From humble beginnings in Abilene, Kansas to Supreme Allied Commander Europe to President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower is known more for the D-Day invasion of Normandy than he is for being a President. He was perhaps the most accomplished executive along with George Washington to ever hold the office.
For many of us boomers our knowledge of recent American presidents stops with JFK. His assassination marks the point in time we became politicized. Before that information was passed down by our parents or through books.
We had a chance to pay a visit to the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum this past weekend on our way to Parent’s Weekend at Kansas University visiting our freshman son. Abilene is located about half way between Fort Hays and Lawrence and is a nice stopping point on this 4-hour stretch.
Unless you are driving through, not many people stop in Abilene, Kansas. But for anyone interested in the history of our country what a slice of Americana the city and the museum represents.
The childhood home, library, museum, chapel and visitor’s center is located on beautiful and spacious park-like grounds. The museum was much more comprehensive as compared to others we have visited (LBJ, Nixon, JFK). About half of the museum is dedicated to his rise through the Army and D-Day. I have twice visited the D-Day Museum in New Orleans and the coverage of invasion here is just as comprehensive.
A special exhibit chronicling the end of WWII was also running with several Smithsonian worthy artifacts present, including this flag that was the first to be hung after the end of the war in Berlin and over Hilter’s barracks. One thing I was struck by was Ike’s insistence on viewing atrocities upon liberation of the death camps to counter any propaganda to the contrary that they had actually happened.
There is a section devoted to the former First Lady with numerous pictures and gowns (her hair was a big deal back then) and a section on the Presidential years. One of my favorite mini exhibits of his Presidential term was a replica of a late 50’s living room complete with a TV, Naugahyde couches, a flat rock fireplace and TV trays. Only the pot roast and Walter Cronkite was missing.
The chapel, where the President, the First Lady and their first born son who died as a young boy are interred, is small, simple and serene.
After spending a few hours wandering around the grounds I felt as though I understood President Eisenhower much better. He was a simple man from simple roots who made the world a better place to live.
If you ever get the chance to visit the museum it is well worth the trip.