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Archive for Sunday, October 8, 2000

Tourists like Ike’s home

Presidential center sees resurgence of interest

October 8, 2000

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— Dwight Eisenhower, the 34th president of the United States and the Army general who commanded Allied forces in Europe in World War II, was born in 1890 in Texas, where his father had found a job as a railroad hand.

The Eisenhowers were Kansans, and the family returned home the next year. Dwight, later known as Ike, and his six brothers were raised in Abilene in a small home that still stands today.

And though the generation that knew Eisenhower as a victorious general is aging, the center that bears his name is seeing a resurgence of interest.

"We used to have a lot of World War II veterans," said Daniel D. Holt, director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Center. "Now we're getting younger people who come to see the president, not the general."

The 22-acre complex in Eisenhower's hometown includes the family home, a museum and library, a visitors center with a gift shop, and a Place of Meditation.

Eisenhower and his brothers donated the home to the Eisenhower Foundation in 1947, and the first wing of the library was built in 1954 with private funds. The Presidential Library Act was passed in 1955, and the federal National Archives Library was opened in 1962.

The complex was built through private funds, except for the visitors center.

Museum attendance is up more than 20 percent from a year ago, when it was more than 100,000, said Holt.

The museum includes weapons that were used in World War II, photographs of Eisenhower with Winston Churchill and other world leaders, and a gallery with gowns worn by 29 first ladies.

It also includes Eisenhower's academic report from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth he graduated first in a class of 275 in 1926.

The library is open to researchers and includes governmental papers from the period of Eisenhower's presidency 1953 to 1961 as well as his own papers. It includes millions of pages of manuscripts and thousands of photos.

The typical researcher today is more interested in studying the period, rather than Eisenhower himself, Holt said.

"A great deal of material is being declassified now," Holt said. That includes Pentagon files. And the declassified material has helped change the understanding of Eisenhower as a president.

The popular image Eisenhower was a genial bumbler who spent his time playing golf turns out to be a myth.

"I think he promoted that image," Holt said. "He was in control. He knew everything that was going on in the White House, every minute."

As Eisenhower's era recedes from memory, his reputation has improved, according to Holt.

"In presidential ratings, he is always in the top 10," Holt said. "In a C-SPAN poll, historians ranked him ninth and the public ranked him eighth. He is right at the top in honesty and integrity."

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