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

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Just days before his 86th birthday, Robert A. Caro has reached the point where his own life is a piece of history.

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

Walking through the exhibition on a recent morning, Caro explains that his only dream growing up was to become a writer, “perhaps a famous writer.” The wall displayed on the society’s second floor traces his development from the editor of his high school newspaper, The Horace Mann Record, to his famously long and detailed books as an investigative reporter for Newsday.


When asked what kind of impression “Turn Every Page” might make with younger visitors who don’t know much about him, he replied that “the quality of the writing matters just as much in nonfiction.” as in imagination.” He also expects a less reverent take on:

“This guy is like crazy.”

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Caro started “The Power Broker” more than 50 years ago, but has completed just five other books since the 1974 biography of Moses came to the fore: his first four Johnson books and the relatively brief “Working”, essays and essays. A compilation of speeches was released. In 2019 his most recent biography of Johnson, “The Passage of Power”, was published in 2012, and he answered the inevitable question about the fifth and anticipated final volume by saying that no release is likely in the near future. .

Here are some artifacts to help explain why.

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

– Photos of rural Texas where Johnson was born and raised remind Caro how much he – a child from private schools in New York City and Princeton University – needed to educate himself. For Johnson’s own books, he hoped to interview some Texans for “a little more color.” He recalls the heavy water buckets the women had to carry because their homes lacked plumbing, and the hard, infertile soil on the Johnson family’s former farm.

– The exhibit includes a manuscript page from Caro’s third Johnson book “Master of the Senate”. He remembers spending so much time in the Senate in Washington that Page calls him a “nut in the gallery.” Tourist groups would come and go, sessions on the floor would open and be postponed, but Cairo would remain, simply absorbing the world that Johnson dominated as majority leader in the 1950s.

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

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

The historical society’s president and CEO, Louise Mirror, says the exhibition was derived from a conversation about the archives with Caro, who lives nearby and has been visiting the museum since childhood. He did not want his work to be confined to a research room. He wanted those present to understand the world the way he did.

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

The exhibition is called “Turn Every Page” in honor of the advice Caro received decades ago from Newsday managing editor Alan Hathaway about the importance of looking at every document in hand. That’s the fun part, he says, the research, “finding out”: the long-lost Johnson Croney manuscript that admitted votes had been stolen in Johnson’s infamous, narrowly won the 1948 Senate race; Boxes of papers Karo has reviewed at the Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas; The times when he and his wife sat on a floor in pre-Internet years and looked through telephone books to track down Johnson’s old classmates.

The pain starts with writing.

In front of a mirror in the exhibition is a heavily marked manuscript page for “The Passage of Power”. Johnson is only a month away from becoming president, which began after the November 22, 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy, and Caro wants to recount 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 relying on a Texas Democrat who had allied himself with Southern separatists 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 doesn’t take her seriously, Wilkins repeats, “Please take care of yourself,” and adds, “We need you.”

Lines are cut across the page and written on them. Caro remembers punishing himself—”You, Bob, realize this is such a telling and revealing moment and you’re not doing it”—before making some small but satisfying amends. He changed a sentence from “they believed in him”. On how civil rights leaders felt about Johnson, “they believed in him.” And he closed Wilkins’ closing words in his own paragraph, writing in red in the left margin instructing his typist not to miss the paragraph mark.

“I rewrote it several times, he says.

Credit: / Lyndon Johnson

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