With the sad passing a few weeks ago of Nancy Reagan, I’m reminded of the few times that I’ve visited one of my favourite places in Southern California. The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.
As a presidential nerd I was really thrilled to visit my first presidential library back in 2006. I have subsequently returned a number of times.
We make our way up the windy road that is Presidential Drive and reach the summit where the library overlooks Simi Valley with breathtaking views. The star spangled banner greets us as we walk towards the entrance. A large statue of the main man, Ronald Reagan, stands just next to the front door. We are given a warm welcome by the front desk staff as we set off through the museum and Ronald’s life.
What amazes me most as we walk through the museum, is not the fact that Ronald Reagan was once a radio announcer. But, from a logistical point of view, the amount of items from his life that were actually kept and still exist. It’s almost as if he was planning this museum from his youth! It was of course great to be so far from home but to see a nice memory of his 1984 visit to his homestead of Ballyporeen, County Tipperary!
A man with a rich and varied life, from lifeguard to radio announcer to actor and of course President of the United States. Nancy is not left out either as many of the love letters he wrote to her are on display. As are many of her gowns worn to special state occasions.
Attention to detail
As we wander through the exhibition I am struck by the attention to detail in all of the displays. Also, how the man himself led such a wide and varied life and was adored by so many as a radio announcer, actor, governor of California and of course President of the United States.
The exhibition is certainly an educational one. You could spend many hours there reading, watching and listening to the various interactive pieces that are dotted around the place. I have many favourite parts of this library but one is definitely the part where I get to give a speech at the teleprompter! A nice touch and a great photo opp!
There are many special things about the Reagan Library. However, one of them has to be the full size replica of the Oval Office which sits in the heart of the library. Such was President Reagan’s attention to detail, that he wanted to have it exactly the same size as the real “Oval” which sits in the White House in Washington. When he was told that the ceiling was too low, he said “dig the floor”! This is why when you are visiting it, that you walk down a small ramp to get into it!
As you leave the oval, there are more insights into his life with many great photographs to accompany the stories. There’s also some poignant displays including the jacket he was wearing when he was shot in 1981. Some of the infamous “Ronald Reagan Diaries” are also on display. He wrote in these every day for the 8 years of his presidency giving a unique account into his perspective as commander in chief.
“Get off my plane”
As previously mentioned, I have many favourite parts of the Reagan Library. None moreso than the Air Force One pavilion which houses the actual Air Force One plane. (Tail #27000 – President Obama’s Air Force One carries tail#29000). It was reconstructed to its original size and state, and is now on permanent display there. To be up close to this historic symbol of Reagan’s presidency was honour enough. However, to be able to walk through it and see where he used to sit, work, eat and sleep was just something else.
Unfortunately we are not allowed to take photos inside the plane itself. I was surprised at how small and slightly cramped it was compared to the current incumbent’s plane. Or the Air Force One you would have seen in the movie of the same name or indeed The West Wing. However you can watch a short video here which shows some of the interior.
Air Force One Pavillion
In this area you will also see his old car (bearing the registration “Gipper”) as well as replica of his helicopter “Marine One”. Having seen Air Force One it was time to move to the later part of Ronald Reagan’s life. There’s plenty of other memories including the Challenger Disaster from 1986 and his times at Camp David. Also of course his historic speech in Berlin in 1987 before the wall came down 2 years later. Indeed a section of the Berlin Wall stands outside the library.
A lot of poignancy exists right throughout the exhibition. Perhaps the most poignant exhibit of all is the display of the flag which draped Ronald’s coffin on his death in June 2004. Video screens and displays tell the stories of those mournful days. They saw him come to his final resting place on the grounds of the library. He was to be joined by his beloved Nancy just last month.
A visit to the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley is a must for anyone interested in presidential history. Sleep tight Ronnie and Nancy.
by Shane Smyth