By Lynda Millner   |   January 10, 2019
Roman rock stars at the Pompeii exhibit

Montecito Bank & Trust’s MClub, directed by Maria McCall, was traveling on one of their day trips to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library for the Pompeii exhibition to experience over 150 original, 2,000-year-old Pompeiian artifacts. Since I lived in “Napoli” for three years and visited nearby Pompeii several times, this was a must for my husband, Don Seth, and me.

The memories came flooding in. My son was born in Naples and every day I would walk my four-year-old daughter and son (in a stroller) to the top of the hill and down the other side where Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples made a spectacular sight.

As you know, it was Vesuvius that blew its top and buried Pompeii in fire and ash with no time for the 25,000 people to escape. It also damaged nearby Herculaneum but not so much. You can still see wooden doors and frames that didn’t burn. When my late husband and I strolled through Herculaneum in the 1960s there was no one in sight – not a tourist or a guide however, Pompeii had guides.

How could I forget? I call it the dark ages because the ladies weren’t allowed to look at the erotic pictures in some of the houses. Can you imagine? It used to tick me off. When I became a docent at Casa del Herrero in Santa Barbara many years later, I discovered there was an erotic panel in the foyer ceiling which had come from a monastery in Spain. So I always make sure the ladies in my tour get to view it, if they want.

My husband Don sailed into the Bay of Naples on an American Export Line merchant ship as a third class cadet midshipman at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in April of 1947. He remembers Pompeii as deserted. Definitely not the tourist attraction it has become.

One of several plaster casts of victims of the Vesuvius explosion
Dana Newquist, Maria McCall, and Richard Payatt on the Pompeii tour

In the Pompeii exhibit there were 2,000-year-old frescoes, mosaics, gladiator helmets, armor, weapons, plates, ancient Roman coins, furniture, jewelry, marble and bronze sculptures, full body casts of the volcano’s victims, and more on loan from the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, Italy. There was even a 4-D eruption theater so you could experience the deathly impact of Mount Vesuvius on the ancient city complete with smoke and LOUD noises, like an earthquake. From Pliny the Younger who was an eyewitness to the Vesuvius eruption, “You could hear women shrieking, children screaming, men shouting. Some raised their hands to the gods, but most of them thought there were no gods at all.”

On the way to the Library on the bus, Richard Payatt, who has researched Pompeii extensively, enlightened us as to the history of the town and its decimation in minutes in 80 feet of ash in 79 A.D. The Getty Museum on the coast is a replica of a house in Pompeii.

From the remains historians know that the Romans had plumbing systems so the homeowners didn’t have to haul water. However many Romans had lost their sense of taste because they had lead poisoning. The pipes in their houses were full of lead.

President Reagan with Mikhail Gorbachev at the Presidential Library
Some of Nancy Reagan’s wardrobe
One of the many Christmas trees, this one decorated for our first decade during the Revolutionary War

If you’ve never been to the Library during holiday season, you’re in for a treat. There are Christmas trees, each decorated for a decade of our country’s history from the Revolutionary War to the present day.

Dana Newquist was also on the bus to tell of his experience in visiting President Reagan at his office in Century City when he was no longer in the White House. It was similar to a visit my late husband, Cork Millner, had with Reagan. I always remember him saying how focused Reagan was on whomever he was talking to – so interested and asking questions. It made you feel like you were the most important. During this time President Reagan used to see people eight hours a day and was enjoying talking to Cork about Reagan’s days at Warner Brothers Studio. Cork was writing a book about them. The president told his scheduled people he wanted Cork to stay longer and so he did. He had a wonderful “grip and grin” photo taken with the president that they sent in the mail. That wasn’t so long before the president sent a letter to the public disclosing the oncoming of Alzheimer’s.

Mitsuko Roberts was the Reagans’ personal chef at the Ranch. She was on the bus to share Reagan stories. She remembered how he would get up in the middle of the night and come to her bedroom door by the kitchen and ask her to make biscuits and gravy. They had to be quiet because Nancy wouldn’t have approved. She was trying to keep her husband slim and trim.

Our group had a delicious lunch and time to shop, naturally, before our champagne ride home. We should end the day with a quote from President Reagan: “America’s best days are yet to come. Our proudest moments are yet to be. Our most glorious achievements are just ahead.”


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