If you haven’t been to the Eisenhower Museum for awhile, now might be the time to do it, as they’ve just redone a bunch of exhibits, said Dawn Hammatt, director of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, at the Junction City Rotary Club meeting last week.
Hammatt said she won’t judge you if you haven’t been there in awhile.
“We don’t act as tourists in our own hometown, and I will challenge you to do that,” she said.
Hammatt described the presidential museum and library as “a campus that grew up around (Ike’s) boyhood home.”
The Eisenhower Museum actually started before Ike was president. The Eisenhower Foundation started with tours of Ike’s boyhood home before he was elected president after his mom passed away and left it to the foundation. When the foundation proposed establishing a museum honoring Ike, he insisted that it be about all service members, not just him.
“They started building this building as a memorial to all service members, but then he was elected president; so they immediately did an addition, and it became a presidential museum as well,” Hammatt said. “We have the only one that started before he was even president, which I think is really interesting.”
All of the exhibits within the museum have gone 5- to 7-year “reconceptualization.” COVID closed doors for the last two years, so this is really the first year the general public has been able to tour it.
The museum covers all of Ike’s life from what he learned as a boy in one exhibit, an exhibit on his experience at West Point, exhibits with video about WWII and his role in it, an exhibit about his wife Mamie, and of course, exhibits about his presidency. The last part of the museum that has words of his farewell address on the wall, which includes many memorable quotes, including the one warning about the “military industrial complex.”
An extensive renovation has also just been completed on Ike’s boyhood home, which included renovation of the exterior that abated lead paint, re-roofed the building, improved the drainage system and upgraded the HVAC and fire suppression systems inside.
“The building has been closed to tours for quite some time, it took longer than expected,” Hammatt said. “We just reopened to tours last week.”
Another interesting fact about the presidential library, a separate building from the museum where Ike’s presidential documents are housed, is that he chose them to be housed in his Kansas hometown rather someplace else. Ike was president before the Presidential Records Act went into effect, so he had a say in what became of them after his presidency.
“This is to me a very American situation – where any of us can go into the research room and go research the documents of your government,” Hammatt said.
Hammatt said her favorite document in the library’s collection is the “in case of failure” message that Eisenhower wrote in case the D-Day Invasion failed.
“Eisenhower scribbled this down on a little piece of paper just before the D-Day Invasion,” she said. “In this letter he says that the service members did everything they could to prepare for this day; and if anything goes wrong, and there is a failure attached to it, he writes ‘It is my fault alone.’ I get chills, I get incredibly weepy, that’s incredibly meaningful to me that he said, ‘It is my fault alone’ if anything goes wrong.”
Another part of the museum’s campus is a building they call “the meditation space,” a chapel-like space that is the final resting place of Eisenhower, his wife and their first-born son. The space is meant to be a place for anyone to come and reflect upon their service to the US.
Anyone wanting to know more about the museum or Ike is welcome to attend “Lunch and Learn” program held every fourth Thursday at noon at the museum. This event is free, and there are other programs that are also free to attend. Read more at.eisenhowerlibrary.gov.
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