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Presidential Museum of 40th President

Ronald Regan Portrai and Presidential Seal at the Library photoOn September 6, 2011, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation will be hosting the Reagan Centennial GOP Candidates Debate at the Reagan Foundation Library and Museum, where undoubtedly all the Republican candidates will invoke the conservative smaller government ideals and fond memory of the nation’s 40th President. And just as surely, images of the Air Force One Presidential jet and longing for a return of “Morning In America” will draw a whole new generation of visitors on a pilgrimage to the museum of presidential history northwest of Los Angeles.

Reagan Better Off Finger Pointing PhotoOur great Americans of history, founding fathers and great presidents of the past get enshrined in symbols and in physical sites. Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson have architectural shines in the capitol city, faces of later presidents are carved on Mt Rushmore. We don’t carve great stone monuments much anymore. The modern shrine for a president is the Presidential Library. There are two in California (the Nixon Library is further south in Yorba Linda near Disneyland). The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Museum and Air Force One Exhibit in Simi Valley California, certainly fits that role for Ronald Wilson Reagan. I’ll have to admit for full disclosure that Ronald Reagan is not my personal hero. But on a recent visit to the institution among the grassy hills of Southern California, I had to buy some Ronald Reagan Presidential Seal souvenir golf balls, and a logo golf towel as a gift for my brother - who sees things a bit differently than do I. The bronze laconic statue of a relaxed Ronald Reagan in his western garb from his retirement days on the ranch outside the door of his library is perhaps more California casual than the columned marble solemnity of Lincoln‘s, but the journey inside is equally as reverential.

Ronald Reagan Museum

Ronald Reagan Growing Up Exhibit photoThe museum at the library has been recently renovated in 2011 in time for the centennial of his birth in 1911, and an impressive experience, worth a visit for those of any political stripe, though perhaps more emotionally fulfilling for those more attuned to the Reagan ideal. The museum begins with a photo opportunity for the family to gather around life-sized statues of Ronald and Nancy. Then, a self-guided journey through the life story of Ronald Reagan, from his youth and college football days, his acting career, to President of the Screen Actors Guild, Governor of California and President of the United States. Eighteen new galleries pay tribute to his accomplishments and his philosophy. Interactive exhibits allow the visitor to act in a movie scene with Ronald Reagan, read his handwritten diary, turning the pages on a digital screen, stand at the podium behind the Teleprompters and deliver the inaugural address. Ronald Reagan’s sonorous follows through every hall, with speeches from phases of his political life and his lifelong love affair with Nancy. The exhibit turns somber in the attempted assassination, surprisingly early in his term and ends with his days on the Rancho del Cielo in Santa Barbara. Nancy is ever present, including a collection of her gowns and dresses.

The Oval Office Replica

Oval Office and resolute Desk Reagan Library photoCentral to the museum is the replica of Ronald Reagan’s Oval Office, furnished as he occupied it. There’s actually a bit of Democratic presidential memorabilia in the Reagan Library exhibits as well, like a subversive reminder that after all, U.S. Presidents don’t get all their own stuff. The great desk in the Oval Office, known as the Resolute Desk, made from the oak timbers of the H.M.S. Resolute, a captured British ship returned to England and given as a present by Queen Victoria, was used by every President, Democratic and Republican, since Rutherford B. Hayes, (except for Johnson, Nixon and Ford). It is the desk seen in the photo of little Jon-Jon Kennedy playing underneath. The Oval Office recreation around it is all Reagan, the western art, bronzed saddles, and jar of Jelly Bellies. It is rather like standing in the presence, reverentially quiet and muted, as if waiting for the great man to return to office.

Air Force One

Air Force One and Marine One Helicopter Reagan Library photoA must see for anyone interested in presidential history is Air Force One, tail number 27000, the Flying White House, which served seven U.S Presidents from 1973 up to 2001, including Presidents Nixon, Carter, Ford, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. For President Reagan, this was the plane in which he hand-wrote many of his speeches, signed important legislation and even officially started the Daytona Beach, Florida NASCAR race from his phone. The plane is mounted with its tires on pedestals facing a massive wall of glass as if it might fly out of the hanger at any moment.

Reagan Gipper Armored Limousine photoThe tour through Air Force One begins with a photo op before boarding (photo to be collected afterward), then a stroll through the narrow aisle of the plane, with a look into the presidential office, the staff room, press rooms and galleys. On board you’ll find “the Football” the actual briefcase full of nuclear codes, which followed the president where ever he went. Below the gleaming aluminum wings is a motorcade of one of Reagan’s presidential limousines with the license plate “Gipper” and Secret Service Suburban escort vehicles. The other presidential aircraft on display is a Marine One helicopter which flew President Lyndon Johnson. The plane stands over the museum snack bar, an Irish Pub, a real one from Ballyporeen, Ireland which Mr. Reagan visited on a diplomatic trip in 1984, reassembled in the Air Force One Pavilion.

Berlin Wall

Berlin Wall Exhibit Reagan Library photo“Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! " went the world famous speech made from Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate on June 12, 1987, and a symbol for the end of the Cold War. The Berlin Wall came down two and half years later on November 9, 1989, when President Reagan was no longer in office (see Fall of Berlin Wall). The words were part of a deliberate strategy to move the Soviets to the end of the vastly expensive weapons race. On April 12, 1990, a 9 ½ foot high, 3 ton section of the Berlin Wall, covering in graffiti arrived at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. A walk through the recreated wall exhibit explores the chess game relationship and numerous diplomatic summit meetings between Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, which lead toward détente and the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union. The actual section of the wall is on display outside, near where Ronald Reagan is buried.

Reagan Memorial

Ronald Reagans Grave Site Memorial photoFollowing his death after a long bout with Alzheimers on June 5, 2004, President Ronald Reagan was buried on the grounds of the Reagan Foundation Library. A short path leads to along to the semi-circular granite memorial facing the Pacific Ocean, rather subdued compared to Grant's Tomb. Every February 6th on his birthday, a celebration of his life is held at the Memorial, with the Marine Corps from Camp Pendleton placing a wreath on the gravesite, accompanied by patriotic music from the military band and a 21-gun salute. This annual event is open to the public and free to attend.

Visiting the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Air Force One

Reagaon Gift Souvenir  Golf Shirts  photoThe library museum campus is located off the 33 Moorpark Freeway at Madera Road exit, near Thousand Oaks, which can be approached from the 101 Ventura Freeway or 118 Simi Valley Freeway. The regular museum hours are 10 am to 5 pm daily (except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day). Admission is $12 for adults (18-61) $9 Seniors (over 62) and $6 for Youth (11-17), children under 11 free. You can rent a handheld audiovisual tour museum guide for $7 dollars. This device allows you to take pictures which will be emailed to you when you turn it in. Photos are allowed throughout the museum, except inside Air Force One. Guided group tours are available for 15 or more. Two restaurant options are available, the Reagan Country Kitchen Restaurant and the Ronald Reagan Irish Pub. A wide range of Reagan and Presidential Seal memorabilia is available in the gift shop. There is free parking - which makes up for the price of the golf balls.
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