Sunday, February 06, 2011

Report from Tampico, Illinois on Reagan's 100th birthday

It was an inauspicious start to February 6, 2011--the 100th birthday of the greatest president of the 20th century, Ronald Wilson Reagan. Snow--just five days after the third-worst blizzard in northern Illinois history. Driving on rural interstates and highways is challenging when it snows, but luckily, the flakes stopped falling in the middle of the morning and I left Morton Grove for Tampico--127 miles away in Whiteside County.

A much larger celebration was held today at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, which ABC Radio and NPR reported on it--I was listening to the radio on the drive home. As far as mainstream media presence, I only encountered a photographer and reporter--very nice folks, by the way--from the Quad Cities' Dispatch-Argus. Click here for their report. And courtesy of the paper, you will see me checking my email on my Android phone here inside the Reagan birthplace.

As for the Marathon Pundit report, all of the photos for this post were taken this afternoon.

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.

But the Reagans moved out of the apartment when "Dutch" was three months old, so can hardly expect to remember what was below him when he came into the world. He was born above a bakery. The bank purchased the building in 1919--the Reagans did their banking there.

Ronald, as well as his older brother Neil, were born in bedroom pictured above. None of the furnishings in the Tampico apartment are original, but they are period pieces. From the window of that room you can see the Reagan mural.

The first floor of the Reagan birthplace has been restored to look as it did almost 100 years ago. Visitors are lining up for the first day issue of the Reagan forever postage stamp--"tellers" are assisting them.

The Reagans' second home in Tampico was on Glassburn Street. If you are in the market for an historic home, then head to northwestern Illinois, the Reagan house is for sale. In Edmund Morris' largely discredited Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan, the author noted when Ronald and Nancy visited Tampico in 1990, the occupants at the time "had no desire to welcome him." He added, "Judging by the number of major appliances on the stoop, they were not Reagan Republicans." Of course the Gipper would never have uttered anything like that.

The Reagans moved around a lot. After leaving Tampico, they lived on Chicago's South Side, Galesburg, and Monmouth, before returning to Tampico in 1919. Reagan's father Jack came back to manage the H.C. Pitney Variety Store, where he worked when Ronald was born, During their second stint in Tampico they resided above the shop. When he was living in the White House, Reagan liked to quip that he was "living above the store again."

The birthday party was held in the Tampico Historical Museum. When I saw that cake, I told a volunteer, "It's so beautiful, it's a shame to cut it." Along with cake, punch and coffee were served. Tired from the drive, I downed two cups of java.

The Tampico centennial celebration would not have been possible without the hard work of volunteers--most of them elderly. On the left is one of them, Geri Cassenes of nearby Prophetstown. She explained to me that the rows of seats now housed in the museum are from Tampico's since-closed movie theater--and she sat in one of them while watching Gone With The Wind in 1939--its first run. On the right is Kelsey Vandike of Peoria.

Happy birthday, Ronnie!
Another volunteer, Bill Wildoff, told me that 200 people, including a couple from Norway, visited the birthplace by mid-afternoon. Just 800 people live in Tampico. Wildoff was my tour guide inside the birthplace. When he was asked by Brandy Donaldson of the Dispatch-Argus why Tampico was important to the Gipper, Wildoff replied, "If you don't have a good foundation, you collapse. And it was here (in Tampico) that he grew." Wildoff, who told me he lived "in the country" nearby, reiterated that statement to me in the museum and then declared, "Tampico is the foundation."

Tampico is where he lived above the store.

Look for a few more Reagan posts in the next few days.


Genevieve Netz said...

I enjoyed your photos and the account of your visit. Glad you had a safe trip!

Cal Skinner said...

The bed looks like one I bought from the estate of Mary Yates, the first female McHenry County Board member.

alexb said...

Thanks for this.
From a Northern Neighbour (Toronto).

Will Fairchild said...

Dan Rutherford is a genuine person that I am delighted to say is a state-wide office holder in Illinois.
He narrates an interesting tour and I was glad to happen across this.
I very much agree with Mr. Rutherford's opinion that Ronald Reagan was the Greatest American President of the 20th Century.