Crowds Wait for Hours to View Reagan's Cakset

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

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 the viewing period Tuesday by four hours.

An estimated 52,000 mourners had passed by the coffin in the 24 hours after the viewing began at noon Monday at Reagan's presidential library. The nation's 40th president died Saturday at age 93.

Nancy Reagan, resting and preparing for funeral events in Washington, D.C., 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,'" 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 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 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 1/2-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 on Wednesday to lie in state at the Capitol, followed by a national funeral on Friday and a return to the library for burial at sunset.

Nancy Reagan, who accompanied the body to the library, received a message Tuesday from Pope John Paul II expressing "deep gratitude" for her husband's commitment to the cause of freedom.

Among the celebrities who came to the library Tuesday was actress Bo Derek, who said she became a Republican when Reagan became president, citing his belief in smaller government and 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 Reagan's body was to lie in repose at the library was originally supposed to end at 6 p.m. Tuesday, but the overwhelming turnout forced an extension to 10 p.m. More buses were added to the shuttle fleet to handle the crowds.

The Red Cross handed out cups of water that were gulped down by mourners before they boarded buses for the return to Moorpark College.

Jesse and Joni Garcia of Woodland left their Northern California home at 6 p.m. Monday and finally walked past the casket at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday.

"It took five hours for the last five miles of the freeway," said Jesse Garcia, 52. They spent two more hours in the parking lot before boarding a bus.

"It's a lifetime event. I wanted to show my gratitude. I wanted to show my love," he said.

"He came home last night and said, `We're leaving in 15 minutes,'" his wife said.

"I knew they'd think I was nuts," her husband added. "But he's a homeboy — our governor, our president."

Humbert Cabrera, 38, of San Diego, said while waiting in line: "He should be on Mount Rushmore. He was one of us. He lifted us all."


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