Crowds turn out to see hearse pass
By Rene Sanchez
SANTA MONICA, Calif. On the sidewalks outside the Little Chapel of the Dawn, they came carrying American flags and digital cameras, waiting in silence for the hearse.
Outside the Ronald W. Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, mourners dropped flowers at the base of a statue depicting the late president and former actor in cowboy attire. After Reagan's death was announced, library officials ushered out all visitors and began preparing for his burial there, which is scheduled for Wednesday. In the stately enclave of Bel Air, where Reagan and his wife, Nancy, lived for decades, police blocked streets to keep legions of well-wishers from invading the family's privacy. And here in Santa Monica, a crowd in shorts and sunglasses spent hours waiting for Reagan's body to arrive at the mortuary attached to the chapel.
"I just wanted to be close to him," said Gloria Kabbash, a retiree who lives in Santa Monica. "I think he had a very good heart. A lot of us out here have never met him, but we feel like we did."
Tom Gorman stood nearby, holding a small American flag. He had rushed to the mortuary with his neighbor when he heard that Reagan had died and would be brought there.
"What a full life he had," Gorman said. "You've got to take your hat off to him. I wasn't always in agreement with his politics, but I have to respect a man who achieved as much as he did in his life."
Gorman paused, then made one other disclosure: He is a Notre Dame fan.
"The Gipper movie has always been big in our house," he said, referring to the movie "Knute Rockne All American" in which Reagan starred as Notre Dame football legend George Gipp.
Some members of the crowd of nearly 200 waiting outside the mortuary began clapping whenever they heard police sirens wail in the distance, presuming the late president was on his way.
"I think he did a lot for our country when you look back at that time," said Frank Bennett, a financial manager. "I believe he had a vision and had a way of stating it clearly."
What does he remember most about Reagan? "That's an easy one," Bennett said. "His 'tear down that wall' speech during the Cold War."
Many in the crowd said they had not seen any glimpse of Reagan for many years. After he left the White House and returned to Southern California, he was frequently spotted around Los Angeles emerging from an office tower in Century City, strolling in local parks or even on the beach. But as his health deteriorated he disappeared from public view
Just past 5:30 p.m., in the golden California twilight, the hearse carrying Reagan's body arrived at the mortuary. It was escorted by a swarm of police officers riding motorcycles and shadowed by six helicopters. Marine snipers watched from the rooftop of an office building across the street.
Gloria Lambden watched. She is an older Democrat who had come to pay her respects. She had a hard time explaining why. Maybe because he always seemed to have time for a joke, she said. Or maybe because of his long love affair with his wife.
"He certainly was popular," she said. "It's hard to believe he's gone."