As the 40th anniversary of the Watergate scandal approached, staff at the North Carolina Museum of History realized that a comprehensive exhibit about Watergate and North Carolina’s connections to the Senate Select Committee had never been undertaken.
Watergate: Political Scandal & the Presidency was created to highlight the large role that North Carolinians played during the Watergate investigation. Additionally, developing a Watergate exhibit and programming offered the museum a way to address recent history, a topic that does not feature prominently in their other exhibits. The exhibit opens 40 years after the first day of televised Watergate hearings, and closes one day after the 40th anniversary of President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation.
Only a few Watergate-related items existed in the museum’s collection. The museum borrowed artifacts from other institutions as well as North Carolina staffers on the Senate Select Committee.
To appeal to a wide range of visitors, both those who lived through the Watergate era and those who might enter the exhibit with no prior knowledge of the scandal, the exhibit went beyond a dry examination of political history by putting the Watergate experience in a broader cultural context. Watergate included multiple video screens to create the feeling of being bombarded by television coverage and to convey the importance and pervasiveness of media during Watergate. To counteract the numerous two-dimensional paper artifacts in the exhibit, they created a full-scale living room setting, complete with a TV tray set for lunch and a television broadcasting the hearings.
The museum intended to provoke questions among visitors about how the Watergate Scandal still resonates in contemporary politics. By doing this, Watergate is able to place a national event into local context, offering a personal connection to local and national history for a variety of audiences.