Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Reagan Presidential Library

Last Monday we visited the Reagan Presidential  library.  I've only been to three of the libraries - the two in California and the Kennedy library.   Among the three, this is the most interactive.  All three have a quality which seems a bit guided - but with this kind of subject that may be appropriate. There are lots of interactive exhibits that are very engaging.    Like the other two, the library has biographical as well as political material - so in this library there is lots of coverage of Reagan's early life, his movie and TV career, his two terms as Governor of California and his two terms as President.

There are a couple of things about the museum that are unique.   First, the museum contains a pavilion that contains Air Force One as well as the Presidential limo and helicopter.    I was struck by how small Air Force One was - remember that this was 727 which began service in 1973.  According to the museum seven presidents used this plane.  

In 1971, while I was working for a US Senator who died in office.   I flew on the plane they called the "body plane" - I think its official designation was Air Force Four.   It was used to carry the bodies of deceased politicians.   It had a catafaulk as well as a private seating area and then regular (albeit first class) seating for another forty of so.    The plane was carrying my boss back to Vermont after his funeral in Washington.   The museum also contains a replica of the Oval Office - which is impressive although because the windows do not catch outside light is darker than I remember it.

Second, after you complete the Air Force One exhibit you return to exhibits which has an interactive set of games on policy - that use technology quite effectively.   Third, at least until September, there is a temporary exhibit on Lincoln - which contains historic materials on the sixteenth president as well as parts of the movie set for the recent Lincoln picture.

As James Swanson's excellent book pointed out (Bloody Crimes) Lincoln's supporters made the time immediately after his assassination almost a pageant.   Some of the myths of Lincoln were created around that period.   The exhibit, compared to the rest of the museum is a bit disappointing although there many interesting current and historic artifacts.   There are also some silly ones (as to the right).   Fourth, there is one section from the Berlin Wall (on the outside) and a long section on Reagan's foreign policy.

The museum is set on the top of a hill in the Simi Valley which is impressive.   The architecture is California mission.   All in all the site is very accessible.

One interesting incident before we got started touring the exhibits, we visited the restroom.  There was a guy dressed as Lincoln who was next to me at the urinal.   An odd experience.

All in all, whether you liked Reagan or did not (I think he was one of our greatest presidents), the library is well worth the trip.

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