Thursday, March 26, 2015

Dwight Eisenhower's Pennsylvania Farm

Eisenhower's Pennsylvania farm served as post-presidency retreat


After retiring, President Dwight Eisenhower and his wife chose to live on their farm near Gettysburg, Pa., where he raised cattle and worked to improve the soil.

            When Dwight Eisenhower retired in 1961, he and his wife, Mamie, chose to live on their farm near Gettysburg, Pa. They had moved about once a year during his military career, and, as Mamie once commented, "We had only one home: our farm."

            Administered by the National Park Service, the home and farm are open for visitors, who for $7 must go by bus from the Gettysburg National Military Park visitors center. The driver provided background information on the Gettysburg battlefield as our group passed through it.

            Eisenhower had happy connections with Gettysburg when he was in the Army. In 1950, he bought 169 acres with a dairy farm, but he preferred raising beef cattle, which became a successful enterprise. He enjoyed cooking, especially grilling huge Black Angus steaks. He improved the cropland that had been depleted by previous owners. He decided this was one way he could leave the world a better place than he found it.

            On our tour, our first contact was with Kevin, a ranger-in-training who was finishing a history degree. I hope he wasn't disappointed when we were the only people who took his tour. However, at the time, we were standing under some shade trees in 95-degree heat.

            Kevin was well-prepared with a lecture about how Eisenhower handled the out-of-control egos under his leadership as a general in during World War II. Social skills were especially important during the Battle of the Bulge, when British Gen. Bernard Montgomery and U.S. Gen. George Patton both seemed to be trying to win the war on their own. Kevin covered much of the war with stories demonstrating Eisenhower's good judgment.

            The next ranger had a small group of us under a tree outside the large barn, where he told us about how Eisenhower's mother had raised six children who became quite successful. Like President Jimmy Carter's mother, when Mrs. Eisenhower was asked what she thought of her son's success, she asked: "Which one?"

            Eisenhower retired here because he thought he was through with the political world, but there were still many visitors. Most were housed at Camp David, but others stayed at the farm. When Montgomery visited, he was put in the rebuilt garage because Eisenhower was angry with him for a talk he had given demeaning American soldiers during the war. When Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev visited, he held Eisenhower's visiting grandchildren on his knee.

            On his farm, Eisenhower was engaged in his favorite activities: breeding cattle, shooting skeet, fishing and spending time with Mamie, something that was especially pleasant because they had been separated so much during the years he was an officer. At the house, the guide talked first about Mamie and Eisenhower meeting and falling in love at first sight. Because she had come from a wealthy family, some considered her marrying him a step down socially.

            The house is practical, with eight bedrooms, one of which was for Mamie's mother. They spent most of their time on the porch, which now has an incomplete picture on an easel that Eisenhower had been painting when he died. We had seen a collection of his paintings in his presidential museum in Kansas; I thought he was quite good for someone with no formal training.

            In a film at the visitors' center, Walter Cronkite narrates a history that includes conversations he and the former president had on the farm after Eisenhower's retirement. Artifacts from his life are on display, along with some of his words of wisdom. In retrospect, I consider him a very good president and especially appreciate his pushing for the building of our national highway system.

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