A Hike About Ike

Prior to spring break, I embarked on a tour of the town of Gettysburg as part of the Eisenhower Institute’s Eisenhower in Gettysburg program. Instead of a tour focused on the Civil War or Battle of Gettysburg, National Park Service Ranger Alyce Evans from the Eisenhower National Historic Site guided us on a tour which emphasized places that had ties to Ike.

The Eisenhower in Gettysburg cohort has met over lunch throughout the spring semester to learn and discuss the connection between Eisenhower and Gettysburg. One realization that startled me as I began this program was the longevity of Eisenhower’s connection to Gettysburg (Ike’s first interaction with Gettysburg occurred in 1915 when he was a West Point cadet visiting the battlefield), and the way the Eisenhower connections have been quietly preserved.

While the words and impact of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address are ingrained in the very being of the town of Gettysburg, and numerous statues of Lincoln are present in Gettysburg, for many years a lone statue outside the Admissions building served as a small reminder of how Gettysburg served as home and haven to Dwight D. Eisenhower for almost two decades.

It was in 1950 when Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower purchased a 189-acre farm, and in 1961 when the Eisenhowers retired to their farm after a long career in public service.

Eisenhower still spent time at his farm prior to his retirement. After renovations finished in 1955, Ike enjoyed playing golf and inspecting his herd of Angus cattle. The farm also served as a “Temporary White House” as Dwight recovered from his heart attack in 1955. World leaders were invited at the behest of Eisenhower to visit his farm — an event which demonstrates how his public service extended to his personal home.

We began the tour at the Eisenhower Institute, which served as a home for the Eisenhowers in the summer of 1918. This was the longest concentrated time the Eisenhowers spent with their son, Icky. Ranger Alyce mentioned that the personal time Mamie and Dwight were able to spend time with their son would shape their memory of Gettysburg. This would, of course, contribute to one of the reasons why the Eisenhowers chose Gettysburg as their permanent home.

We then moved out of this personal space of the Eisenhowers, and made our way to the Christ Lutheran Church, town square, and St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church. These three locations connected more to his public service as both an army officer, and later as president.

It was at the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church where men from Camp Colt who were affected by the Spanish Influenza were quarantined as an attempt to prevent the flu from spreading. The impact the Spanish Influenza on the camp and town was devastating. Places of meeting and congregation, like schools, were closed. Ranger Alyce shared with us that while Ike certainly expected to lose men at some point during his career, he did not imagine that he would lose men at Camp Colt in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Fast forward to Eisenhower’s run for the presidency. We stood in the town square, looking at photos that hearkened back to the Gettysburg that Ike would recognize. One photograph depicted Eisenhower parading through the circle — the crowd in the photo a testament to Ike’s popularity and the town’s pride in being home to a president. Ranger Alyce pointed towards the Majestic Theater, a space which served as a meeting place for journalists, who were eager to share the news of the president’s recuperation in 1955, and doctors, who kept the media updated.

The tour led by Ranger Alyce helped further my understanding and knowledge of Eisenhower’s time in Gettysburg. That the cohort was able to walk through town and see places that possessed an important link to Eisenhower, allowed us to learn a “quieter” aspect of Gettysburg’s history and Eisenhower’s connection to such a historic place.