A Very Special Tour

Published: June 6th 2009
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Well, today turned out to be a very special day.. but let me start out at the beginning. Our early morning walk actually had us meandering by "amber waves of grain" in a field...although as Steve said, the wheat was so small that it must be for Wheat Thins (he made me put this joke in here!!!). We got acquainted with Abilene residents by wandering through the local cemetery - it was interesting to see the number of Hispanic surnamed families from the early and mid - 20th century. One poignant headstone had two grieving greyhounds on it - I'm sure you didn't know that Abilene is the home of the Greyhound Hall of Fame.

Driving down the main street of Abilene you are struck by the yellow ribbons around the century old trees and the red, white and blue bunting decorating many of the old homes. Abilene is a town that wears its patriotism both quietly and proudly. The houses have big wrap around front porches - the ones where you long to sit on a sultry summer afternoon sipping a glass of freshly made lemonade, listening to the squeek of the swing in the backyard and the excited voices of young children. I said to Steve last night that I like Midwestern "nice" - it's a good feeling to know that you are greeted by kindness and people who feel that they are pleased to help you.

The Eisenhower Museum is beginning a three day celebration of the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings - I wish we could have planned our trip to be here tomorrow since there are many exciting events planned for the day. The complex includes not only the museum and library, but also the late 19th century home in which Eisenhower grew up, and a chapel where he and Mamie are buried. The homestead is exactly as his family left it in the 1940's, including handsome quilts, handmade by his mother. The museum traces his entire life, from the early years growing up in Abilene through his military and political careers. What struck me was the table that was used by all the military brass for meetings when they were planning Operation Overlord - you could almost sense the gravelly voices, the rustle of papers, the sense of urgency.

As part of the special D-day celebration, the library was showing a film "D-day Plus 20 Years" which was a 90 minute program from 1964 with Walter Cronkite and Eisenhower revisiting the battlefields of Normandy. It was such a picture into history - Eisenhower driving a jeep on Omaha beach and animatedly telling the story of the scaling of Pointe du Hoc. Hearing the story of the invasion from Eisenhower's perspective was pure history. In his last minutes in the film, he spoke passionately about the need to create a world of peace, not a world of war, and that every dollar spent on war took from the poor and needy of the world...prescient words.

And now for the best! We stopped in the reception area at the library to ask about finding out about a speech that Eisenhower had given at Ohio University when Steve was a freshman there - he loved that speech and has often quoted Eisenhower saying that you had to laugh every day. The receptionist called the archivist, who was a wonderful guy named Jim, we told him what we were looking for...and of course, I had to throw in that I was a librarian...and one thing led to another and he offered us a behind the scenes tour of the archive. The next two hours were so memorable I could barely believe it was happenning. He took us all through the research areas and then into the stack areas with the archival boxes of presidential papers. He pulled one off the shelf to show us and it contained a November 1959 telegram from Krushchev to Eisenhower, remarking on his recent visit, that he had gone on to India but it was too hot there, and that he had heard from DeGaulle about an upcoming conference. The telegram had only recently been declassified - and here it was in our hands. I felt this incredible sense of history - from Krushchev to Eisenhower - and now to my hands. We wound our way through floors of stacks - there are 26 million documents there - and had the incredible benefit of Jim's insight into the collection - he's been there since 1972. One story he told us was about when he was reviewing some papers from Eisenhower's secretary, which appeared to be notes that she had taken during meetings. After several pages of these notes, in which he noted that she seemed to have an excellent recall of exactly what was said in these meetings, he found on the bottom of one of the pages a note in her handwriting saying that that tape was scratchy and so the notes might not be complete. Bingo! He had discovered that Eisenhower used a secret taping system in the Oval Office for many of his meetings - the first time that was discovered publicly. What an afternoon - making history come alive.

off to Independence late afternoon and our first toll road - the Kansas Turnpike. Lauren, we must have forgotten to program the GPS to avoid toll roads...but then if we had, we'd probably have gotten to Missouri via Oklahoma! A gustatory celebration for dinner - melt in your mouth barbeque from Arthur Bryant's in KC!


6th June 2009

I'm speechless
How awe-inspiring. It almost makes me cry to read of your archival discovery. So Kansas turned out to be far more than wheatfields and vegetable renderings. (Was there an 18-minute gap in the scratchy tape?) WHEAT THING (Eyes rolling, stage let)??? Anne Marie, NOW don't you wish you believed in censorship?

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