New home movies of President Ronald Reagan show the Illinois native touring inside the room where he was born, and may also show subtle signs of Alzheimer’s, two years before he publicly announced he was suffering from the disease.
That, according to a former tour guide at the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home in Dixon, Illinois who gained special access to the 40th President during his final two visits back to his home state.
“The best way to describe him to people, he was so down to earth, like someone you grew up with,” said Ken Wendland.
In May of 1992, Wendland shot the only video allowed when Ronald and Nancy Reagan toured the upstairs apartment where he was born in Tampico, Illinois. It was the only visit inside the birthplace for the Reagans.
Caretakers of the home are seen in the video guiding the couple to the small room where the President was born on a cold February day in 1911.
Historian Edmund Morris is seen telling the President how terrible the winter weather was that day. The President recalled he was told his father had to run down the street to go get the doctor that day, and “got scared things weren’t going to work out alright.”
The couple later visited the gift store downstairs, when the former President is seen visibly alarmed, almost panicked, when he can’t find Mrs. Reagan, who was standing in front of him.
“He said, where’s Nancy? Where’s Nancy? That part I remember, just being kind of surprised, all of a sudden he turned and looked at me so startled, where’s Nancy? In retrospect, I look at this (video), I wonder if it wasn’t the early start of Alzheimer’s,” Wendland said.
Wendland initially met the former President after giving an out-of-town stranger and his wife a tour of the Reagan home in Dixon, after-hours.
“This man introduced himself as Beryl Sprinkel, he said, can we please have a tour? I opened it up even though we were closed,” Wendland recalled. “I didn’t know who this guy was, I was just trying to be nice,” he said.
The man turned out to be Reagan’s economic adviser in the White House, impressed with Wendland’s random act of kindness and Reagan knowledge.
“He pulled out his White House I.D., and he said you didn’t know it but I was quizzing you,” Wendland said. “To see how the tours were being conducted. He said give me your name and number. I want the President to call you,” he said.
“Two days later, at my house, the phone rings. It’s the White House,” Wendland said.
The Wendland family went to California to see the former President, just months after he left office in 1989, Mr. Reagan sporting a buzz cut after a fall off a horse resulted in surgery on his head.
“They think a snake spooked his horse, and the horse threw him down and Nancy told me when he went down his head hit a rock,” Wendland said.
He later was invited to help escort the Reagans during their trips to Dixon in 1990 and Tampico in 1992.