Reagan museum gets an update aimed at attracting young

Feb 3 2011 - 3:34pm

Images

David Yamamoto / Special to the Ventura County Star/SHNS
The interactive game 'Rebuilding America' is part of a new display at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif. Its director, Duke Blackwood, tests the game.
David Yamamoto / Special to the Ventura County Star/SHNS
Visitors to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum can use an Apple iTouch to take photos and video.
David Yamamoto / Special to the Ventura County Star/SHNS
The interactive game 'Rebuilding America' is part of a new display at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif. Its director, Duke Blackwood, tests the game.
David Yamamoto / Special to the Ventura County Star/SHNS
Visitors to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum can use an Apple iTouch to take photos and video.

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. -- For many Americans, the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan's 's life on March 30, 1981 by John Hinckley Jr. is a vivid memory.

But officials at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif., acknowledged many of the museum's younger visitors weren't even born when that and other historic events in Reagan's life happened, and they can't comprehend the impact.

The ability to keep younger visitors engaged, while still appealing to an older audience, was one of the main reasons the Reagan Museum has undergone a major renovation of 30,000-square-feet of its exhibit space, library officials said.

"We paid particular attention to the fact that there's a new generation that wasn't even alive when President Reagan was president, so we had to use technology and tell the story better to keep both kids and 96-year-olds engaged," said John Heubusch, executive director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation.

Finishing touches on the new exhibits were still being installed this week. Nancy Reagan will cut the opening ribbon Sunday during an invitation-only event to celebrate what would have been Reagan's 100th birthday.

Almost 10,000 people are expected to see the new museum this weekend.

The $15 million museum renovation, called the "centerpiece of the centennial" by library officials, will open Monday to the general public.

The renovation has been in the planning stages for two years, and has taken approximately a year to construct, Heubusch said.

In the new museum, 17 exhibit spaces will take visitors chronologically through Reagan's life, from his youth in Dixon, Ill., to his funeral and burial at the Reagan Library in June 2004.

In one exhibit, visitors walk through a hall that gives them the experience of exiting the Washington Hilton, as Reagan did before the assassination attempt.

The exhibit shows a screen playing 22 seconds of footage from three different angles of gunshots, the chaos, and a screeching limousine taking the president to the hospital.

"It's a very jarring experience," said Heubusch.

Visitors can appear in a movie with Ronald Reagan and see a video replay it when they are done, or walk through a realistic re-creation of the Berlin Wall as it once stood between East and West Germany.

Other exhibits allow visitors to give an inaugural address while reading a teleprompter, design White House china, virtually flip through six volumes of Reagan's diaries, re-create riding a horse alongside Reagan at his ranch in Santa Barbara, and even play stock games and see how well they would have done at the end of his presidency.

Many artifacts appear throughout the exhibits, including a Bible that Reagan used when he took the oath of office, the suit he wore during his Berlin Wall address, as well as the one he wore during the assassination attempt.

Also on display is the letter Reagan wrote to the American people when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

Visitors can use iTouch devices loaded with technology that will allow them to take photos and film that will be e-mailed to them later.

Heubusch said the museum will seem like a new experience even to those who have been there before.

"We tried to build a new museum to showcase the president's life, what he stood for, but we tried to do it in a new, different way so they're captivated by the story," he said. "We think we've accomplished that."

Starting Monday, the museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.. Admission is $12 for adults, $9 for seniors, $6 for youth 11-17, and free for children younger than 11.

(Michele Willer-Allred is a reporter for the Ventura County Star in California)

From Around the Web

  +