I like Ike…sort of

September 2014

From our stop in Topeka we journeyed to Abilene, Kansas, home to the Dwight. D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home. One of 13 Presidential Libraries in the National Archives and Records Administration it was dedicated in 1956. As we walked into the Museum my first thought was that it felt as though it hadn’t been updated since. The museum starts out about as inviting as a 10th grade history book. In fact, the opening exhibit hall looked as if someone had merely blown up the pages of a history book.

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Truthfully, I moved through the opening section rather quickly, skimming through most of it with very little of it drawing my eye or attention. But as I continued to explore the museum, I warmed up to it (adapting to the fact that it’s as much a war museum as a presidential museum – it’s nearly 2/3rds of the way through the museum before you stumble upon Eisenhower’s presidency). Of course, the heavy focus on General Eisenhower is certainly understood.

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It’s difficult to write about and capture the spirit of any museum without turning it into a bit of a book report (proven by the fact that I still haven’t gone back to finish a write up of the Truman Library). And while I could certainly fill a long blog post about all that the museum had to offer and all that Dwight D. Eisenhower accomplished in his life, I’d rather just highlight some of the pieces that were of particular interest to me and leave the rest to Wikipedia and such.

Boyhood Home

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We took the short tour of the home where Ike was raised between ages 8-20, a home that his parents lived in until their deaths.

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Eisenhower was one of seven boys, and while his brother Paul died in infancy, all of the others were very accomplished in life. One of my favorite stories from the tour recounted a moment when Ida Eisenhower was supposedly asked, after the victory at Normandy, “Are you proud of your son?” To which she replied, “Which one?”

The Original ‘Do It Yourself’ Project”

I found these instructions for building your own bomb shelter very helpful.

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Trench Art

I had never really heard about “trench art” before coming upon an example of it here.

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I’ve included the next picture for a couple reasons. First, to give a little perspective on the size of that ashtray. And second because the funny man front and center is movie star, Mickey Rooney – Private First Class.

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Life Saving Map

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On the Campaign Trail

I love old campaign memorabilia, and there was lots of fun stuff to be found here. I think the gloves are my favorite. There were even some Ike-themed women’s stockings, but I didn’t manage to get a very good picture of them. “Like” was probably not a strong enough word for how people felt about Ike.

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Mamie Eisenhower & the White House

As a bit of a hat enthusiast, I had a particular fondness for Mamie Eisenhower’s hat collection.

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But I also enjoyed seeing jewelry, dresses and some of the things gifted to her in the White House.

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Ok – I confess, one of those is Ike’s, I’ll let you figure out which.

Ike’s Emmy

This was a fun discovery. Who knew that President Eisenhower had an Emmy? The teleprompter reel shows the stern warning in his farewell address on Jan. 17, 1961; but his Emmy, as noted, was not for any speech in particular, but simply “in recognition of his extensive use of television.”

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The Space Race

I’m always happy to encounter space memorabilia (I really was born too late), and as Eisenhower had a hand in authorizing the formation of NASA (and keeping it separate from the Department of Defense, a separation he believed to be crucial) there was some fun space stuff to be found.

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Of course there was so much more to see, and in the end (and upon reflection), I enjoyed our visit to the museum despite my first impression upon entry. I suppose I’ll retract my “sort of” and declare that “I like Ike!” I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the awesome staff in the gift shop. When we couldn’t find a bumper sticker for our roof box they were kind enough to give us one of the “I like Ike” stickers that they hand out to kids. Thanks!

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From August 12 – October 15, 2014 my husband and I traveled the northern United States in my Honda Civic. Cross Country Civic was started (and will eventually be completed) to document our cross country adventure. All comments and questions welcome and appreciated.

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Independence Harry

Leaving St. Louis, we drove across Missouri to our next destination, Independence, and explored the life and Presidency of Harry S Truman. Our tour of “all things Truman” spanned decades of his life, from the drug store where a young Truman once worked, to his final resting place at his Presidential Library and Museum. It was a great day of historical exploration.

September 2014

CLINTON’S SODA FOUNTAIN

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We began our day by stopping into Clinton’s Soda Fountain. Though this iteration of Clinton’s has only been in existence since 1988, it was at this site that a fourteen year old Harry Truman worked his first job at Clinton’s Drug Store. The drug store, thankfully, is not overwhelmingly Truman the way Springfield was all Lincoln all the time.

Here’s a sneak peek of the Presidential Museum with its display regarding Harry’s time at Clinton’s. You can see that the new captures the spirit of the old.

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We grabbed a quick drink and snack at the counter before heading off to the NPS Visitor’s Center.

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HARRY S. TRUMAN NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE

The Harry S. Truman National Historic Site is comprised of multiple locations. In addition to the NPS Visitor’s Center, there is (the Truman Family Farm), his home with wife Elizabeth “Bess” Truman, the church where they were married, as well as other sites in the Truman Historic District (the Presidential Library is separate from the NHS). For our visit we only had time to visit Harry and Bess’s home if we were going to have the opportunity to explore the museum (which we very much wanted to do). We began with the exhibits and movie at the Visitor’s Center before moving on to the historic home.

TRUMAN HOME

The only way to visit the home is to take the guided tour offered by the National Park Service, so we grabbed our tickets and headed down to the house. The beautiful Victorian home was known as the “Summer White House” during Truman’s Presidency – not to be confused with the “Little Whitehouse” located in Key West. Unfortunately, other than exterior shots, the Truman home did not allow photography. I asked why and was told it was to protect the artifacts in the home from light. Since most cameras have the ability to disable flash (and since many National Historic Sites do allow photography) I find that to be a frustrating explanation, but I always abide by the rules on tour. Here’s a photograph of the outside of this beautiful home, along with the historical marker:

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Here’s another look at the exterior of the house:

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In this shot, you’ll notice the top of a wrought iron fence in the foreground. Not a part of the original property, the fence was added by the Secret Service in 1949 to protect the home from “treasure hunters.” Souvenir hunters began to satisfy their needs by literally stealing pieces of the house. One particularly frightening incident had a startled Bess finding two women “touring” the inside of the house. So the fence was erected. Unfortunately, in addition to keeping unwelcome guests out, it also served to keep the Trumans in. Truman hated the fence, and had envisioned taking the fence down after his presidency. But they quickly realized that would never be possible. Fame would not allow for it.

The inside of the house is a bit like a time capsule. Unlike many historic homes where you step back to another century in a home that has been refurbished and done “in the style” of the original home, the Truman home is preserved exactly as it had been (complete with the Trumans’ actual possessions and furnishings), at the time when Bess Truman passed away in 1982 (10 years after Harry). This passage from the NHS website captures it perfectly: “Today, the Truman Home offers a glimpse at the personal life of the 33rd President of the United States. Beautiful in its uncluttered commonness, the Truman Home showcases the simple life the family enjoyed in Independence before and after Harry’s years as President.”

The Trumans were very frugal and there may have been financial reasons for their lifestyle and choice of Independence to retire. Until 1958, ex-presidents did not get a pension. Congress finally passed (and President Eisenhower signed) the law allowing for an annual pension of $25,000 plus office expenses of $50,000 and unlimited postage. Additionally, only after the Kennedy assassination did retired presidents get secret service protection. Until then, the police chief assigned an officer as a part-time bodyguard for the Trumans. It is said that Bess was able to push her shopping cart through the local supermarket without anyone bothering her.

One of the showpieces within the home was a piano. Unaware that the Trumans’ only child Margaret Truman Daniel was a singer and songwriter (as well as a novelist), I was charmed by stories of Margaret’s childhood in Independence including one about the train set she really wanted the Christmas she got her first piano instead.

A later tale about her career as a singer involved her father (the sitting President at the time) writing a pointed letter to a critic who had given her a less a than favorable review. The letter included (among other gems): “Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you’ll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!” Apparently it caused a big controversy about how a man who could not control his temper over a bad review could be trusted with the authority to use nuclear weapons. Have things really changed?

Back outside, another “time-capsule” of sorts is located on the grounds. In the garage sits Harry’s final car.

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Harry only drove the 1972 Chrysler Newport for 6 months before his passing, and Bess for another ten years after that. Margaret donated the car to the National Park Service and it remains in the garage at the family home. The license plate 5745 (May 7th, 1945), the date of VE day in Europe – was to serve as a reminder to Harry of this important victory. The plate number is retired and no longer issued.

This however, was the not the same car that Harry Truman took on a long road trip after the presidency. The book “Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip” provides great insight into the years following the presidency. I wonder how their trip compared to ours?

Stay tuned as we continue our exploration of the life of the 33rd President with our visit to the Harry S. Truman Museum and Library.

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From August 12 – October 15, 2014 my husband and I traveled the northern United States in my Honda Civic. Cross Country Civic was started (and will eventually be completed) to document our cross country adventure. All comments and questions welcome.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum

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We visited the Presidential Museum the day after we visited the Lincoln Home. Our visit to the Lincoln Museum was unlike our visit to the Hoover Museum. First, and very much to my dismay, the museum does not allow photography, which is always such a difficult thing for me to hear (the Hoover Museum allowed photography – without flash – in all but the temporary exhibits). While a member of the museum staff told me that they are considering opening certain areas of the museum to photos in the future, for our visit the only place photographs were allowed was inside the main foyer.

So, here it is, your Lincoln Museum photo.

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The picture itself isn’t all that interesting; the Lincoln Family standing in front of the White House. However, those paying attention will see that the family is being observed from a distance. That’s John Wilkes Booth leaning against the column to the left.

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In addition to the no-photos rule, the Lincoln Museum, which opened in 2005 is a great deal newer than the Hoover Museum (opened in 1962) and employs far different techniques for presenting information (though some believe the museum is already outdated after less than ten full years – more on that later) favoring more advanced media, and less memorabilia display cases. The difference might be explained, in part, by the fact that the Hoover Museum is part of a Presidential Library system comprised of 13 libraries/museums that are operated by the National Archives, while the Lincoln Museum is run by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, was funded with a combination of state, federal and municipal money, and consists of exhibits designed by BRC Imagination Arts, which also designs theme park exhibits.

We began our visit entering through Lincoln’s Log Cabin to Journey One: The Pre-Presidential Years. Passing through the cabin itself you find a young Lincoln reading (Lincoln was self-educated). Once exiting into the main section, one of the first exhibits depicts a Slave Auction showing a family being sold and torn apart, a sad (and unfathomable) depiction of what would have been an all-too-often occurrence. Other areas of this section touched on Lincoln’s relationship with Ann Rutledge who died in 1835 (and is considered by some to have been his first and true love). Lincoln would meet Mary Todd four years later and after a stormy courtship, marry.

Some of Lincoln’s pre-White House days were a bit of surprise to me. I knew he was a lawyer, and knew that he held other political offices before being elected President, but I had no idea just how many times he had run for various offices and lost. In fact, it seemed as though he’d lost far more elections than he’d won.

A fascinating look at the 1860 presidential election was presented in one of the rooms. A multi-screen video presentation, Campaign 1860, featuring the fantastic, late Tim Russert, esteemed host of Meet the Press from 1991 until his untimely passing in 2008, does a great job of showcasing the issues facing the candidates, their ideals and conflicts, and how those issues would have played out in a modern-day arena. A plaque on the wall dedicates the exhibit to Mr. Russert.

When we exited “Journey One” the White House exhibit looked particularly crowded so we headed instead over to the Union Theater where we viewed Lincoln’s Eyes – describe by the museum as a story “told by the artist who struggled to capture the sorrow, hope, vision, resolve, and forgiveness in Lincoln’s eyes.” It was a wonderful piece, though I was annoyed at the number of adults seemingly incapable of sitting through a 20 minute presentation without talking.

From there we entered through the White House to Journey Two: The White House Years. As you enter you are immediately greeted with voices and chaos, while the sounds of political discourse and Lincoln-bashing surround you in what’s known as the Whispering Gallery. The walls are covered in political cartoons, from both sides of the aisle, none portraying Lincoln in a particularly positive light. Lincoln, a liberal Republican (no, the terms are not mutually exclusive, as the Republicans were once the more progressive party), was pretty much universally loathed for most of his presidency (in the 4-way race, Lincoln was elected with only 39% of the popular vote). Things had turned slightly in his favor shortly before his re-election, but overall he did not experience overwhelming popularity while in office, only rising to legend status long after his assassination.

As I made my way through the museum, one thing became apparent. The more things change, the more things stay the same. Those who long for a time when debate was spirited but civil, and lacked partisan clashes would be greatly disappointed when truly looking at history. Such gentler times do not exist.

Interestingly enough, Mary Todd Lincoln was not particularly popular in Washington either. Many of the local society women felt her beneath them, and not up to the standard of first lady. A particularly interesting exhibit shows Mary in a ball gown with the gowns of her rivals around an outer ring. The associated commentary of the women is full of catty and cruel remarks. Episodes of “Real Housewives of 1800’s Washington, D.C.” could have certainly featured these women.

Deeper in the journey you experienced the Lincolns’ pain of losing their son Willie (an exhibit shows them sitting vigil at Willie’s bedside while the President must also attend a White House ball). Further in, a large gallery with ghostly faces and voices debate the effectiveness and constitutionality of the Emancipation Proclamation, while another shows the 13th Amendment being heavily debated within Lincoln’s inner circle. In 2013, 148 years after its passing, Mississippi would become the final state to ratify the amendment (though they voted to ratify in 1995, they neglected to submit the paperwork). The section ends with first a replica of the Presidential Box at Ford’s Theater, and then Lincoln Lying in State at the Capital.

It would be impossible for me to describe all the museum has to offer, including the Treasures Gallery which hosts a large collection of Lincoln-related artifacts.. That said, I thought it was the most interesting museum of its kind I have ever been to and would recommend it to all. The displays were visually interesting, and captivated your mind and your emotions. The Civil War in 4 Minutes (click the link for the video), a Ken Burns piece chronicling the war’s shifting boundaries and the casualty count, makes a big impact. I wept as I stood in a dimly lit room and read the Gettysburg Address while a somber rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic played softly in the background. Manipulative? Sure. But effective. Complete with a message that I don’t think we have mastered even today.

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

We made our way into the Museum Store, and I was sad to discover that while the museum does sell DVDs of some of the other video shorts from the exhibits, they do not sell the Tim Russert campaign piece. He passed before they received publication rights. I hope that someday his family will make this fantastic video available for the public or at least to educators. I can think of at least one history teacher that would make it an annual viewing in her classroom.

On the way out, I noticed a Penny Machine in the lobby. I have collected pressed pennies for years, but was thoroughly amused at pressing an image of the Lincoln Museum on my Lincoln penny.

Across the street at the Union Station Train Depot (converted as part of the museum site), a small tribute to the Oscar winning film exists (and if you haven’t seen it, I couldn’t recommended it highly enough). The exhibit is extremely limited, showing one small set (where Lincoln’s closest discussed the 13th), a dress worn by Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, and a few other pieces of movie memorabilia, but it was fun to pop into.

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Research after the visit revealed that many believe that the museum isn’t “museum-like” enough, but I think that’s what made it fantastic. It engages in a way that most don’t, drawing you in with the interactive and vibrant exhibits. Even complaints about the Tim Russert piece being outdated seem like nonsense to me. While younger generations certainly won’t feel the nostalgia that I (and I’m sure others) felt upon coming across a piece of Mr. Russert’s work, the lesson of the video still stands as it illustrates that the political machine, while constantly evolving, hasn’t changed the overall conflicts inherent in the political process itself.

The museum is extraordinarily well done and tells a remarkable story about a remarkable man.

Thanks for reading. Thoughts, questions and comments always welcome.

“We’d Like to Thank You Herbert Hoover…

“…for really showing us the way.”

It’s not 31st President’s fault that the catchy song from Annie played on repeat in my head throughout my visit to his boyhood home and Presidential Library. Annie is such a deeply ingrained part of my childhood that I can sing every song word for word. I mean no disrespect. It’s just that besides being the subject of an unflattering Broadway showtune, I couldn’t have told you much else about Hoover prior to my visit. I know, of course, that he was considered a failed President by most, and that he has a big dam named after him (I’ve even taken the Dam Tour). But that’s about it.

I’ll confess, history (unless it’s related to the space age) was never my favorite subject, but here I am exploring our vast country, and history – the good and the bad – is a very big part of that journey.

We arrived to the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site in West Branch, Iowa late in the afternoon. The site chronicles Hoover’s life from boyhood home, through his presidency to his final resting place. We stopped into the Visitors Center for maps and information, and explored the very brief exhibit there.

Late in Hoover’s life, he said of his childhood, “I do not know much of anything that happens to a small boy in Iowa that is not cheerful. It is a life of more nearly complete joy than any other form of existence I can imagine.” Sill, his early years were not easy. His father, a Quaker blacksmith, passed in December 1880 when Hoover was only 6 years old, and his mom just four years later. At 11 years old, Hoover traveled by train from Iowa to Oregon to live with his uncle, a doctor. In his possession was one suitcase, a basket of food from his aunt and 50 cents sewn into his clothing in case of emergency. He would never live in Iowa again and returned only to assist in the planning of the site.

We wanted to spend the majority of our limited available time in the Presidential Museum, so we made only a quick visit to the various buildings on the property (his boyhood home, the Quaker Meeting House where his family gathered, a blacksmith shop that would have been similar to his father’s, as well as the school house where Hoover was educated).

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We strolled across the vast property to the Presidential Library. Presidential libraries are, by their very nature it seems, designed to be a bit of a lie. Balance isn’t necessarily the goal – the goal is, of course, to showcase the President’s highlights, even if, as in the case of Hoover, those highlights mostly didn’t come during the Presidency.

Blamed for the Great Depression (or for not doing enough to end it), Hoover is pretty much synonymous with “presidential failure.” But there was more to the man than the Presidency, and the museum tells an interesting story of a distinguished Commerce Secretary, and a great humanitarian – a man who spent 50 years in public service, and is often defined only by 4 of those years.

Hoover went to Stanford University, while in it’s infancy, to become a mining engineer. He then used his education in China and Australia, where he literally struck gold and became a very wealthy man at a very early age, earning the adage the ‘great engineer’. The museum showcased the difficult living conditions in the Australian desert and the tense times in China during the Boxer rebellion.

While he was in Europe, WWI broke out and he led the efforts to bring Americans stranded in Europe home safely. He then had the unenviable job of getting American food aid to the European allies, without it ending up in the hands of the German occupiers, thereby cementing his reputation as a ‘great humanitarian’.

One of my favorite parts of the the museum were the flour sacks within the Humanitarian Exhibit.

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Here are a few of the flour sack samples throughout the exhibit.

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Appointed Commerce Secretary by Warren Harding in 1920 (and continuing to serve under Calvin Coolidge), Hoover was said to be so popular that he over-shadowed both presidents. It was joked throughout Washington that Hoover was “Secretary of Commerce, and Undersecretary of everything else.” His great accomplishment during this time was the establishment of the ‘Bureau of Standards’, which established standards for such things like sizes for car wheels and tires; bedframes and mattress. This resulted in vast efficiencies and enabled consumers to buy a car from one manufacturer and the tires from another.

The roaring 1920s were depicted with interesting exhibits. One exhibit presented the early age of commercial radio, and how Hoover thought only live performances should be broadcast, while another chronicled the establishment of the early version of air traffic control.

Having won the presidential election with relative ease, there were very high hopes for Hoover. However, the feelings did not last through the depression. The newspaper articles and cartoons show that there were rumors that he was running away from the country with all his gold on Andrew Carnegie’s yacht.

Overall, we felt the great depression did not get the level of attention that it deserved. Still, the museum was very much an eye-opener for me and an in-depth look at the man, if not the President.

The final exhibit hall, a re-creation of his suite at the Waldorf Astoria (where he spent his post-presidential years) demonstrated the extent of his personal wealth. Hoover would go on to do many great things in those years, including heading the Boys Clubs of America (which he raised millions of dollars for), serving as the coordinator for Food Supply for World Famine during World War II, serving as occupancy adviser to President Truman, among many other things. He also paved the way for the 1949 Executive Reorganization Act, which restructured the executive branch of the government. He also found time to author dozens of books.

A President is laid to rest ~ October 1964.

It is said that his Quaker faith helped guide him through the years. In the Quaker tradition, his grave is marked with only his name and dates. You’ll find no Presidential Seal or fancy engravings here.

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Our visit to the Hoover Library was certainly interesting. We have other Presidential Libraries on our itinerary for the trip, but Hoover was my first. I have been to the JKF Library in Boston, but it was a screening of an installment of the HBO Mini-series From the Earth to the Moon. I have not visited the exhibits. Somehow, we always forget to make time to be tourists in our own states. Will definitely have to change that soon.

Have you visited a Presidential Library? Let us know which and your thoughts. Maybe your library is next on our list. And since we discovered the Presidential Library Passport on this visit, we’re looking forward to checking them all out.

Apologies for the very long gap since the last post. Life has been crazy! Lots more posts to follow.