A few weeks ago, my sister and I headed out to California to visit friends of ours who live in Burbank. Despite the history-making torrential rain that plagued us most of the weekend, it was a great getaway. She and I have never had a sisters-weekend like that, and it was made perfect by the fact that we were visiting some of our favorite sisters, Therese and Bernadette Peters. Sisters squared! Throw in Mr. and Mrs. Peters, and you have a regular musical adventure.
For the purposes of this post, however, I won’t be talking about seeing Walt Disney’s house, or having drinks at the homey pub where the animators used to hang out, or even Bernadette’s incredible opening-night performance as Rosie in Bye, Bye, Birdie. Instead, we need to focus on the Empty The Bucket List item I accomplished: paying respects to Ronald Reagan.
When I was really little, I used to call Ronald Reagan “my man.” No one is really sure why, but I’m glad I had the foresight at such a young age to recognize greatness when I saw it. I always admired him growing up, but when I wrote my thesis on him in college, I really fell in love.
He died the day my sister got married, and if anyone remembers my toast, I toasted him (my dad told me I had to toast my sister first). It seems Therese remembered, because she asked if we would be interested in going to his Presidential Library while we were out there.
She didn’t have to ask me twice. I tried to remain calm and act like if it worked out, that would be great… but inside I was doing dances of joy.
The rain stopped long enough for us to drive to Simi Valley and enjoy the view.
The Library, which just celebrated their 25th anniversary, is a testament to a great man and a reminder of what moral leadership looks like. The beginning opens with a short video that introduces Reagan’s legacy to those who remember him well and those who may not have even been alive to know him. I almost started to cry watching him again – witnessing his eloquence and strength in the face of hard issues, many of which we are facing again today.
The museum tells the story of his life, from growing up in Dixon, IL, to his announcing days, his time in Hollywood, and eventually his political career. You could read old high school essays and watch clips of his movies.
The library moves quickly, obviously spending the most time on his presidency, but even then not belaboring anything for too long. There were some places I would have liked to see more detail, but all in all, I think it moves at the right speed and has the right amount of information for those looking to get a good overview of his life and the issues of his presidency.
All of it was well-done, but several areas stand out – The way they presented the assassination attempted made you feel as if you were witnessing it for the first time. The mock-up of the Berlin Wall was dramatic and terrifying. And it was a treat to feel as if you were in the Oval Office.
It is set up exactly how it looked during Reagan’s presidency, although none of it is original except the chair behind the desk. One of the docents later told us that Reagan would occasionally sit in that office after the Library was completed and receive visitors.
There was even a jar of jelly beans, of course.
While it’s hard to choose a favorite part, a highlight was definitely Air Force One. It’s the only place you can tour an official Air Force One, and like the Oval Office, it is set up exactly how it was during his Presidency. Unlike the Oval Office, however, he really used it as President, and I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn’t a movie set or a mock up. It was a little smaller than I expected – only a 727. No photos were allowed inside, although they did take a cheesy picture of us on the front steps and then tried to sell it to us.
I loved the prevalence of quotes throughout the library, as well as all the things they had – I never thought I would see things like the suit he was shot in, the Bible he took the oath of office on, or his riding saddles.
The museum ended with a room about life on the ranch after the presidency, then a room about Nancy, and then a room about his funeral. Once again, it was hard to keep back the tears.
Outside (after the gift shop), there was a piece of the actual Berlin Wall, a beautiful overlook of Simi Valley, and then the tombs of Ronald and Nancy Reagan.
I was able to pray at the tomb of Ronald Reagan.
“I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph, and there is purpose and worth to each and every life.”
“Let us be sure that those who come after will say of us in our time, that in our time we did everything that could be done. We finished the race; we kept them free; we kept the faith.”
And that, my friends, is emptied from the bucket list.