Last Saturday after hearing about the special exhibition from the Vatican Museum of Rome, Italy, to be held at the Ronald Reagan Library, I made the daring trip to the location in Simi Valley, barely conquering the infamous 5 North freeway. I arrived at around 11:30 am to find the main parking lot is packed and I had to park at the foot of the hill where the building is actually located. Luckily they had free shuttle service around the clock to take us up those treacherous hills and along the way got a scenic view of the city, which, sadly, is in dire need of rain, just like the rest of Southern California still weighed down by the severe drought, no thanks to the El Nino of course.
The shuttle let us off at the front of the library’s entrance, entering through a lush courtyard. We had to wait in line to enter the lobby, where the ushers let patrons in one by one. It felt like the line at a Disneyland ride. The best thing is to preorder the tickets online, which I did, and with the helpful discount from ABC7, and that line goes much faster.
The line for the Vatican exhibit began just outside of the lobby opposite of the entrance, and and learned it would be at least an hour before I would get to set foot inside the gallery. An hour! Did I mention it was like a Disneyland ride? Before getting in line for that painful wait I decided to take a quick stroll around, walking on what is the replica of the White House’s South Lawn, and down the wiggly path that would lead to the burial site of the 44th President and his wife, who had passed away just earlier this year. The garden also featured an actual piece of the infamous Berlin Wall that was dismantled during his presidency marking the end of the divided Germany and beginning of a more democratic state.
Afterwards I head on over to the line, seeing that it has grown in the last fifteen minutes. The line moved at a snail like pace eventually leading back into the main lobby and to the left was the entrance to the gallery exhibit, the same place that would lead to the permanent collection of all things Reagan, including the authentic Air Force One (more on that later).
Finally an hour later I made it into the Vatican gallery. It was dark and narrow, and adding the mass crowd, I was in for a slow ride down the collection of some of the finest artifacts ever brought from the Vatican Museum. Since I don’t know when I’ll ever get to travel to Italy I might as well get a taste of it here on US ground, where it’s cheaper and little safer than actually traveling there, considering the constant threat of terror attacks that has ravaged much of Europe in the past years since 9/11. The exhibit chronicles the rich history of the Vatican and its influence on world religion, and prominently features artifacts related to the traditional Catholic religion, such as the tomb fragments of the well known martyrs like Saint Peter and Saint Paul, the arts depicting popular Biblical scenes (made by famous artists such as Michaelangelo and Bernini), items and ceremonial attires used in the Catholic masses exclusive to the Vatican, and portraits and sculptures of over 500 Popes that have served throughout history, up to the present pope, Francis I. Most notable of the popes is John Paul II, who has had diplomatic ties with Reagan during his presidency, and it is prominently presented here (click on each image for bigger picture).
After about 40 minutes I finish the exhibit and the exit lead through the Gift Shop, though I didn’t really buy anything. I make a U turn back into the main lobby and head to the exhibit hall again, this time to the Reagan exhibit. The gallery was well planned, chronicling the President’s life from his humble beginnings in his Illinois birthplace, to his service in the Army, to his stint as a Hollywood actor, to his charting down the political road first as governor of California and to the steps of the White House where he served two terms engaging in many noted historical events such as the American Recession of the 80s, the Cold War, the threats of Communism, and surviving an assassination attempt. The exhibit includes an actual replica of the Oval Office where Reagan did most of his presidential work.
There was also an exhibit dedicated to the First Lady, Nancy Reagan, and her unique contribution to the president’s term in the office, included with the Reagans’ White House memorabilia. They even included some memorial keepsakes from her funeral that was held at the Library earlier this year.
Afterwards I was led down a hall toward a huge hangar-like structure where the Air Force One was parked, along with the Marine One chopper that seem so paltry beside the much gargantuan aircraft. You get to walk through a short hall of documentation of the Air Force One’s history and its itineraries during Reagan’s tenure. From there there was another long line to enter the interior of the aircraft, a rare chance to get up close and personal inside the President’s famous mode of transportation.
Exiting at the tail end of the Air Force One led downstairs to display of the President’s motorcade and the Marine One chopper, which also had a line but I didn’t care much for, I’m sure it would pale in comparison to Air Force One. Hungry after nearly four hours of walking and sightseeing I decide to grab a quick bite over at the Ronald Reagan Bar& Café that sells sandwiches and beers and other usual café delicacies. And oh, I almost forgot, Reagan loved jellybeans, so you’ll be sure to find a bag or two of these chewy sweet treats courtesy of Jelly Belly.
After I finish downing a half sandwich and a Snapple (I contemplated getting a bottle of beer but then I had to drive back home) I walked back up to the second floor and was surprised to learn the exhibit was far from finished. It was another twenty minute walkthrough to what was the later part of Reagan years, from his retirement to his love for horseback riding and ultimately to his battle with Alzheimer’s disease that would take him on June 5, 2004. I remember watching the live telecast of his funeral procession; all highways were closed off for his motorcade to pass to the final resting place here at the Library.
Unfortunately the Vatican exhibit will close on the eleventh of this month September (originally it was slated to close on Aug. 28, which was the day that I went, but luckily for me they had extended it), so if you read this now and are interested you should blaze on out there and catch the magic of the Vatican before it vanished forever. And be sure to preorder the ticket online at www.reaganfoundation.org/ for easier access. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, as I did; and even if you do miss the Vatican exhibit there’s plenty of other stuff there to see. The photos above don’t nearly do justice and I know some came out rather scratchy; I can’t help but blame the fast moving crowd for it.
Until next time…