Grief Tourism

Travel to areas affected by natural disasters, places where people were murdered, etc.

Farewell to Ronald Reagan

19th August 2006

Ronald Wilson Reagan, 40th president of the U.S., died in Santa Monica, California, on June 5, 2004, at the age of 93.  For many of us, Reagan had been gone for over 10 years, a slow fading away in the progressive stages of Alzheimer’s disease.  Perhaps, as his memory began to fail, we too chose to forget. 

The week of mourning began on June 7 when the casket was moved from the funeral home to the lobby of the Reagan Presidential Library at Simi Valley.  Two days later, it was flown to Washington, D.C., where world and religious leaders attended official funeral services, wreaths were laid, and eulogies were given.  Subsequently, the viewing was opened to the public and an incredible 200,000 or more came to pay their respects and be a part of history.  On June11, following the official proclamation of mourning, the funeral procession began its long journey down Constitution Avenue to the Capitol Rotunda.  While crowds of people, his supporters, his critics, his allies, and his enemies lined the streets, the media reveled in the pomp and tradition of this grandiose production.  This time there were no vociferous protests against Reagan’s eternal optimism and conservative politics, but a somber silence as people seemed unabashed in their sentimentality or momentary grief.  Someone in the crowd commented, “I didn’t know he had died, until I bought the commemorative newspaper.”  Sadly enough, many others did not know or even care, but in a strange characteristic of human nature, their curiosity aroused, rushed for a chance to say goodbye. 

After the official state funeral service at the Washington Cathedral, attended by 4,000 invitees, the casket was flown on Air Force One to California and carried in a 25-mile motorcade for interment at the Reagan Memorial Library.  A smaller group of about 700 people, family, close friends, and a number of Hollywood celebrities gathered at the mortuary for the Friday sunset service.  The outdoor fountain was covered with flowers, candles, teddy bears, old photographs, and jars of jellybeans.  While photographers took close-ups of Ronnie’s Tinseltown friends, some recall the humor in his words “How can a president not be an actor?” 

It is always interesting to note that the birthplace of famous people is seldom visited or even recognized as being more than a small dot on the map until their death.  Today, however, Dixon has become famous and now there are three presidents from Illinois to add even more interest and sightseeing attraction to grief tourism.  With the death of Reagan, part of the Interstate Hwy 88 was named the Ronald Reagan Memorial Highway, in an effort to attract more visitors to the area.  Today more than 350 arrive each day to visit Tampico, the boyhood home of “Dutch” Reagan, the high school football star.  Just as many visit the Peace Garden memorial at his alma mater, Eureka College, more than likely to view a piece of the Berlin Wall.  Numerous notable landmarks and memorials, highways, exhibits, institutions, airports, and public and government buildings have been named in his honor.

More than one million people have visited The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California since its opening in 1991.  Open every day from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day, admission is $12.00 for ages 16 – 61;  $9.00 for 62 and over; $3.00 for 11-17, and under 11 free.  The Library has an extensive research collection that includes the years of his presidency, governorship, and acting career; DVDs of the funeral procession, election materials, and speeches.  There is a shorter recording of the highlights of his many accomplishments through the years, narrated by the President himself, including those private moments on Air Force One and treasured photos of home and family.  The Air Force One Pavilion, connected to the Presidential Library by a replica of the White House Rose Garden, represents a tribute to his achievements as a great communicator and promoter of peace around the world.

It is not for us to question the dramatization or the choreography of the final scene, but to reflect upon the man himself, his humor, and his down-to-earth appeal for many of us.  Whether our visits are prompted by grief, nostalgia, or nothing more than morbid curiosity, it is worthwhile to reflect upon the words he wrote for his own epitaph “I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph and there is purpose and worth to each and every life.” 
Sharon L. Slayton

One Response to “Farewell to Ronald Reagan”

  1. Bob Casey Says:

    I continue to enjoy Sharon’s work. She is a superb writer. I am publishing one of her pieces in my next newsletter, The Poetical Journal, that goes out next Sunday.