Today I visited the shrine and burial place of the greatest American president of my lifetime, the Ronald Reagan presidential library
I have dreamed of this moment. I was so excited.
I was so disappointed.
This 100 acre site is surrounded by beautiful mountain ranges. I can see why a West Coast guy like Reagan wanted his library here.
The building itself is very Reagan: rustic and simple, unlike the other presidential libraries I have been to.
A statue of Ronnie greets you at the front entrance.
As you walk into the museum, you are greeted by Reagan's signature.
Nearby are the portraits of all past and present American presidents, as well as signatures of recent ones.
The exhibit starts off on a good note, with a strong video about the Reagan years.
Oddly, however, the first main exhibit is about the American Rangers, something Reagan was a big supporter
It is the most detailed exhibit in the museum, and it has almost nothing to do with the former president.
It features mostly re-enactments and replicas, which would be a recurring theme of the place.
Finally, we start learning about Ronald Reagan
, and the museum doesn't have much to say. This is a re-enactment of his childhood home. There's nothing more that I hate in historical museums than replicas. With the massive budget and access to documents
this place must have had, couldn't you have found real things to put on display?
Here's a booth of a place that Reagan might have been to while he was younger and in Hollywood. I wasn't sure what the point of this was. There must have been a better way to tell people he was an actor
. Oh, and by the way, there's is nothing here that I could see that brought up the fact that Reagan was married and divorced to Jane Wyman
, which I would imagine would be something worth getting into.
The museum had a booth where you could watch Ronald Reagan movie highlights. I may be critical of the place, but it does do a good job of using video, which I imagine is very Reagan.
Here is a car used for Ronald Reagan's campaign for governor.
Here are some campaign posters from the race. That's pretty much all they had on display for this time period. It didn't get into any real depth about it, what the issues were, or what the campaign was like, with the exception of a one-paragraph sign that said America was a "war-torn nation" in the late 60s and early 70s. It did not try to delve into this at all, nor explain Reagan's perspective about it.
To remind us that he was governor of California, we have here his desk with various artifacts on it. What he did while governor I don't know, because the museum does not bother to try to tell me. I would think he did something, since he was elected president later on.
Suddenly, Reagan is running for president. Here, we see posters and buttons from his 1976 and 1980 campaigns. There is a (replica?) microphone from the "I paid for this microphone
" moment which was a big part of his victorious 1980 New Hampshire campaign. I know this is a big deal because I am a fan of history and Reagan is someone I have read quite a bit about. In the museum, however, it's just sitting there. It seems that the place is tailored for people who already know about him, rather than trying to "communicate" his story. At this point, I'm getting a little frustrated.
Well, at this point Reagan has the nomination. There's very little insight provided as to how this happened, or why he picked George H.W. Bush for the job of V.P.
Regan is now president, and he got shot
. One neat little thing on display is Reagan's chest X-ray. This is the kind of thing I came to see -- detailed things about the guy's life. There's a video on display that talks about the time, which was pretty good.
On display is a Space Infrared Experiment Sensor, created in 1979 and tested in 1981, which was one of the pieces of equipment that laid the foundation of Reagan's Strategic Defense Iniative
. A sign briefly explained the purpose of SDI
, but of course did not nearly cover its historic importance.
We then enter the worst room in the museum, the "second term" exhibit.
This is it. The whole thing. On display are a couple of plates and random assorted personal items. Four years in one room and you'd think absolutely nothing of importance
happened. I walked out of this room mumbling "are you kidding me?"
There was no mention of Iran Contra
that I could see, no talk of laws passed, no foreign policy achievements, etc. There even really wasn't much to say about one of the largest landslide elections
in America's history. It was maddening.
Later on there was a video about these things, but it barely scratched the surface.
There is a Cold War room, where another part of the SDI equipment is on display. It was at this point that I realized that the museum was going to gloss over just about everything, regardless of how historic or important a particular action or policy by Reagan was. The end of the Cold War
, the most important event of my lifetime and something that Ronald Reagan was the main actor in, is barely covered in any real detail in this library. There was a video on display that would have given a sixth grader some insight, but other than that not much was going on here.
When something of interest is on display (and a real item, not a replica), it has one little sign to go along with it and very little overall context provided. Here is a Miniature Vehicle Sensor/Anti-Satellite (MVS/ASAT), which was to be deployed on F-15s to insure that enemy satellites would be denied surveillance capabilities. This is good stuff and there should have been more of it.
The museum's best exhibit is the tour of Air Force One
. I wasn't allowed to take pictures inside, though, so this is the best I can do. This plane predates the larger, more current 747 version
, but is still an impressive ride. One thing that impressed me the most was how small it seemed. You'd think that Presidents Nixon through Reagan would have had more space to work in, but they did not. It was nice to see that the evil liberal media had to sit in cramp quarters at the back of the plane. No need for them to bother the president.
A version of Marine One
, the helicopter still used by American presidents, was also on display. It too seemed smaller than I imagined.
Here is a chase vehicle for Reagan's presidential motorcade. It looks like a prelude to the SUV.
It is joined by Reagan's presidential limo.
Nearby is a balcony with a very scenic outlook.
Also nearby is a gift shop, where one can buy jelly beans. That was a nice touch.
The replica of the Oval Office, something each presidential library has, was a particularly nice one. You can really see Reagan's sense of Western rustic style here, with brown being a dominant color of the office.
Good libraries have things like this: Reagan's farewell letter to the public. On November 5, 1994, the former president announced that he had Alzheimer's disease, and that he would not be doing any more public events. It was the last great moment of Reagan's life, and one that I remember very clearly.
Nearby, a shrine to Nancy Reagan
is on display. She was pretty hot as a young one, too bad Ronnie got to her first.
Although the more that I learned about her, I realized she's not my type.
Oh wait, she's talking about not doing drugs
. Ohhhh. I can agree with that.
Just as the museum begins to have good moments, it does stuff like this: it has a replica of the Berlin Wall on display. Why put up a replica? You have access to the real thing. Things like this, where you could not tell what was real from what was an illusion, was the liberal criticism of the Reagan years. It was annoying that the museum would unwittingly feed into it.
Here is a real piece of the Berlin Wall
. They should have just left things at that.
There are parts of the museum that cannot be matched, however.
One is the burial place of Ronald Wilson Reagan.
Inscribed on his tomb is the quote, "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".
Reagan has quite a view.
The gift shop is a reality check though. This "God Bless America" shirt was made in Pakistan, of all places. God blesses us, but not enough to have a garment industry. Oh well.
At times, I wondered if liberals invaded the museum to make it vapid and free of any detail and advocacy for Reagan's causes. It's the only possible explanation, because one does not leave this place with any greater sense about the 40th president of the United States than they left with it.
When I visited the Lyndon Johnson library
, I learned a lot about the man and his time, and had similar experiences when going to the FDR, Nixon, and Carter libraries. Real history happened from 1981-1989 and beyond, yet this place makes very little effort to state that case.
The campus is beautiful though. They have nice flowers and a very good view. I just wish there was more of a library to go along with it.
RELATED LINKS:America's Treasures