Under mournful skies, a motorcade carried former President Reagan along miles of cleared freeways from a Santa Monica funeral home to his presidential library near Simi Valley on Monday, the first step in a weeklong journey to the nation's Capitol and back.
On the hilltop campus where he eventually will be buried, a grieving Nancy Reagan pressed a cheek to her husband's flag-draped coffin, and thousands of other mourners arrived by the busload to shuffle past the bier.
Reagan's body will lie in repose at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library until Wednesday morning, when it will be flown to Washington to lie in state at the Capitol. After funeral services Friday, the body will be returned to the library grounds for a private interment. Reagan died Saturday at his Bel-Air home at 93.
A popular president in life, Reagan has prompted an outpouring of adoration in death that no American politician has evoked since the 1960s assassinations of John F. and Robert F. Kennedy.
Crowds began gathering before dawn at Moorpark College, from which shuttle buses would take visitors to the nearby Reagan library beginning at noon. Other people made an early morning pilgrimage to the Kingsley & Gates, Moller & Murphy Funeral Home in Santa Monica, where Nancy Reagan and other family members assembled to accompany Reagan's hearse on the late morning drive to Simi Valley.
Wearing a black suit and a string of large pearls, the former first lady walked slowly, stopping to look at the mortuary lawn, which was strewn with flags, signs, bouquets and balloons. More than 200 people stood in the morning chill and applauded her.
Among them was Ilona Guillemet, who came to the United States 25 years ago from Hungary. Reagan, she said, "was the only president I know who wasn't afraid of the Russians. He stood up to them."
A Girl Scout, too young to have been born when Reagan left office in 1989, carried a sign reading: "Farewell President Reagan. Thank you for making America the greatest place to live."
On the other end of the spectrum were those old enough to remember Reagan the film star, and to have followed his political career since his first, successful campaign for governor of California in 1966.
Ann Thompson of Pacific Palisades, who showed up at 6 a.m., said she had bet a friend that Reagan would be victorious in that first election. She mailed the $50 winning check to the new governor, asking for an autograph. He complied and also sent a letter.
"He said, 'Make more bets,' " Thompson recalled. "I've been an avid booster ever since. I just knew California was ready for him, just like I knew the nation was ready for him when he won for president."
As the procession made its way down Wilshire Boulevard just after 10 a.m., Eileen Schanda was one of hundreds of people waiting on the sidewalk to catch a glimpse.
"I got very emotional, and I didn't think I would," Schanda said. "I came down here to get as close to him on his last ride home."
Perhaps the years have eased the anger that Reagan once evoked among liberals, or perhaps his political antagonists stayed away out of respect, spite or indifference. For whatever reason, the glowing remembrances were countered by only the mildest criticism.
Deborah Smith of West Los Angeles said "pure curiosity" prompted her to show up with her teenage son, Ryan. "I am not a fan at all," she said. "The word 'civil rights' never came out of his mouth."
The motorcade turned north onto the San Diego Freeway, which had been cleared by the California Highway Patrol, and cruised over empty lanes in a sedate journey highlighted by small, reverential crowds gathered on many of the overpasses along the way.
A squad of about 10 firefighters raised their ladders in an inverted "V" on the Mulholland Drive overpass and draped a giant American flag in salute.
The honor, normally reserved for firefighters fallen in the line of duty, was meant to show how Reagan was beloved by those in public safety for his policies and character, said Capt. Bill Dakin of the 10th Battalion.
The Passing of a President