- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 8, 2004

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. (AP) — Waiting good-naturedly for as much as half a day in traffic jams and a parking lot, tens of thousands of people filed past Ronald Reagan’s flag-draped casket in an outpouring that forced organizers to extend yesterday’s viewing period by four hours.

An estimated 79,000 mourners had passed by the coffin in the 28 hours since the viewing began at noon Monday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. The nation’s 40th president died of pneumonia Saturday at age 93.

Nancy Reagan, resting and preparing for funeral events in Washington, watched the scene on television at her Bel Air home in Los Angeles, said Joanne Drake, chief of staff of Reagan’s office.

“‘It is unbelievable what I am seeing on TV,’” Mrs. Drake quoted the former first lady as saying. “‘The outpouring of love for my husband is incredible.’”

The flow of mourners was interrupted briefly when Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry arrived. Standing before the casket, he made the sign of the cross, placed his hand over his heart, then left.

Traffic jams and the wait for shuttle buses encouraged camaraderie among the throngs, who passed the time sharing memories of Mr. Reagan and making new friends.

“It was really something. There was a kindred spirit out there as we waited,” said Linda Peterson, 49, of Temecula, who left home with her son, Lee, 23, on Monday night.

Their 110-mile trip went swiftly until the last four miles to a local college parking lot, which took four hours to cover, and then there was a 4-hour wait to board a shuttle bus to the hilltop library.

“I wanted my son to know exactly what an honorable life is all about — a life of service with such passion,” Mrs. Peterson said.

The viewing at the library in the hills west of Los Angeles was the first event in a week of national mourning. The body will be flown to Washington today to lie in state at the Capitol, followed by a funeral service Friday.

Duke Blackwood, the library’s executive director, said that at the conclusion of the national funeral, the bells of the Washington National Cathedral will ring 40 times and churches nationwide will join in.

The body then will be flown back to California for burial at the library Friday evening. Mr. Blackwood said the inscription on the headstone will read “Ronald Wilson Reagan,” with his dates of birth and death.

Mrs. Reagan, who accompanied the body to the library, received a message yesterday from Pope John Paul II expressing “deep gratitude” for her husband’s commitment to the cause of freedom.

Visitors to the library yesterday included Govs. Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, and celebrities Morgan Fairchild and Bruce Boxleitner, who arrived as representatives of the Screen Actors Guild, which Mr. Reagan once led.

Actress Bo Derek also paid her respects, saying she became a Republican when Mr. Reagan became president, citing his belief in smaller government and his optimism.

“It’s something when you first see the flag on the casket,” she said. “I’m stunned. He was such a great man.”

The period in which Mr. Reagan’s body was to lie in repose at the library originally was scheduled to end at 6 p.m., but the overwhelming turnout forced an extension to 10 p.m. More buses were added to the shuttle fleet to handle the crowds.

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