johnson book. He recalls spending so much time in the Senate in Washington that pages called him the “nut in the gallery.” Tourist groups would come and go, sessions on the floor would open and adjourn, but Caro would remain, just absorbing the world that Johnson dominated as Majority Leader in the 1950s.

“There is no substitute for going there yourself,” he says, “because you never know what you’re going to find out.”

“That’s why my books keep taking so long.”

Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the historical society, says the exhibit came out of conversations she had about the archives with Caro, who lives nearby and has been visiting the museum since childhood. He didn’t want his work confined to a research room. He wanted attendees to understand the world as he did.

“He’s a quintessential New Yorker through whom you can see American history,” she says.

The exhibit is called “Turn Every Page” in honor of advice Caro received decades ago from Newsday managing editor Alan Hathway about the importance of looking through every document in hand. That’s the fun part, he says, the research, “finding out”: the manuscript from a long-lost Johnson crony that acknowledged votes were stolen in Johnson’s notorious, narrowly won 1948 Senate race; the boxes of papers Caro has reviewed at the Johnson presidential library in Austin, Texas; the time he and his wife sat on a floor in the pre-Internet years and looked through telephone books to track down old classmates of Johnson.

The pain begins with the writing.

Behind one glass front at the exhibit is a heavily marked-up manuscript page for “The Passage of Power.” Johnson is only a month into his presidency, which began after John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, and Caro wants to describe a late-night phone conversation between LBJ and civil rights leader Roy Wilkins. Like many of his peers, Wilkins has come to admire Johnson, after initially distrusting the Texas Democrat who had allied himself with Southern segregationists when he joined the Senate.

Near the end of their call, as Johnson is about to hang up, Wilkins tells him, “Please take care of yourself.” When Johnson appears not to take him seriously, Wilkins repeats, “Please take care of yourself,” and adds, “We need you.”

Lines throughout the page are crossed out and written over. Caro remembers chastising himself — “You, Bob, feel this is such a telling and revealing moment and you’re not doing it” — before making a couple of small but satisfying revisions. He changed one sentence from “They believed him,” referring to how civil rights leaders felt about Johnson, to “They believed in him.” And he set Wilkins’ closing words off in their own paragraph, writing in red in the left margin to instruct his typist not to miss the paragraph sign.

“I re-wrote this so many times, he says.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

2 killed when small plane crashes on roadway in Illinois

HANNA CITY, Ill. (AP) — Two people were killed Saturday when a single-engine plane crashed on a roadway in the small central Illinois community of Hanna City, officials said. According to officials in Peoria County, the plane crashed at about 12:30 p.m. on Route 116. Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood said two people who have […]
14 hours ago
Associated Press

Plane bumps another while backing up at Boston airport

BOSTON (AP) — An airplane bumped into another plane while backing up at Logan International Airport in Boston, prompting an investigation. No one was injured when the two Delta Airlines planes collided at low-speed on Friday night, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, which said it is investigating, the Boston Globe reported. One of the […]
14 hours ago
FILE - Carbon dioxide and other pollutants billows from stacks at the Naughton Power Plant, near wh...
Associated Press

Climate bill: Could coal communities shift to nuclear?

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A major economic bill headed to the president has “game-changing” incentives for the nuclear energy industry, experts say, and those tax credits are even more substantial if a facility is sited in a community where a coal plant is closing. The transformative bill provides the most spending to fight climate change […]
14 hours ago
Three newborn lion cubs are displayed at Nama zoo in Gaza City, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022. The liones...
Associated Press

3 newborn lion cubs a rare joyous sight in war-scarred Gaza

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Three day-old lion cubs were on display Saturday in a cardboard box at a Gaza City zoo, a rare joyous sight for children and adults alike, just days after Israeli aircraft pounded the territory and Gaza militants fired hundreds of rockets at Israel. Veterinarian Mahmoud al-Sultan said each cub […]
14 hours ago
FILE - Drivers wait for the traffic to be cleared as cars and trucks are stranded on sections of In...
Associated Press

Audit: Va. failed on earlier advice before I-95 gridlock

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia government failed to carry out numerous lessons from a 2018 snowstorm that caused highway gridlock, as exhibited by a similar event along Interstate 95 in January that left hundreds of motorists stranded, a state watchdog office concluded. The Office of the Inspector General report, released Friday, was critical of how […]
14 hours ago
Dead fish lie on the banks of the German-Polish border river Oder in Lebus, eastern Germanny, Satur...
Associated Press

What killed tons of fish in European river? Mystery deepens

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Laboratory tests following a mass die-off of fish in the Oder River detected high levels of salinity but no mercury poisoning its waters, Poland’s environment minister said Saturday as the mystery continued as to what killed tons of fish in Central Europe. Anna Moskwa, the minister of climate and environment, said […]
14 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Sanderson Ford

Don’t let rising fuel prices stop you from traveling Arizona this summer

There's no better time to get out on the open road and see what the beautiful state of Arizona has to offer. But if the cost of gas is putting a cloud over your summer vacation plans, let Sanderson Ford help with their wide-range selection of electric vehicles.
...
Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

Why your student-athlete’s physical should be conducted by a sports medicine specialist

Dr. Anastasi from Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Tempe answers some of the most common questions.
(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.
Caro exhibit ‘Turn the Page’ is a window into his world