A visit to the Dwight Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, Kansas feels like a visit to the Twilight Zone and the 1950s. Once on Eisenhower/Buckeye Blvd, the 21st century is gone. This is not only evident at the Eisenhower Library, but upon visiting the small town of Abilene itself.
The library and museum is in a large campus-like setting and consists of five buildings, the library and museum being two of them. A third building is Eisenhower’s boyhood home, where tours are given regularly as part of the price of admission. The movie on his life is offered in a small viewing room adjacent to the gift shop. A chapel is the last building. The inside of the chapel is the final resting place for Eisenhower, his wife Mimi, and a child of theirs who died early in their marriage.
A visit to the museum is very much about World War Two. At the time of this writing, the library, and not just the museum, was open to all visitors, not just those who had historian credentials. This is because a World War Two exhibit in the library is open to everyone. The rest of the library remained off limits except to those doing research. That exhibit however, continues once the visitor enters the museum, and it is difficult to determine when the war exhibit has ended and the presidential museum begins. This could very well be the message the museum’s curator wanted to send; that it is difficult to separate General Eisenhower known by many during the war years, from President Eisenhower. However, this long exhibit on the war, including details on battles, relics from the war overseas, and details on the war effort at home, can be a bit daunting to the casual visitor who is not wrapped up in war time history. For those who grew up dung the post-war years, much of it is also nothing new.
Once a visitor progresses to the display on Eisenhower’s life and pre-presidential activities, the museum takes on the flavor of the other presidential libraries in the presidential library system, of which there are now thirteen. This includes whole sections on the clothes Mimi Eisenhower wore, the gifts they received by visiting dignitaries, and personal details of his life and pre-war years.
The Eisenhower Library and Museum, while interesting and well worth the visit to people interested in presidential history, needs an update. The exhibits need modernizing, and there is probably more that can be taken from the library and shared as an exhibit in the museum that pertains to his presidency directly, and not just his years during the war. He presided during years of happiness and prosperity in America following World War Two, and that was certainly addressed. However, additional artifacts from those years would have been a welcome addition to the museum.
Once a visitor leaves the grounds, there is of course Abilene to stroll through, soda fountains to visit, and mansions and historic homes that have not lost their luster and in fact go back even further in time. One of these is the hundred year old Seelye mansion. On the way back to the freeway and into the 21st century, there is even a 1950’s drive-in that serves hamburgers and malts to those seated in their car.
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