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The Tentacle


September 30, 2009

Revealing Ike

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Of all the presidents of the United States, the one which Frederick and Carroll Counties may have literally the closest connection is President Dwight David Eisenhower, known affectionaly as “Ike.”

 

Just recently my family and I went on a history exploration trip to nearby Gettysburg to visit the new Gettysburg Battlefield visitors’ center and the Eisenhower National Historic Site, which is adjacent to the battlefield.

 

In years past, it would have been called a “day trip,” however, the term “staycation” has in recent years crept into our lexicon. Even the Merriam-Webster dictionary now recognizes the word to mean “a vacation spent at home or nearby.”

 

President Eisenhower lived on a farm and raised Black Angus cattle about 10 miles above the Maryland-Pennsylvania border. The president’s family roots may be traced to Germany. His family first settled in Lancaster, PA, in 1741, before later moving farther west.

 

“Ike,” who was born October 14, 1890, served at Camp Colt in Gettysburg during World War I, after he had graduated from West Point. There he was in charge of training soldiers for the army’s fledgling tank corps.

 

“Ike,” who served as our 34th president from 1953-1961, purchased the farm adjacent to the Gettysburg Battlefield, in Adams County in 1950, from Allen Redding.

 

The original purchase encompassed 189 acres.  He paid $44,000 which, at that time, was the highest price ever paid for a farm in Adams County. The farm was declared by Congress to be a National Historic Site in 1967.

 

Over the years I have endeavored to visit as many “presidential places” as possible. In planning a trip for this summer, I considered traveling to the Eisenhower Presidential Library in his childhood home in Abilene, Kansas.

 

That was when I decided that before I start traveling halfway across the country to study more about the life and times of President Eisenhower, wouldn’t it be kind of be smart to first visit his home which is less than 45 minutes from my own?

 

So several weekends ago, I spent the day at Eisenhower’s farm. I wholly recommend this day trip. It was less than 50 miles round trip and visiting the farm was fascinating.

 

It was just last week, September 24, 1955, that President Eisenhower had a mild heart attack right before his 65th birthday, while returning from a golf and fishing outing.

 

In an era that did not have the 24/7 news coverage that we endure today, his heart attack led to a mini-news frenzy over questions about his health and his abilities to continue to lead as president.

 

And it led to a heightened interest in his vice-president, Richard Nixon.

 

More significantly, President Eisenhower is credited as one of the first presidents to allow the public to be aware of his health issues – perhaps too much. In June 1956 he was operated on for a bowel obstruction.

 

Okay – moving on…

 

For those who enjoy presidential trivia, there is nothing like visiting a president’s home in order to attempt to garner some idea of the personal-human side of such a prominent public figure.

 

For example, in addition to gaining a great deal of insight into President Eisenhower, the cattle farmer, I was fascinated to learn that he was quite an artist.

 

The president, it seems, began to paint in 1948. “I don’t know anything about painting … They are daubs, born of my love of color,” he is quoted as saying in reference to his artistic endeavors.

 

I also learned that he was the first president to use a helicopter for travel, and that he first began flying back and forth from the White House around 1957.

 

President Eisenhower was the first president of which I have any memory and in many ways the last of an era. He was the last World War I veteran to serve in the White House. He was also the first president to actively use a “chief of staff.”

 

He is well known as a West Point graduate; however, few historians make note of the fact that he first applied to attend the Naval Academy. He passed the entrance exam handily but was too old at the time to be considered eligible to attend Annapolis. He subsequently began his studies at West Point in June 1911.

 

I am often amused with partisan political historians who are so anxious to rate the historical significance of any particular president – during or shortly after their term in office.

 

For years, many armchair historians have been so smug in their determination that President Eisenhower was a “placeholder” president who accomplished little of note while in office.

 

In recent years, with the wisdom of historical context and reflection, his presidency has slowly but surely been reassessed and his stature in history is on the rise.

 

In this economy, there is no better opportunity to venture right next door, just up the road in Gettysburg and gain some insight into a president who was much more interested in being the steadfast hand of leadership and not so much interested in being part of the cult of personality - or the politics of fear.

 

It was President Eisenhower who once said, “I would rather try to persuade a man to go along, because once I have persuaded him he will stick. If I scare him, he will stay just as long as he is scared, and then he is gone.”

 

Moreover, one of my favorite Eisenhower quotes is: “I can think of nothing more boring for the American people than to have to sit in their living rooms for a whole half hour looking at my face on their television screens.”

 

What a refreshing idea…

 

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. E-mail him at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.



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