On a recent three-hour tour of the Ronald Reagan Library with this author’s dear friends, Linda Concepcion – Gaa (widow of former Ambassador Gaa) and college chum, Melanie De Leon, our leisurely summer day began early to avoid traffic all the way to Simi Valley, where this author has once lived six years before the Northridge earthquake. While there, this author has witnessed the construction of the 100-acre library and its progress.
The Reagan Library is perched up on a “majestic “ hill with its spectacular view of Santa Susana mountains in Ventura County , overlooking as far east to the Pacific Ocean. The Reagan Library’s “lush gardens and serene setting is a replica of the White House’s Rose Garden and the White House’s South Lawn. The Library is Reagan’s legacy where visitors can participate in their year-round events and exhibits while at the same time getting immersed in learning everything about President Reagan and his values.
As a Presidential Library “administered by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the Reagan Library, under the auspices of the Presidential Records Act, is the repository of presidential records of President Reagan’s administration.,
What’s interesting for the three of us to see in the Presidential Library are “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 video tape, and over 40,000 artifacts. There are more than 200 works of art and historically significant objects are displayed at the library-museum.”
The first part of the exhibits include a replica of the Oval Office, where each president decorates the Oval Office to suit his taste. Historical data has it that “on an early October morning in 1909, President William Howard Taft became the first President to walk into the Oval office, located in the center of the south side of the West Wing. However, in 1934,during the Franklin Roosevelt administration, the Oval Office was moved to its current location within the West Wing, to the southeast corner, overlooking the Rose Garden.
Then President Reagan, inspired by the West, added earthy colors, western art, including a collection of bronze saddles, and of course a jar of jelly bellies for his desk!” As we peered through the workspace, we noticed two plaques that President Reagan kept in his desk: one said: “It can be done;” and the other was “”There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.”
Walking through the Museum’s part of the Library, we experienced the numerous interactive displays in the galleries, mostly referencing a tribute to “America’s 40th President and his accomplishments , by capturing his patriotic spirit, his respect for individual liberty, his belief in global democracy and his support of economic opportunity.”
Though the three of us have all been to Rome and the Vatican, the Library’s current exclusive West Coast exhibit “Roman Splendors: A Journey Through Faith And Art,” was previously housed at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia where the exhibit coincided with the historic Papal visit of Pope Francis. It is a “10,000 square foot exhibition comprising one of the largest Vatican collections touring the US, including an extraordinary collection of historical and religious objects, dating back to the first century, as well as works of art by Michelangelo including one of his signed documents and a bas relief sculpture, along with other creative works by: Bernini, Guercino and others.”
The three of us felt mesmerized, feeling transported back to the Vatican, experiencing the “underground catacombs where the remains of Saint Peter were discovered while the magnificent papal chambers, on the other hand, were found above ground.”
Also, among the awesome exhibits were: the re-creation of the Sistine Chapel, where we were able to view the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling 10 feet away, enabling us to experience Michelangelo masterpiece. Also, among the impressive items on display was a bronze cast of Pope John Paul II’s hand (which we were able to grasp). Apparently, “during the 1980’s both President Reagan and Pope John Paul II forged a faith-based friendship as they fought communism and the former Soviet Union.”
Other religious and historical artifacts include: “venerated remains (bone fragments) of Saints Peter and Paul , artifacts discovered at the tombs of saints Peter and Paul, and historical objects from the modern and ancient basilica of Saint Peter’s in Rome. These objects are presented in galleries worldwide, whose purpose is to “enhance the its historical and artistic significance.”
Other exhibits worth noting were: a tile from the roof of the ancient Saint Mary Major Basilica in Rome, a rare letter and a signed document of Michelangelo, which showed the “tenuous relationship the artist had with Pope Julius II, who continually pushed for the completion date of the project, and Michelangelo’s response, complaining about the quality of materials from the suppliers, which the Pope had brought on to assist him – that they were not the best quality materials for what the Pope was paying.”
All of the grandiose items in the “Vatican Splendors” exhibit will be returned to the Vatican from which they cannot be absent for more than a year.
A significant portion of the Reagan Library also includes the history and the many responsibilities of the United States Secret Service. “America’s elite federal law enforcement agency.” In 1983, then President Reagan was quoted as saying: “were it not for the brave efforts of Secret Service Agents, I might not be here today, These Federal Agents, without a doubt, face dangers and perhaps tragedy, everyday.”
For this author, it was quite an experience to read the History of the United States Secret Service. The Agency was established “after three Presidents were assassinated: Presidents Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley, thus agents were officially assigned to protect the President. However, Presidential candidates also were given Secret Service protection after the death of Senator Robert Kennedy. The significance of the Secret Service Agents become recognizable during motorcades, when agents travel with the President in sleek black limousines with darkened windows and advanced technologies. And, one of the Secret Service’s major responsibilities was to learn how to detect devious counterfeit money being transacted worldwide.”
The last part of the exhibit includes then President Reagan’s Air Force One airplane and helicopter. The history of Air Force One, Tail Number 27000, according to its brochure, was a Boeing 707 and it was accepted into the Air Force on August 4, 1972 after 200 hours of testing. President Richard Nixon was the first president to use it in February, 1973 from Andrews Air Force Base to Chicago. This particular Tail Number 27000 has subsequently flown seven U.S. presidents: Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, H.W. Bush, Clinton and W. Bush.
The opportunity of going inside the cabin of the 52-passenger, plus crew of the Air Force One, used by seven of our presidents, certainly gave us the feeling of finally grasping the outstanding and significant roles these leaders have done to make the United State of America a great country to reckon.