This year marked the 125th year of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s birth. A trip to Abilene, Kan., affords visitors a chance to see how our nation’s 34th president made decisions and lived his life, and the legacy he left for future generations.
The Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home in Abilene tells the story of how Eisenhower spent much of his boyhood years and offers tours of his home.
The 22-acre complex in a parklike setting attracts more than 200,000 visitors each year — many born long after Eisenhower’s lifetime and who may not understand his prominence in the world, said deputy director Tim Rives.
“Ike was born in the year that the frontier was declared closed and died the year that the United States sent astronauts to the moon,” Rives said. “His life bridged the 19th and 20th centuries. He was supreme commander in a military operation that decided the fate of the Western world for half a century, with his decision to invade Normandy on June 6, 1944. He was also president for two terms and maintained peace and prosperity for eight years.
“Civil rights were advanced in the Eisenhower administration, NASA was founded, and the interstate [highway] system was begun, and the Korean War was ended. All of these events, Ike was at the helm.”
What to see
Plan on spending at least two to four hours at the Eisenhower building complex.
Visitors to the museum can see the electric car that belonged to Ike’s mother-in-law, Elvira Doud, that Eisenhower frequently drove. They can see his staff car used through World War II and into his presidency; the collection of pearl necklaces and earrings that belonged to his wife, Mamie; the table Eisenhower used to plan strategy as the commander of the D-Day invasion; and the Order of Victory medal he received from the U.S.S.R. The museum also has election memorabilia. When Eisenhower ran for election in 1952 on the Republican ticket, “I like Ike” became a household slogan.
The two-story white boyhood home where he lived from 1898 to 1911, when he left for West Point, is open for tours. People can see the radio around which the family gathered to hear news and popular programs, the piano in the parlor along with family photographs and a Bible showing his birth entry.
Although the library is where the Eisenhower archives are located, visitors can view temporary exhibits on the library’s mezzanine lobby and watch a 12-minute video that gives a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on in a research library. The library attracts about 900 researchers a year and 4,000 long-distance reference requests.
The Eisenhower Library is consistently one of the most sought-out presidential libraries for researchers and writers, Rives said.
“If someone wants to do research, they really have to come to Abilene because of the 26 million documents we have and our 300,000 photographs haven’t been digitized yet,” he said. “Someday down the road, yes, once the problems of expense and technology are worked out.”
The Place of Meditation on the campus of the Eisenhower Library and Museum was envisioned by Eisenhower as not his final resting place but as a site for meditation and reflection for soldiers. The chapel now includes the tombs of Eisenhower, Mamie and their son Doud. In 1962, nationally known stained-glass artist Odell Prather, originally of Wichita, Kan., was commissioned to do the windows in the chapel. Asked to do something abstract so as not to offend a person of any faith, she based her artwork on the Kansas plains.
The center hopes soon to have interactive signs throughout the campus for visitors who often pull off Interstate 70 after the complex closes for the night, Rives said. Signs would include information about the Chisholm Trail and how the center is on Buckeye Avenue, where cattle herds were driven and where the Eisenhowers’ garden and hayfields were located; and other information on Eisenhower’s life.
If you go
The Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. It is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Cost is $12 for adults; $9 for senior citizens, military and students; $3 for ages 6 to 15; and free for ages 5 and under. Admission to the Place of Meditation is free.
Abilene is about 580 miles from the Twin Cities via Interstate Hwys. 35 and 70.
Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum
The Truman Presidential Library and Museum is 160 miles east of Abilene in Independence, Mo. There, visitors can check out the soda fountain where Harry Truman held down his first job, his school and the place where he loved to play poker. On display at the Truman museum through May 18 is the German World War II surrender document.