With the 100th anniversary of his birth just a month away, admirers of former President Ronald Reagan will have a unique opportunity to see rarely displayed artifacts of the Reagan legacy, from a marked-up draft of his 1983 "evil empire" speech to keepsakes from the Gipper's Santa Barbara, Calif., ranch.
The National Archives on Wednesday offered a sneak peak at what will be a yearlong rotating exhibit of Reagan documents and memorabilia. The exhibit, which opens to the public Friday, is part of a major celebration of Reagan's life and presidency inspired by the centennial of his birth Feb. 6.
Though much of the exhibit focuses on Reagan's efforts to end the Cold War, curators also have attempted to show a more complete and vivid picture of the former Republican president and conservative icon.
The exhibit will also highlight Reagan's "generous sense of humor and optimism," said Sharon Fawcett, the archives' presidential libraries director.
"He prided himself on fulfilling a full life," she said, "and he also was a Western movie star who could actually ride a horse."
Reagan became known for his amiable disposition, humor, and grace under pressure, even joking with doctors and wife Nancy after a failed 1981 assassination attempt.
But the exhibit also shows the two-term president's no-nonsense rhetoric in his efforts to end the Cold War.
"First, I am determined to do all I can to get our relationship on a more constructive course," Reagan wrote on a series of "talking points" cards before a private meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze in September 1985. "I'm still not sure we are communicating with each other effectively."
The four-part exhibit draws from roughly 45 million pages of documents and other items from the extensive Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif.
Mr. Reagan, a Democrat-turned-Republican who also served two terms as governor of California, died in 1994 at 93. He was born Feb. 6, 1911, in Tampico, Ill.
The first part of the exhibit focuses on Reagan's foreign policy and closes in April. The three other parts highlight his reputation as the "Great Communicator," his presidential style and his relationship to the American West.
Ms. Fawcett and Reagan library archivist Michael Duggan said the final exhibit could include Reagan's cowboy boots, a Western belt buckle, diary excerpts, or perhaps riding gear.
"The exhibit is kind of small, so I'm not real sure about a saddle," Ms. Fawcett said.
Fragments of the last Soviet SS-20 missile are included in the exhibit, but visitors will likely consider the centerpiece to be several pages of the neatly typed and double-spaced "evil empire" speech, delivered by Mr. Reagan in March 1983 before the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Fla.
Using a black fine-point marker, Mr. Reagan edits the document in ways big and small — from minor punctuation changes to crossing out entire paragraphs.
"So in your discussions of the nuclear-freeze proposals, I urge you to beware of the temptation . . . to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding," Reagan wrote.
Anthony Dolan, the speechwriter widely thought to have crafted that paragraph, said years later he merely created a draft copy from Reagan's words, and their impact came from the president's powerful 32-minute speech.
Mr. Duggan said he helped assemble the exhibit in part with the idea of trying to show visitors how Reagan moved from condemning the "evil empire" to negotiating with Soviet leaders to cut nuclear arsenals on the basis of "trust but verify."
But he also acknowledged thinking: "What are the coolest things we have?"
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