Thousands of mourners streamed through the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library today to pay their last respects to the former president, beginning a week of tributes culminating in a state funeral in Washington and a private burial on the grounds of his California library.
Long lines of people from all walks of life began filing past Reagan's flag-draped casket in the lobby of the Reagan library shortly after it was opened to the public at noon Pacific time (3 p.m. EDT). Among those who joined the solemn mourners at the library were California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver.
Roger Haskins, a minister from San Dimas, Calif., said he lined up to get into the library at about 6 a.m. because he felt he had to "seize the moment" to show his appreciation for the former president, who served from 1981 to 1989.
"Reagan was a visionary," Haskins said as he waited with thousands of other people in a line that stretched across a community college parking lot and down a suburban street. "He renewed a sense of optimism and hope in this country. A lot of politicians give us information. He gave us ideas."
The body of Reagan, who died Saturday of pneumonia at age 93 after a 10-year battle with Alzheimer's disease, was driven in a hearse from a funeral home in Santa Monica, Calif., to the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley 40 miles away for a private ceremony this afternoon, followed by a 30-hour period of public viewing.
Upon arrival at the library shortly after 11 a.m., Reagan's casket was ceremoniously removed from the black hearse by eight uniformed pallbearers representing the military services. As they carried the casket into the library past an honor guard, a Marine Corps band played "Hail to the Chief" and "My Country 'Tis of Thee."
The casket was followed into the library's main lobby by Reagan's 82-year-old widow, Nancy Reagan, and his three surviving children: Michael Reagan, Ronald Prescott Reagan and Patti Davis. (An older daughter, Maureen Reagan, died of cancer in 2001.)
With slow formality, the pallbearers lifted the casket onto a platform and placed it on a bier covered in black velvet. Standing at the head of the casket, two soldiers raised their white-gloved right hands in a slow-motion salute.
With her daughter, Patti Davis, by her side, Nancy Reagan removed her large eye-glasses and laid her head briefly on the casket. Then Davis embraced her and whispered words of comfort to her as she apparently wept.
Joining the Reagan family in the ceremony were a few close family friends, including Merv Griffin, a television producer and former talk-show host, and Charles Wick, a California businessman and longtime Reagan friend who formerly headed the U.S. Information Agency.
"As we were in the procession, I couldn't help but think of the love and the outpouring that has begun in the nation for a great president, a great world leader and a faithful servant of almighty God," said Rev. Michael Wenning, a retired pastor at the Bel Air Presbyterian Church that Reagan formerly attended.
After prayers led by Wenning, the family filed out of the library, leaving the casket surrounded by an honor guard standing at attention.
Mourners began lining up before dawn at a community college near the library for a chance to walk past Reagan's closed casket in the library's main lobby. Dozens of buses were brought in to ferry people from the college to the library, a hilltop site about 45 miles north of Los Angeles where Reagan is to be buried at sunset Friday.
As preparations proceeded for America's first presidential state funeral in more than 30 years, the White House announced that President Bush would deliver the eulogy for Reagan at funeral services Friday at Washington's National Cathedral. Presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush would return to Washington Thursday from Sea Island, Ga., where he is participating in the Group of Eight summit with the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia.
Bush has declared Friday a national day of mourning for Reagan and ordered the closure of most federal government offices. The U.S. Postal Service said it will observe the day of mourning by suspending regular mail delivery and retail services, and the major stock markets -- the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the American Stock Exchange -- announced that they would also close Friday.
The 30-hour period of public viewing at the Reagan library is scheduled to conclude Tuesday at 6 p.m. Pacific time (9 p.m. EDT). On Wednesday, Reagan's casket is to be flown to Andrews Air Force Base near Washington from the Point Mugu Naval Air Station in Ventura County, Calif.
The casket then is to be brought in a funeral procession to the U.S. Capitol for a formal lying-in-state in the Capitol Rotunda.
According to Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer, more than 100,000 people are expected to pay their respects to Reagan during a public viewing period at the Capitol Rotunda. The viewing period is scheduled to start at 8:30 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday, continue all day Thursday and end early Friday morning.
A national funeral service is scheduled for Friday at 11:30 a.m. at the Washington National Cathedral, an event expected to be attended by many world leaders.
In a statement posted on the Reagan library's Web site, Joanne Drake, the former president's chief of staff for the last nine years, said Nancy Reagan and her family "are deeply touched by the outpouring of sympathy from across the country and around the world."
Drake said they have received thousands of messages by telephone, fax and e-mail, in addition to the notes and tributes that have been placed at the library, near the Reagan residence in Bel Air, Calif., and at other sites associated with the nation's 40th president.
Sanchez reported from Simi Valley.