A trip to Los Angeles in December 2017 brought an opportunity for my second visit to the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, 40 miles east of Los Angeles. The library is perched on a hill that overlooks the valley and provides a magnificent view of the surrounding landscape. The library’s location makes it a bit of a journey to get to but it is definitely worth it.
A bronze statue of Ronald Reagan, our 40th President, greets you as you enter the lobby area.
Entering the museum, you meet both Ron and Nancy with a short film about their careers.
With a variety of artifacts, documents, film clips, and other materials, visitors move through the major events of Reagan’s life. You can explore his film career, his two terms as the president of the screen actor’s guild (SAG), his political career as a two-time Governor of California and his two terms as President. The display on the day Reagan was shot on March 30, 1981, soon after his presidency began is a moment by moment account of the horrific day and includes his suit, x-ray taken of his injuries and the weapon used by John Hinckley, Jr.
Reagan was the first President who was divorced. He and actress Jane Wyman married in 1940 and divorced in 1949. He wed Nancy in 1952.
Nancy was the light of his life. Her attention to detail is shown throughout the library.
The re-creation of Reagan’s western themed Oval office is warm and welcoming and has the ever-present container of his favorite treat, Jelly Beans. Later in the exhibit, you can view a portrait of Reagan’s made of jelly beans.
Nancy is well represented through a beautiful display of her gowns she wore to numerous occasions during her eight years in the White House.
The Air Force One pavilion dominates the Library and houses the Boeing 737 that carried seven presidents around the world during his time as president ending with Reagan. Marine One is also on display as well as the limousine that served him. The plane is positioned as if it could takeoff over the Valley. You can tour both the plane and helicopter and have your photograph taken as a souvenir. I was struck at how small the plane was compared to the 747 that the President flies in today.
Toward the end of the tour, there is an exhibit that replays Reagan’s national address after the Challenger explosion. The 911 display brings back memories of that horrific day. A piece of a girder from the twin towers is exhibited and you can touch a piece of history that is forever emblazoned upon our collective memory.
Reagan’s passing from Alzheimer’s on June 5, 2004, was a slow death for this larger than life personality.
Nancy followed her beloved Ronnie in death on March 6, 2016. They were laid to rest next to one another forever together looking out over the mountains of California.
In the courtyard, there is a piece of the Berlin Wall. It immediately brings to mind, Reagan’s speech, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” at the Brandenberg gate in 1987. The Soviet Union would fall three years after he left the presidency in 1991.
The Library’s holdings include over 60 million pages of documents, over 1.6 million photographs, a half million feet of motion picture film, tens of thousands of audio and videotape, and over 40,000 artifacts.
The Library and Museum are definitely worth the drive.