Last week, Joan Quigley, the Reagans' astrology consultant, died at age 87. Here's a quick look at how the revelation of her involvement with the White House played out -- as well as some of the ways outer space influenced the presidency in weird and wonderful ways.
1. Nancy Reagan's love of astrology was revealed in former chief of staff Donald Regan's memoir.
Regan, who did not leave the White House in good terms with the president, wrote that Quigley's services were used to schedule Air Force One trips, speeches and many other aspects of the presidency. "Virtually every major move and decision the Reagans made during my time as White House chief of staff," he wrote, "was cleared in advance with a woman in San Francisco who drew up horoscopes to make certain that the planets were in favorable alignment for the enterprise."
Quigley's memoir of her years working with the White House, "What Does Joan Say: My Seven Years as White House Astrologer to Nancy and Ronald Reagan," came out in 1990. She wrote that she "was responsible for timing all press conferences, most speeches, the State of the Union addresses, the takeoffs and landings of Air Force One. I picked the time of Ronald Reagan's debate with [President Jimmy] Carter and the two debates with Walter Mondale; all extended trips abroad as well as the shorter trips and one-day excursions."
The Reagans furiously denied this and said the whole astrology thing was only a hobby.
The first family wasn't the only group upset by the revelation. Petitions began circling at churches asking Reagan to give up the stars. Other evangelical leaders were "disturbed" and complained that the practice seemed "so medieval." Rev. Lon Solomon, from McLean Bible Church in the metro D.C. area, wasn't as surprised about the first lady's belief in astrology: "Most of us cherish the notion that Reagan trusts Jesus Christ. It has never been confirmed that she does."
2. The president's relationship with the stars was not limited to Hollywood and astrology.
His thoughts about aliens appear to have inspired the plot of the 1996 movie "Independence Day." In May 1988, Reagan told a crowd in Chicago, "I've often wondered, what if all of us in the world discovered that we were threatened by an outer -- a power from outer space, from another planet? Wouldn't we all of a sudden find that we didn't have any differences between us at all, we were human beings, citizens of the world, and wouldn't we come together to fight that particular threat?"
3. Obama once had to apologize to Nancy Reagan for making a seance joke.
Days after winning the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama held a news conference. For some reason, he cracked an astrology joke. As the New York Times reported, Obama said,
“In terms of speaking to former presidents, I’ve spoken to all of them that are living. Obviously, President Clinton — I didn’t want to get into a Nancy Reagan thing about, you know, doing any séances.’’
He then called the former first lady to apologize. Quigley didn't respond to a request for comment at the time, but her sister told the Times that Joan wasn't "a medium; she’s an astrologer.’’
4. In 1988, Quigley described her job for The Washington Post.
This is technical work. It's not some sort of crystal ball-gazing ... I do political astrology, which means I chart full moons and new moons and ingresses and eclipses and great conjunctions and cycle charts of the major planets.
She also explained that Reagan's horoscope was amazing.
"Ronald Reagan has a brilliant horoscope ... I went to work for his campaign in 1980 because he had the most brilliant horoscope I'd ever seen in this country this century. He could have been a great general. His sun is in the mid heaven, which is the part of the United States horoscope that rules the president. His stars are very lucky for a country. And he has three planets in the sign of the exultation (sic), which you almost never see."
Quigley wishes to underscore this. "Three of them are in their exultation," she says. "And that's just extraordinary. I've done many historical horoscopes, and I've never seen anything like it."
5. The Reagans weren't alone in calling on unorthodox powers for guidance.
Florence Harding was an obsessive horoscope reader.
Vice President Henry Wallace, who served with Franklin Roosevelt for a term, was a "stargazer of many cults," as a Washington Post columnist put it in 1940.
Other presidents received astrological advice free of charge, and perhaps unwanted.
In 1908, an astrologer made some very accurate political predictions for The Post, as well as some very bad ones.
According to the stars, it's all over but the shouting. Taft and Sherman will be elected, Democracy will be crushingly defeated and would do better to stay out of the game and cache their roll. It'll be Taft and Sherman for four years, then a one-term recrudescence of Roosevelt-ism, and after that Taft will sit in the howdah again. Moreover, say the stars, Mr. Taft will survive the enervating, flesh-destroying rigors of political chieftancy in the White House and keep out of heaven till he's seventy-odd."
Taft lived to be 72, but the math on his White House career was a bit off.
This post has been updated.