When Nancy Reagan saw a model of her husband's statue, she complained that the late former president's pants were too long and that he looked a little too serious.
So Chas Fagan, a painter and sculptor from Charlotte went back to work. He made the pants break above the shoe and studied videos of the president telling jokes. He settled on Ronald Reagan's expression just before the punch line, which showed a hint of a smile every time.
On Wednesday, Fagan's 7-foot statue of the nation's 40th president will be unveiled at the U.S. Capitol, replacing the likeness of a lesser-known California hero, Thomas Starr King. Nancy Reagan is expected to attend, along with Fagan.
It's the end of an era for Starr King, a 19th-century San Francisco Unitarian Universalist preacher who's received star billing at the Capitol for 78 years.
It also caps a five-year effort by California Republican Rep. Ken Calvert, who launched the campaign to remove Starr King shortly after Reagan's death on June 5, 2004.
“I thought, well, you know, he was a great person, but he's been here for a while. Maybe we can replace him with Ronald Reagan,“ Calvert said. “And one thing led to another. … We were able to get it done.”
Not everyone's pleased that Reagan is being put on a pedestal, particularly the descendants of Starr King, who helped keep California in the Union during the Civil War.
“Unfortunately, people say, ‘Who was Thomas Starr King?'” said Ginny King Supple, Starr King's great-great-granddaughter, from Los Angeles. “He never got the public recognition after the fact. He was very well-known back in the 1800s and early 1900s. So it is disturbing.”
She voted for Reagan, but she said: “From a historical perspective, Thomas Starr King had a lot more to do with the state of the state of California, as opposed to President Reagan. I'm not coming down on Ronald Reagan. He was basically a great man in many ways, but the history of California lies with Thomas Starr King.”
Starr King gave thousands of speeches, up and down the state, railing against slavery, poverty and oppression. Even though the state had banned slavery, many Southerners who had moved to California wanted slaves and threatened to split the state and form their own republic.
Each state is allowed two statues in the Capitol. California chose Starr King and Father Junipero Serra – the Spanish Franciscan friar who founded California's missions in the late 1700s – both of whom have been on display since 1931.