Our cross country driving trip was not only filled with beautiful scenery, it afforded us an opportunity to visit a few places we'd never seen before. Moab, Utah is one such place that we stopped and spent some time. Just off Route 50, Moab has been the location for plenty of Western movies through the years, and when you see the landscape you know why. It really does look like cowboy and Indian country. Moab is home to two National Parks; Arches and Canyonlands.
While on location, John Wayne stayed at a motel called The Apache, which is still there by the way, and looks great, but unfortunately was booked solid when we arrived. We wound up staying at two different Best Westerns during our two night stay in the area. The little town of Moab is geared to the tourist, hiking, and rafting crowds, but considering that, is not really over-built yet and has been able to retain its small-town charm.
We spent the better part of half a day in Arches National Park and it was positively breathtaking. We took a gang of photos, even though we know it is impossible to capture the magnificence of places like that in pictures. But how do you not snap your camera every five minutes when everywhere you turn you see a new gorgeous shot? We never had the time to see Canyonlands, but that only gives us an excuse to return some day soon.
Several years ago, on another coast to coast driving trip, Jane and I visited Springfield, Illinois and spent some time with Abraham Lincoln toured his home, went to his memorial and grave site and walked the same streets that he did as a lawyer and then as President-elect. It was quite an experience. On that same trip, we stopped at Independence, Missouri to see Harry Truman's home and visited his presidential museum and library. This trip it was Ike's turn. Our first Eisenhower stop was at his farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower's connection with the town and battlefield of Gettysburg began in the spring of 1915 when, as a cadet at the US Military Academy at West Point, he visited with his class to study the battle. Three years later during the First World War, Capt. Eisenhower found himself back in Gettysburg with his wife Mamie and their first son. Despite his hope for duty overseas, he had been appointed commander of Camp Colt, the US Army Tank Corps Training Center located on the fields of Pickett's Charge. Eisenhower's orders were, "To take in volunteers, equip, organize, and instruct them and have them ready for overseas shipment when called upon."
At the end of World War I, Eisenhower left Gettysburg for a new assignment, one of many in a 31 year career in which he rose to the rank of five star general. After World War II, while president of Columbia University, the General and his wife returned to Gettysburg to search for a retirement home. In 1950, fondly recalling Camp Colt days, they bought a 189 acre farm adjoining the Gettysburg Battlefield. Their retirement was delayed, however, when Eisenhower left for Europe to assume command of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Eisenhower returned home to run for the Presidency in 1952. To kick off his Pennsylvania campaign, he welcomed state Republican leaders to a picnic at the farm.
During his first term as President, he and Mamie renovated their Gettysburg home. The construction was complete by March of 1955 and the Eisenhowers began to visit on weekends and holidays. Though Eisenhower used his weekends at Gettysburg to escape the pressures of the Presidency, work was never far away. He began each morning with a briefing on world events. Meetings with staff were common especially during his heart attack recuperation in 1955 when the Gettysburg Farm became the "Temporary White House."
Back in Washington, the President received a steady stream of dignitaries, many of whom he invited to Camp David for meetings, then on to his farm. After a tour of his Angus herd and cattle barns, Eisenhower brought these world leaders back to the house to sit on the porch. Eisenhower said the informal atmosphere of the porch allowed him, "to get the other man's equation."
In 1961, after 45 years service to their country, General and Mrs. Eisenhower retired to their Gettysburg Farm. For the next eight years the Eisenhowers led an active life. The General worked weekdays at his Gettysburg College office, meeting political and business associates and writing his memoirs. He even dabbled in oil painting as a hobby. His work is displayed throughout the farmhouse. He continued to serve as elder statesman advising Presidents and meeting world leaders. But the Eisenhowers' greatest joy was to simply spend time on their farm with family and friends.
General and Mrs. Eisenhower donated their home and farm to the National Park Service in 1967. Two years later, General Eisenhower died at the age of 78. Mrs. Eisenhower rejected the idea of moving to Washington to be closer to family and friends and continued to live on the farm until her death in 1979. The National Park Service opened the site in 1980.
On our drive back home we went through Abilene, Kansas, and of course made a stop at Ike's boyhood home, which also now is part of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum. In addition to Eisenhower's boyhood home, presidential library, museum, and grounds there is a meditation chapel which serves as the final resting place for Ike and Mamie.
The original Eisenhower home is amazingly small, given the large family (father, mother, six children, and a grandfather) that lived there. A typical nineteenth century home, the Eisenhowers occupied this house from 1898 until Mrs. Eisenhower's (Ike's mother) death in 1946. Her sons gave the house, on its original site, to the Eisenhower Foundation which maintained it until it was given to the Federal Government in 1966.
The Eisenhower Museum was built by the Eisenhower Foundation, with funds raised through public gifts. Originally dedicated on Veterans Day, 1954, the Museum was built to house the materials and objects related to Dwight D. Eisenhower's life. It contains over 30,000-square feet of gallery space, with exhibits showing not only the fine art objects collected by and given to Eisenhower but also the story of his careers as military leader and President of the United States.
After touring both places, what comes through loud and clear is that Dwight David Eisenhower was a plain, down to earth man. Sure, he was President of the United States, a five-star general, and leader of the D-Day invasion, but a simple, regular guy, too. No pretences. No elitism. No phoniness. He was just a decent man who loved his family, his God and his country. He possessed no self-consciousness about "leaving a legacy" he didn't have to think about that, his legacy was already there formed by a lifetime of courage, hard work, patriotism, and commitment to his core values. And, oh yes, he was a pretty good painter, too.