The glowing tributes bestowed on Ronald Reagan in recent weeks are nothing new in Simi Valley, Calif. Reagan's legacy has been burnished and polished here for more than a decade.
The "Great Communicator's" official showplace, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum, welcomed visitors less than three years after he grandly left office in January 1989.
Located high in the Simi Hills just off Ronald Reagan Freeway, the 40th president's museum not only reviews his life but offers a spectacular view. At its entrance is another eye-catcher, a bronze statue of Reagan in cowboy garb with a Stetson in hand. Titled "After the Ride" and sculpted in 1998 by Glenna Goodacre, it's a gift from longtime Reagan friend Edward Gaylord.
The Reagan gift shop helps keep the legacy alive too. Visitors can take home a 5-CD set titled "Speaking My Mind: Selected Speeches of Ronald Reagan." Books autographed by Reagan sell for $1,500 (none currently are available), and for an extra $250 you can get his wife, Nancy's, signature, too. You won't find the controversial Reagan biography "Dutch," by historian Edmund Morris.
Reagan literally had a say in how the museums presented his legacy. The former president recorded a series of reminiscences before Alzheimer's disease began stealing his past. The trip down memory lanes is mostly without potholes.
"The Early Years" wing in the Reagan museum is adorned with coming-of-age memorabilia ranging from one of his favorite books as a kid (The Rover Boys at Big Bear Lake) to his maroon Eureka College varsity letter sweater. Mom's favorite green popcorn dish also has a place of honor.
Reagan, in a continuous audio track, quotes Dad as saying, "He looks like a fat little Dutchman. And who knows, he might grow up to be president someday."
The museum's full-scale replica of Big Dutch's Oval Office gives voice to Reagan's description of himself as "just the latest temporary occupant ... I almost never removed my suit coat. Somehow, casual attire seemed out of place here."
History is paramount here, but kitsch and sentiment likewise are abundant.
The museum houses the TRULUV canoe that Ron lovingly paddled Nancy in. They were married more than 50 years ago on March 4, 1952.
Visitors also can see George Gipp's letter sweater, presented to Reagan in 1989 by the national champion Notre Dame football team. He played "The Gipper" in 1940's corny but enduring "Knute Rockne: All-American." Posters from some of Reagan's other feature films also are displayed, including "Stallion Road," "Naughty But Nice" and, yes, "Bedtime for Bonzo," in which his co-star was a rambunctious chimp.
The museum has an imposing chunk of the Berlin Wall - 100 feet away from where the late president is entombed in a garden crypt - and a separate wing for the first lady. The beaded, silver gown Nancy Reagan wore to her husband's 1985 inaugural ball is glass-encased.
A new exhibit, "Mourning in America," opened July 4. It will focus on the funeral ceremonies and tributes that followed Reagan's death June 5 at age 93.
IF YOU GO
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library And Museum, 40 Presidential Drive, Simi Valley, CA 93065; (800) 410-8354 or (805) 577-4000; fax: (805) 577-4074.
HOURS: Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. The Library Research Room is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and closed on all federal holidays. The Reagan Country Cafe is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
MUSEUM ADMISSION: General, $7; Seniors, $5; Children 11-17, $2; Children 10 and under, free. Groups of 20 or more are asked to call for information
From Los Angeles and points south, take the 405 North to the 118 West. Exit at Madera Road South. Turn right on Madera. Proceed 3 miles to Presidential Drive.
From Santa Barbara and points north, take the 101 South to the 23 North, Exit at Olsen Road. Turn right on Olsen. Proceed 2 miles to Presidential Drive.
Follow Presidential Drive up the hill to the library, follow signs for parking.