Friday, February 06, 2009

Midwestern Presidential Pathway: Tampico, Ronald Reagan's birthplace

I was born February 6, 1911, in a flat above the local bank in Tampico, Illinois. According to family legend, when my father ran up the stairs and looked at his newborn son, he quipped: "He looks like a fat little Dutchman. But who knows, he might grow up to be president some day."
Ronald Reagan, An American Life.

Tampico is a tiny town, almost bereft of traffic, and people. It claims to have 800 residents, but most internet sources place its current population at 730.

The long since-closed H.C. Pitney store brought the Reagan family to Tampico twice. Dutch's father was a salesmen there in 1911, and after several moves, the Reagans returned to Tampico in 1919--so Reagan's father could manage the store.

The mural on the left is on the north wall of Jack's old workplace.

Although it is open to visitors today, the 98th anniversary of the great president's birth, the birthplace is only open to visitors from April through October, and during weekends in March. You can call for an appointment, there is a sign on the front door the adjoining museum that says "We can be here in a few minutes." But I didn't have the heart to call the afternoon I was there last month--it was bone- chillingly cold, and whomever I would have called, I was sure, would be happier inside a warm home.

Like most Midwestern towns of its size, Tampico's "skyline" consists of a grain elevator and a few churches.

Reagan's emotional ties to Dixon were much stronger, but Reagan made a final trip to Tampico in 1992, which Edmund Morris recounted the visit in his controversial, if not discredited biography Dutch. He writes compellingly about that return, but since Morris wrote a somewhat fictionalized account of Reagan's life, so I don't know what to believe from that book. A few years ago I read, I think in the Chicago Reader, that the residents of Tampico were quite upset with Morris' book--he referred to them as "a corn fed lot."

But in fact Reagan passed over Tampico one last time. After his state funeral in Washington, the plane carrying his casket flew over Tampico--and tipped its wings.

Earlier posts:

Midwestern Presidential Pathway: Dixon, a shining city upon a hill

Midwestern Presidential Pathway: Ronald Reagan's Dixon, Illinois

Midwestern Presidential Pathway: Herbert Hoover Library and Museum

Midwestern Presidential Pathway: Herbert Hoover Birthplace

Midwestern Presidential Pathway: Where Grant worked as a clerk

Midwestern Presidential Pathway: Mrs. Butterworth

Midwestern Presidential Pathway: Ulysses S. Grant Home

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