June 15, 2009
Despite our goal of avoiding interstates on this adventure, it was most appropriate that we speed along I-70 to get to the Eisenhower Presidential Library in
Since Eisenhower succeeded Truman as President, we were able to continue our Presidential history lesson chronologically at the Eisenhower Library. Even more intriguing was the very different perspectives the two sites offered in their coverage of the important events in the lives and times which both men shared.
We began with the
If Eisenhower had a hand in scripting the film, it was indefensibly egotistical. But, it is possible, even probable, that he had no part in its production--Eisenhower didn't live in Abilene after his presidency, he did not have an office at his museum or library, and the museum is strangely silent on the history of its development, so we aren't sure how involved Eisenhower was in shaping its messages and exhibits, beyond providing lots of artifacts. Taking him off the hook, at a minimum the curators were overreaching—he was a hero who made a huge impact on the world stage, but he was not the sole iconic figure shaping two decades of our history. (As I said, I was irked.)
We walked across a green to Eisenhower's childhood home,
a tiny three bedroom cottage with an outhouse where six Eisenhower boys lived with their parents and grandfather. Describing it as "modest" would be generous. We are now three for three in Presidential Library exhibits visited on this trip with a "rise from humble beginnings" theme.
We continued to the Museum, which had four main gallery areas: (1)childhood and youth,(2) military service with a major focus on World War II and the D Day invavsion (3) a small Mamie fashion gallery, and(4) the post-military years, including the Presidential years. The Military gallery accounted for about 50% of the space, and had the most in-depth curation and most interesting artifacts of all the galleries.
Here is the quick run through of Eisenhower's stellar military career. His 1915 West Point graduating class is known as "The Class the Stars Fell On," because it produced a record number of generals with at least one star, and two achieved the highest rank possible in the Army. Eisenhower gave Mamie his class ring as her engagement ring on Valentine's Day in 1916, and they got married that summer. Eisenhower went on to have tons of different staff positions. One of his early assignments in 1919 was to the first transcontinental motor convoy, testing military vehicles. It took the convoy 62 days to travel 3251 miles from
He made himself indispensable to his commanding officers, serving with General McArthur in
Eisenhower went from being Army Chief of Staff to being President . . . of
The War Years exhibit ended with a display case thirty feet long filled with bejeweled medals, ribbons, and legions of honor awarded to General Eisenhower from too many countries to count. It made for a good transition to Mamie's gallery of jewelry and dresses, including her wedding gown, displayed with a real piece of her wedding cake nestled in a napkin in its original red, white and blue wedding favor box. (If you have never seen an 83 year old piece of cake, take it from me, it is truly gross.) Mamie made the "Ten Best Dressed" list every year she was First Lady, and Ike claimed she was a better campaigner than he was. Beyond that, we learn very little about their relationship here, and there is virtually no mention of Ike's role as a father.
I was intrigued by statements from Eisenhower's speeches quoted in both the film and the exhibit which seemed incongruous with his path to the Presidency. He said:
"This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children."
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies. . . a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. . ."
After ascending to the office through his skill at executing war, he spent his Presidency, like Truman, avoiding war. Much of his attention was occupied by ending the Korean War, "keeping the Cold War cold" and negotiating relations with
By the time his two terms in the White House were over, Eisenhower had suffered a heart attack and a stroke. He and Mamie retired to a farm in
We toured the Eisenhower historic site thoroughly, and still were done in time for lunch.
Editorial note: Dick has read this post and does not think I did justice to Dwight David Eisenhower. He has added a few facts to round out my coverage, but declined to do a rewrite or post a counterpoint.