I’m a Reagan tourist who has visited most of the sites: the birthplace in Tampico, Ill., the boyhood home in Dixon, Ill., the ranch near Santa Barbara, Calif., the “Reagan Hilton” where he was almost assassinated in Washington, D.C., the statue in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, the presidential library and gravesite in Simi Valley, Calif. If I can figure out how to get to the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site in the Marshall Islands, I’ll go there, too.
Each place has a story that you may not hear unless you go there. Here’s my favorite, which I heard in 1998, when I was reporting on a congressional race. The district was in rural Illinois and it included Tampico (pronounced “TAM-pick-oh”), the tiny town that saw Reagan come into the world a hundred years ago, in a second-floor apartment above what was once a bakery.
I stopped by the small museum run by the local historical society and met Lloyd and Anne McElhiney, the elderly couple who looked after the place. They sold me a 25-cent postcard that featured a photo of Lloyd’s. It showed the row of red brick buildings along Tampico’s Main Street. The sky is gray with rain clouds, but the sun pierces through and lights up Reagan’s birthplace. A rainbow shines down from above, hitting it directly. “Almost like Providence,” said Lloyd, who snapped the picture on November 3, 1980.
The next day, Reagan was elected president.