Yesterday we visited the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. I must confess, this is the first presidential library I have ever visited, but now I know it is not the last.
I didn’t know what exactly to expect from a presidential library. It’s a museum, laid out and run like any other specialty museum. Reagan’s is very well done.
Located on a hilltop in Simi Valley, overlooking a great panorama of rugged Southern California mountains, it is definitely a memorable place of reflection. The main building has the feeling of a Mission. The large open courtyard has a fountain in the center, and the surrounding buildings are lined with covered walks and columns.
Once in the museum, we got to walk through many exhibits chronicling Reagan’s long life and many careers. Reagan was a born leader, starting out in sports, playing football and other sports in high school and college. Later he was a sportscaster, then an actor, and finally a politician, first Governor of California, then the President of the United States. Whenever he belonged to a club, its seems he became its president, or in sports the team captain.
As we walked the various exhibits we saw real memorabilia of Reagan’s life at the various stages. The most interesting two exhibits are the Air Force One and the Oval Office.
An exact replica of the Oval Office as it was during Reagan’s second term, 1984 to 1988, is represented. I found it fascinating to be standing in the Oval Office, seeing the furniture arrangements, the pictures on the walls, the decorations on the counters, and the desk. The desk is a replica of the “Hayes” desk, built in the 1870s and first used by President Hayes, and later by many other presidents, including Kennedy and Reagan. The original desk is currently used by Obama. There is no practical way for any ordinary citizen to get into the real Oval Office, so seeing a replica is the next best thing.
The tour guide had some anecdotes about the Oval Office, of course, and at one point talked about Reagan never going into the Oval Office without a suit coat. We have heard this before, and then echoed by George W. when he touted early in his presidency that he would reintroduce decorum and respect to the Oval Office, after the purported indiscretions of Clinton.
Well, right after walking out of the Oval Office, I came upon a picture wall showing Reagan in a number of situations with the public, and right there he was, in the Oval Office with a number of people, sitting behind his desk in a jogging suit jacket.
So much for the mystique about the suit and tie.
The Oval Office is such a famous locale and institution of our government, it carries with it a mystique that is almost unparalleled, except, perhaps by Air Force One.
The decommissioned Boeing 707 with the call sign 27000 is on exhibit in the Air Force One Pavillion. Now this was worth the visit. This plane was brought into service in 1973 and was first used by Nixon. The last president to travel on it was George W. Bush. You get to walk through the entire plane. You see the president’s office and the various other sections. Every one of them is instantly recognizable from movies and news reports, of course. I remember seeing Nixon stand outside the doors raising of both arms in his famous last farewell. I stood right there at that door. The president’s desk is much smaller than it looks on TV. The “secure phones” look archaic. The little “communications nook” looks like something out of a fifties movie. The whole thing is surprisingly low-tech. Of course, they didn’t have laptops then and when Reagan answered mail, he wrote on a legal pad by hand, so it could be typed later.
I was overwhelmed by history walking through this plane, used by Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush. But of the more than one million miles logged by the plane during its service, Reagan clocked over 600,000 of them. He alone took more than 220 trips using this aircraft during his years.
Many years hence perhaps we can see one of the new 747 Air Force One planes in a presidential library, and we will then marvel about Clinton and Bush and Obama and the trips they took. But with the years of service still left on those planes, I don’t think I’ll live long enough to see that.
After this experience, I have resolved that I will seek out other presidential libraries. Next will be Nixon’s, which is within driving distance from our home, and then others as I travel to the various places. I’ll just need to take extra time on my trips to make it possible.