On a visit to Pennsylvania years ago I was honored to interview Stanley Wolfe. Stanley once owned Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Blackhawk Cockshutt tractor. It was a cool piece of machinery that if I read it right is now owned by the Gettysburg Park District. It was cool to see that President Eisenhower had a bit of the Kansas boy still instilled in him years after he left the state and the White House!
My husband Keith and I toured the Eisenhower home in Gettysburg Pennsylvania. After our visit I was excited to learn about the early time in his life. We wanted to see his boyhood home and go through the Presidential Museum and Library in Abilene, Kansas.
The visit begins at the Visitor’s Center. There is a film we missed and gifts you can peruse.
Eisenhower’s Boyhood Home
Upon our arrival we learned that the Museum was closed for renovation. However, the boyhood home was open as well as the library with several exhibits.
The boyhood home has been open to the public since early 1947. Ida Eisenhower, Dwight Eisenhower’s mother was the last person to live there. The home first opened as a World War II Veterans Memorial. Now it is open as the boyhood home of Dwight David Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States.
The home is a lovely white two-story home that served as President Eisenhower’s home when his family moved back to Kansas. Dwight D. Eisenhower was born on October 14, 1890, in Denison, Texas. His parents were David Jacob Eisenhower and Ida Elizabeth Stover Eisenhower. They called their son “Dwight” from the get-go to avoid confusion between father and son.
The Move Back to Abilene
When Dwight was a year and a half old, his family moved back to Abilene so David could be a mechanic at his brother-in-law’s creamery, Belle Springs Creamery. Tragedy struck the family when Dwight’s 10-month-old brother Paul died of diphtheria when Dwight was 4 years old.
From our tour though it was clear that this was a happy home. Our guide shared that Dwight Eisenhower was quite athletic and he played both baseball and football at Abilene High School.
It was clear that there was no money for an education after graduation in 1909. So Eisenhower joined his father and uncle at the Belle Springs Creamery. He used the money to pay his younger brother Edgar’s tuition at the University of Michigan. Our guide shared, “The brothers had a deal: After two years, they’d switch places—with Edgar then working to support Eisenhower’s college education. Luckily for Edgar, he never had to live up to his end of the deal”.
Eisenhower’s West Point Years
However, that all changed when in 1911 Dwight Eisenhower won an appointment at West Point. While there, he played football until a serious knee injury ended his sports days. His mother, Ida, a Mennonite, did not really approve. She was a religious pacifist who opposed war and all things military. The family did later applaud his efforts in World War II as time went on.
At West Point, Eisenhower was an average student graduating in the middle of his class. He ranked 61st out of 164.
We all know about how Ike went on to rise through the ranks and become a War hero during World War II. My husband Keith was reading each and every item about this aspect in the exhibits. I, however, wanted to know more about Mamie!
Learning about Mamie
The paths of their lives were so drastically different that it is amazing that they ever crossed. Being from a wealthy family Mamie Eisenhower was with her family wintering in San Antonio, Texas in October 1915 when she met Dwight Eisenhower. He was an army lieutenant. She was only 19 when they were married only 7 months later!
Mamie Geneva Doud was born in Boone, Iowa, on November 14, 1896. She was the second of four daughters. Her family made their money in the meat packing industry. Her father retired at age 36, moving the family to Colorado. With the life of luxury, it would have been quite an awakening to be in bachelor quarters after their marriage and learning how to budget.
Mamie as a Military Wife
According to a bio on Mamie Eisenhower during her life as a military wife, she was stationed in the United States, the Panama Canal Zone, France and the Philippines. She estimated that she moved 27 times! At one point she didn’t see her husband for three years! She bonded with the other army women though and they said that she wrote her husband every day.
From everything that I read at the library, it appeared that she was truly loved by the people and she was very dedicated to Ike’s career.
While very much in love, the two suffered sadness early on when their lost their first son Doud Dwight. He was only three when he died of scarlet fever in 1921. They did have a second son John that lived. He joined the U.S. Army and later became an author and ambassador to Belgium.
The White House Years
The country’s like of Mamie and Ike’s war hero status helped elect him as the 34th President of the United States of America. During his Presidency he had several accomplishments, the most memorable being establishing the highway system. Others include establishing the Atomic Energy Agency. He also is credited with signing in the Civil Rights Act. Eisenhower set the first satellite into orbit and created NASA.
During his Presidency Alaska and Hawaii became states and the St. Lawrence Seaway opened.
Mamie is said the have been very much a woman of the 50’s doing like the famous Tammy Wynette song says, “Standing Behind Her Man”. Taking care and making sure he had someone to talk to. She made sure the White House ran smoothly and frugally.
After the White House years, the Eisenhowers like a quiet life in Gettysburg on a beautiful farm. Ike passed first of a heart condition on March 28, 1969. Mamie lived for ten more years passing in 1979.
The Chapel – Place of Meditation
President and Mrs. Eisenhower and their son David Doud Eisenhower are buried in the beautiful chapel on the grounds.
There is also the Visitor Center where the tours begin. You might want to stop like we did at the big bronze statue of Ike. This is a great photo op.
There is also the Pylons which offer up some Ike history!
We would like to go back and see more now that the Museum has reopened. There was a lots of history and information and I really enjoyed the artifacts.
If you enjoy this, you might enjoy other stories about museums like the Abraham Lincoln Presidential museum.