On Friday, I finally made it to the Reagan Presidential Library. Over the years, I’ve been to all of the other key Reagan sites: the birthplace in Tampico, Ill., the boyhood home in Dixon, Ill., and the ranch in Santa Monica, Calif. (wonderfully preserved by the Young America’s Foundation). Each one has its attractions, and it’s difficult to say which is “best.” The library is surely the grandest, with its large museum that features an actual Air Force One plane and its sweeping views of Simi Valley. It’s on top of a hill–such an important Reagan memorial needs to be on a hill, if only for the symbolism. It’s also the least personal of the sites. Although Reagan is buried on the grounds, he never actually lived there. It wasn’t his home. (In front of the tomb, there was a fresh wreath of white flowers, placed in honor of Reagan’s latest birthday, courtesy of President Bush: a nice touch.)
Yet the library has its charms, such as copies of his sticky-sweet notes to Nancy, the famous microphone from Nashua, and–a personal favorite–a Detroit Red Wings hockey puck inscribed to Reagan and signed by Gordie Howe. Other highlights include a colorful section of the Berlin Wall and a copy of Reagan’s diary open to the day he was shot (“Getting shot hurts,” he deadpans, in his squiggly script). The bookstore was okay but could have been better. I saw copies of David McCullough’s biography of John Adams, which is well and good, but not copies of excellent books on Reagan by Steve Hayward, John O’Sullivan, Peter Robinson, and Peter Schweizer, which was disappointing. But that’s a small complaint about a magnificent place. Any conservative who finds himself in the L.A. area should find the time to visit.