The Ike Blog (Oct. - Dec., 2012)


POSTED: December 31, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

On New Year's Eve, 1957, Frederick Morrow was feeling humiliated. He had been assigned to assist in the writing of the President's State of the Union Message and so far was given no chance at all to contribute to it. He desperately hoped "not to begin the new year as a mere wart on the White House staff."

The exceptionally anxious Mr. Morrow was one of President Eisenhower's White House aides. He's memorable for being unique among Ike's staff and for his slogging away at one of the Administration's most thankless of jobs. It's understandable why he may have felt a bit anxious and frustrated on that New Year's Eve. Or, for that matter, at any time during his White House tenure.

Morrow was black. He was the only black to serve on Eisenhower's presidential staff, and the first ever in history to serve as a presidential aide. His job was to be a liaison between the White House and Negro leaders, keep the White House attuned to the pulse of the Negro community, and serve as cheerleader for the President and his policies. The experience proved to be gradually ever more difficult and frustrating for Morrow. He documented it all in his memoir, Black Man in the White House.

First there was the prejudice he would face as a black man in the 50s and even more so as the only black presidential staff person.

His problems in the White House began straight away. He encountered difficulty trying to acquire a secretary from the White House secretarial pool because no one wanted to work for a black man. Finally, one woman volunteered to be his secretary "out of Christian charity." Then he found it next to impossible to find decent accommodations in the DC area. Any place designated as rentable to "Coloreds" was dismal and dilapidated. Any place half way appealing was restricted to white tenants only.

His run-ins with bigotry continued through his White House years. In January of 1957, he was invited to attend a pre-inaugural service at the President's place of worship - the National Presbyterian Church. Upon arrival, he was stopped and had his credentials checked over and over and over by assorted different ushers and then instead of being escorted to the roped off section in which the President and his staff were to sit, he and his wife were coolly ushered to a seat in the rear. One church member was overheard commenting to another, "He must be a high government official, because if he were not, he would never dare enter our church."

The Administration didn't go out of their way to inform the public who he was. When sent as the President's representative to a speaking engagement, he was often treated by event organizers as some unknown minor underling dismissively foisted upon them by the White House. Typically, he was asked to cut down his remarks to a couple minutes to make more time for the "important" speakers. At the 1956 Republican convention, his five minute speech was cut to two minutes and then never aired because the network cut to a commercial as soon as he began.

But even more disconcerting to Morrow was how his efforts to convince the administration to speak out for civil rights were routinely ignored. Early on, Cabinet Secretary Max Rabb told him that the Administration felt the Negroes were being too aggressive in their demands and were lacking in gratitude for all the Administration had done for them. He bluntly informed Morrow that, "Most of the responsible officials in the White House had become completely disgusted with the whole matter." Morrow later mused that, "In effect he was telling me that I should walk softly from then on and ask fewer questions of the members of the Administration on this matter."

And that, he states, was the root of his inner conflict, a conflict he thought that one day might force him to resign his position: Here he was an appointee of the Administration and loyal to the party and the President. His job was to dispassionately explain to the White House how Negroes feel about civil rights issues and to Negroes what the Administration's policies were. "Yet," he writes, "I am also a Negro who feels heavily the ills that affect my race."

When Negro national leaders were anxious to talk with the President, Morrow worked tirelessly to arrange a meeting. It seemed as though whenever he got close to having the White House finally schedule an appointment, his request was always denied. Meanwhile, White House staff members would be making speeches assuring white southerners they had little to fear from the Eisenhower administration on civil rights.

It took him years, but he finally did succeed. In 1958, the President agreed to address a summit meeting of Negro leaders in Washington. But Morrow was dismayed when he heard the President urge the leaders to be "patient" in their hopes and efforts to gain equal citizenship. Morrow could tell by the expression on the faces in the audience that the comment wasn't well received and he imagined the response it would garner throughout the Negro community.

POSTED: December 26, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

It'll be a sad day for this country - both at home and abroad - if school children can safely attend their classes only under the protection of armed guards. (Eisenhower addressing the crisis at Central High School in Little Rock on September 23, 1957.)

(Continued from December 12)
POSTED: December 16, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

Fortunately, I never get frustrated by decorating setbacks at my own home because, first of all, I have never been trusted with the lights. The wife considers herself the only one in the family possessing the engineering prowess and aesthetic sensibility required to string up the lights in a proper fashion. But secondly because, when your kids are small, decorating the tree is a ritual you look forward to.

I recall our ritual fondly… Once the lights were on, the kids and I would be summoned back to begin the placement of ornaments. I would put on a VHS tape of Christmas Story and while listening to Ralphie plot and plead to get an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle for Christmas (and I would whine to the wife about why I couldn't get a sexy leg lamp like Ralphie's dad won as a major award), we would all drink hot chocolate and decorate.

When finally done, the tree would look disproportionally bottom heavy - nine tenths of the ornaments covering the bottom quarter of the tree, all packed together only as high as the kids could reach with tinsel erratically and disheveledly draped over the branches. Before the night was through, the dog's tail would have knocked half the ornaments to the carpet and the cat would have pawed off and eaten much of the tinsel, a strand of tinsel dragging from its backside for the remainder of the holidays.

As the years have gone by though, the kids no longer had the patience to watch Christmas Story and soon couldn't be bothered to assist in the decorating. It got so it was just the two of us, the wife putting up nearly all the ornaments while I sat spellbound watching, for the umpteenth thousandth time, Ralphie almost poking his eye out with his new Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle on Christmas morning.

And now it's come to this… We have gone the way of the Eisenhower home. We too have gone artificial. This year we decided to purchase a small artificial tree. Apparently, we are getting old, we are becoming our parents. Just like they did when their kids grew up, and just like the Eisenhowers eventually did, we too have opted for the convenience of artificial.

I miss the smell of Douglas fir, but our little artificial tree doesn't look so bad. And the Eisenhower home looks great - bright, festive, and holidayesque with its poinsettias and greens and wreaths and original Eisenhower decorations. Oh… and we did resolve the light problem after a volunteer informed us that all these new light strings have a fuse in the plug. The problem was that the fuses kept blowing. So we broke up some of the interconnected strands and plugged them directly into the power strip with extension cords. The lights have remained lit ever since, but that power strip is pretty crowded.

I urge you to come visit the Eisenhower home and admire our decorating prowess. The house remains decorated through December 31. And then… and then the long process of dismantling, reboxing, and restoraging begins.

Merry Christmas! Happy decorating! And especially this Christmas and Hanukkah, no matter how old they are, give your kids an extra hug,,, And say a prayer for those families who never again will experience the joy of hugging all theirs.

POSTED: December 14, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

Ike's granddaughter, Susan, came out to conduct a tour of the Farm for a leadership group last week. One of the reminiscences she shared with the group was of the day the horses got loose and trampled her Grandfather's new putting green.

Susan recalls how she had been out with the horses and afterwards had apparently not secured the gate to the pasture. As she and the rest of her family sat out on the sun porch with "Mimi" and "Granddad," the horses suddenly appeared, galloping across the back yard and right over her Grandfather's newly installed putting green. They turned back around and trampled over it again, and yet again.

Susan ran out with the Secret Service agents to corral the horses. Before returning to the porch, she noticed how badly the beautiful new putting green had been torn up by the horses' hooves and figured she was in for a mighty tongue lashing. But there was no way around it, she had to apologize to her Grandfather and face the music.

As soon as she entered the porch, she noticed how upset her Grandmother was. Crying, she dutifully marched up to her Grandfather… But before she even had a chance to offer her apology, he said in a wistful tone, "You know, I haven't seen horses run free like that since I was a boy in Abilene. What a beautiful site!" And that was that. The incident was never mentioned again.

Susan says it's one of her fondest memories of her Grandfather.

POSTED: December 12, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

The last week of November is a busy one for the Eisenhower NHS staff. It's time to decorate the Eisenhower home for Christmas. And if that's not enough to infuse the staff with holiday spirit, the following week we all have to assist our spouses in decorating our own homes for Christmas.

And this year happens to mark a Christmas decorating milestone for me personally… For the very first time, we are going artificial.

Now here at the Eisenhower home we've had an artificial tree since the home opened to the public. Artificial for fear a real one might harbor insects and drip sap onto the carpet. But also, in part, because artificial is interpretively appropriate. The Eisenhowers themselves had switched to artificial in their later years.

But alas, artificial is no assurance that a tree will be any less labor intensive. The annual assembly and adornment of the Eisenhower tree has always been an elaborate, time consuming affair.

First, it takes a while to transport the arm loads of tree pieces from the attic down to the tree's appointed location in the living room beside the fireplace. Branches are then sorted by size, fluffed out, and then connected to the trunk. The lights come next, strand after strand after strand. Complicating the stringing of lights is that the plugs of the older strands don't fit into the sockets of the newer ones. The ends of several strands have to reach far enough down the tree for the end plugs to connect to the power strip on the floor.

Then you're ready for the ornaments - seemingly about 10,000 of them, give or take a dozen. Tradition decrees all 10,000 (give or take those dozen) must be hung, even when a personal appraisal might suggest that the tree cannot possibly accommodate any more after the first 9,000.

Then there are the hanging candy canes, the tree-topping star, gifts arranged around the tree… You flick the lights on, it looks pretty much perfect, and you're done.

Except this year it was at that moment when someone duly noted that the tree wasn't located precisely in the right spot. Selected staff persons squirmed on bellies under the tree and ever so carefully slid it across the carpet until… until… perfect. But then the entire top half of the tree's lights went out. And no amount of jiggling, switching the power strip off and on, or gentle verbal persuasion would reignite them.

So, the ends of all those light strands had to be disconnected and each one individually plugged into the power strip to determine which were faulty. Next, each bulb was replaced, one by one, hoping to uncover a burned-out one that could be the cause of the problem and thereby sparing staff the trauma of having to rip out an entire strand from the middle of the tree. But to no avail. Fortunately, there was a spare strand. So, the inoperable one was removed, sending ornaments and candy canes flying in the process, and the spare installed - the plug end of which didn't fit into the socket end of the others, thus leaving yet another strand dangling all the way down to the power strip. The ornaments and candy canes were replaced… And voila, finished! Finally.

The next morning, the tree's upper two strands were, once again, not working. I, for one, boldly responded to the setback by collapsing onto the Eisenhower living room carpet and crying.

POSTED: December 6, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

While mice are heading for the comfort of the indoors (see the previous post), there are still an array of respectable wildlife species content to remain outside. I spotted several puttering about the President's acreage this past week.

An owl silently swooped down in the twilight from a big tree along the trail between the two farms as I was closing last night. I couldn't make him out in detail, just the outline of his silhouette against the darkening sky. I grabbed for the pair of Junior Secret Service agent binoculars at Junior Secret Service Program Activity Stop 4 at the trailhead, but wasn't quick enough to get a bead on him as he soared past.

I had better luck getting a good look at what appeared to be a pileated woodpecker flittering about from tree to tree across the Eisenhower home front yard the other morning. From the distance, he looked woodpeckerish, but with a larger wing span than one typically expected of woodpeckers and flickers spotted around here. I thought he might be a pileated, but I wanted to get a clear view of his red Woody Woodpecker-like crest atop his head to confirm my suspicion.

So I followed him as he flew from tree to tree to tree across the yard through the orchard and down the farm front lane. It wasn't until he suddenly made a u-turn and flew back up the drive that I caught sight of the crest. And sure enough, he was a pileated. It's the first one I've ever encountered here on the farm. I never had the good fortune to see the larger ivory billed woodpecker and never will since it's apparently now extinct. But a pileated woodpecker is pretty much the next best thing.

Later that day I spotted a much noisier and less majestic avian species cruising back and forth high above the cropland and woodlots - an ultralight. I hadn't seen one in a while, although in the past they've been fairly common in the skies above the farm. Ultralights are those unenclosed mini aircraft that look and sound like flying lawnmowers. I suspect they're nearly the next best thing to flying with your own personal set of wings. I saw one once that was being pursued and attacked by several small birds who probably mistook it for a big crow threatening their nest.

And then there was the red fox ambling across the harvested cropland several afternoons ago. Red fox are common here at the farm - handsome looking animals and entertaining to watch as they will typically stop and watch you watch them. But they can be an annoyance when they make deliberate attempts to upstage you as you're conducting a tour with 45 seniors from Cleveland. When the Clevelanders all caught sight of that fox, they were no longer interested in anything Eisenhower. I felt compelled to coddle their fascination by veering sharply from the flow of my historical narrative and sharing instead all I know about the farm's fox population and vulpine behavior in general, in total about 30 seconds worth of material. I'm sure old Freeman Tilden would have approved. But, of course, I was desperately suppressing the urge to cry out, "People, let's focus! I'm supposed to be the center of attention here!"

I did eventually manage to segue back to Eisenhower with something like, "And speaking of foxes, Eisenhower could be as wily as one." It sounds cringe-inducing in retrospect, but it was the best line I could come up with at the spur of the moment. But hopefully I redeemed myself in a halfway elegant fashion by going on to explain that Ike shrewdly (wilily) made a point of inviting world leaders to the farm for a day, knowing that its relaxing atmosphere would be conducive to disarming them and affording him an opportunity to get "the measure of the man…"

Wildlife is great, but I wish it would learn to time its appearances so as not to compete with me for visitors' attention. It just seems to me a little arrogant of wildlife - to smugly assume it can out-duel me for the hearts and minds of visitors simply because it's cuter and has two more legs or wings than I do.

POSTED: December 4, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

You can tell winter has arrived. The mice have invaded Eisenhower NHS headquarters.

One has taken up residence in one of the offices upstairs, boldly skittering from room to room in the middle of the day.

Another is leaving droppings along the back edge of the kitchen counter. He casually emerged from the supervisor's gym bag when she went to retrieve it from the kitchen coat rack one evening. Nothing like a rodent jumping out of your gym bag as you reach for it at quitting time in the dimly lit confines of the headquarters kitchen to scare the bejeezus out of you.

I have set up multiple traps side by side along the counter edge, each armed with a glob of peanut butter. So far the mouse has ignored them. In fact, if you trace his trail of poops, it appears he's traipsing right over the traps, not only failing to set them off but also summarily rejecting each tantalizing heap of Pater Pan smooth peanut butter with each passing. He even makes a point of expressing his defiance by leaving a teeny deposit on each heap. Perhaps it's time for us to invest in a fresh jar of mouse bait. Our jar of peanut butter is about 15 years old now - undoubtedly the contents must be stale at this point. But I find it hard to believe that mice could be that discriminating…

A mouse has infiltrated my lunch bag as well. Two days in a row now. I have an industrial sized lunch bag, one of those eco- friendly reusable canvas grocery bags. And I keep it on the long table next to the table I've appropriated as my work station in the HQ classroom. At the end of the day as I went up to collect my bag, I detected rummaging inside and knew right away that the sanctity of my bag had been violated. I still had half a Twix, a sandwich bag of Oreos, and an assortment of left over Halloween candies in there. I snatched up the bag with the culprit inside and walked half way down the farm road and dumped him out past the maternity barn. Upon surveying the damage, I discovered he had taken a nibble out of the corner of every item in the bag.

So I set traps on the table that evening. The next morning they remained unsprung. I made a point that day to set my lunch bag high atop the lectern, securely closed. After spending but several minutes writing at the table, I ventured over to my bag and reached in for a cookie only to have a mouse shoot up my arm, dive off the lectern, and dart into the closet. I would like to report that I reacted to the encounter with manly disregard, but frankly, I screamed like a little girl. Nothing like a rodent climbing up your arm when you reach for a cookie to scare the bejeezus out of you.

I was duly impressed. It had taken only minutes for that little booger to scale the lectern, quietly burrow into my tightly secured eco- friendly lunch bag, and munch on my candy bar. I set up more traps by the closet. Later, I heard him pattering about inside the baseboard heaters and moved the traps over there.

So far, all the mice remain at large. But I'm now hanging my lunch bag with a clothes pin from the light fixture on the ceiling. See if you can get into it now you little bugger!

I hate to think President Eisenhower would ever have to have suffered such indignities every winter.

POSTED: November 28, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

1967 was a tumultuous year. American troop presence in Vietnam increased to over 475,000. Anti war protests throughout the U.S. increased as well - 100,000 marched on Washington. Muhammad Ali was stripped of this heavyweight title for refusing induction into the army. In the face of social unrest and an escalating war, LBJ saw his Great Society crumbling around him, yet was reluctant to withdraw from Vietnam for fear of being branded the only president to lose a war. In the Middle East, Israel went to war with Syria, Egypt, and Jordan in the Six Day War. OPEC announced an oil embargo to those countries supporting Israel.

Once again in the summer, race riots broke out in American cities. Seven thousand National Guard were sent into Detroit to restore order. Ironically, the summer was at the same time referred to as The Summer of Love, as teenagers "tuned in and dropped out" by smoking pot, dropping acid, grooving to the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, paying a pilgrimage to San Francisco, living on a commune, preaching peace and love, and generally rebelling against Establishment values

And it was in November of 1967, that General and Mrs. Eisenhower's farm was quietly donated to the National Park Service and designated a national historic site.

The afternoon of November 27 was sunny but blustery when Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Udall, arrived at the Eisenhowers' farm via helicopter. The General met the Secretary and his party outside and escorted them to the sun porch where Mamie was waiting. She told them that she and Ike had been "observing Quiet Hour," she playing solitaire and watching TV, he painting at his easel.

Secretary Udall had brought with him the deed transferring ownership of the farm to the U.S. government. Ike and Mamie signed it without drama, fanfare, or media presence. It was an emotional moment for both of them. Mamie's eyes welled up with tears as she reminisced about their time together on the farm. The General mentioned that his wife actually had not wanted to sign the deed.

The following day Ike and Mamie were scheduled to head west to California by train. Along the way they planned to stop in Abilene to see the site where they intended to be buried. An LBJ aide who accompanied the Secretary to the farm commented later in a letter that the General looked quite frail and it was clear that Mamie worried they may never return to the farm together.

And they didn't. Ike suffered his third heart attack on April 29, 1968 just before their return from California. He was taken to the hospital at March Air Force Base and a month later transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. He died there ten months later on March 28, 1969, having never returned to the farm.

The deed originally called for Mamie to stay on the property for six months after the General's death, but when she voiced a preference to continue residing on the farm, a new agreement was reached to grant her lifetime residency. Mamie passed away on November 1, 1979. The farm was opened to the public on June 2, 1980.

Since the site's establishment in 1967, America suffered another six years of war in Vietnam and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, each time ignoring Eisenhower's dictum, "Never use force in international affairs. Never. But if you do, do so overwhelmingly." Today Eisenhower is looked upon by many as a leader who could adeptly and confidently deal with international crisis. His penchant for patience and diplomacy coupled with his shrewd use of power, his strength of character combined with his modesty and willingness to hear out all sides, are recognized as traits that leaders today would perhaps do well to emulate. Those character traits and that leadership/management style are embodied in his farm. How he used his farm - both as a diplomatic tool and as a showcase for sound conservation practices - still has relevance today in a world fraught with war, terrorism, political turmoil, and the threat of environmental disaster.

POSTED: November, 20, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

Delores Moaney is still going strong. We talked to her on the phone today. She sounds great and not a day over 50.

Mrs. Moaney was the Eisenhowers' cook. Her husband, John, was Ike's military valet during the war and continued on as his personal valet after Ike left the service.

Mrs. Moaney still lives in the same Washington, DC home that she and her husband resided in back in the 1950s. She is 96 now. Her birthday was last week, November 14, a birth date she shares with Mamie Eisenhower who would have been 116. John (Sgt. Moaney) passed away back in 1978.

The Moaneys attended to the President and First Lady and cared for their Gettysburg home. Mrs. Moaney was both cook and housekeeper. Sgt. Moaney did everything from laundering and setting out the President's clothes to tending the vegetable garden and serving as part time chauffeur. They both frequently traveled with the Eisenhowers as well. This was in the 50s and 60s when African Americans would often encounter segregated facilities. Ike and Mamie would threaten to leave and patronize another establishment if the Moaneys were not allowed to accompany them into the hotel or restaurant or country club. Delores recalled that, "The President would tell them that if they couldn't accept us, then they couldn't accept them."

Every so often Mrs. Moaney still comes to visit the Eisenhower home. When she does, she likes to check out her and John's bedroom in the back to make sure we have arranged and furnished it accurately. She visited a couple summers ago with her church group. David, the Eisenhower's oldest grandchild, heard about her planned visit and he and wife Julie Nixon Eisenhower made a point of coming out and talking to Mrs. Moaney's group in the living room of the house. The Eisenhower grandkids have always been very close to the Moaneys and consider them almost as second grandparents.

Mrs. Moaney is a favorite of all the rangers at Eisenhower NHS. She's very spry and always fun to talk to. Over the years, the park has done several oral histories with her. Whenever she visits the site though, she expresses how uncomfortable she feels returning to the house now that Mamie is no longer here.

With Thanksgiving approaching, I had gotten to thinking of Mrs. Moaney. Last year, the day before Thanksgiving, the phone rang at HQ. Being the only one in the building at the time, I happened to answer it. And it was Mrs. Moaney. "Hello, this is Delores Moaney. I'm just calling because I wanted to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving." We talked for a while and she said she was doing well and looking forward to enjoying the holidays.

What I remember most about the conversation though, was how she paused for a second and then wistfully commented, "You know, I always miss home during the holidays." I was confused at first, thinking we had already established she was going to be at home for Thanksgiving. But then I realized that by "home" she meant home here - the Eisenhowers' home.

Mrs. Moaney said today that she's going to spend this Thanksgiving, as she usually does, with the Eisenhowers - son John, the grandchildren, the great grandchildren, and the great, great grandchildren. Not quite "home" perhaps, but certainly the next best thing to being there.

POSTED: November 14, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

Like most farms, the President's is home to several dying old trees.

There's the sugar maple in front of the house, its gnarled and shredded trunk pockmarked with cavities that harbor families of squirrels in the spring. Yet faithfully every fall its leaves turn a brilliant gold, always the most colorful tree on the entire farm.

There's the venerable two hundred year old sycamore in the nine acre pasture. It's lost the majority of its main trunk and one of its two primary limbs in storms over the past few months. Up until two weeks ago, only a third of it remained - a massive twisting tentacle of a limb straining up into the southern sky, seemingly ready to topple over at any moment due to insufficient leverage and support. Then, in the midst of Sandy, it lost half of that last third. Only half of a third still defiantly remains.

There are the flowering crabapples lining the driveway, all reaching the end of their days, their branches gnarled like the fingers of an 80 year old dirt farmer. Their pink blossoms are no longer quite as brilliant, yet still put on a pretty impressive show of color every spring. The crabapples were planted in 1955, gifts from the President's cabinet members. Soon, they will all have to be replaced. Hopefully, with the precise same varieties, if such still exist.

Then there are the catalpas along the fence line near the Quonset hut and the back lane, distinctive with their large, fragrant white blossoms in the spring, their huge leaves, and extra long bean pods. They arouse visitors' curiosity. Apparently, they're more prevalent down south where the pods harbor worms good for fishing. Old timers call them Indian cigar trees - as kids they would smoke the pods, but disappointingly never getting high in the process. The catalpas are old and several have already fallen or been cut down. Of those remaining, some have iron bars pounded into their limbs for support while others lean precariously to the east, victims of the prevailing westerlies.

It's always sad to see an old tree pass. I grew up in a neighborhood where majestic elms stood along the curbs of every front yard, shrouding the avenue end to end in luxuriant shade. I can remember the summer when, one by one, they were unceremoniously cut down due to Dutch elm disease and how devastated everyone was, even us kids.

I remember just last year how despondent many Gettysburg residents were when the two massive witness trees in front of Christ Lutheran Church had to be cut down. Together they had survived the battle of Gettysburg, but sadly, they had grown so unstable in their old age that parishioners feared they would soon come down on top of the church. Frankly though, both had always looked pretty sturdy to me. Not quite convinced of the immediate necessity of having them chain sawed, I went one morning to inspect them for myself. For the first time I noticed the cement that had been poured into the cavities of the trunks and the iron rods that had been driven into their limbs in an effort to stave off their collapse.

At this point I was going to conclude with a few words about how old trees are like old friends. And how you grow very attached to them, you depend on them for the comfort they offer, you expect them to always be there despite their advancing age... And then how one day they inevitably, yet unexpectedly, reach their end. And it's not till then do you realize how much you truly appreciated them…

But I couldn't do it. The analogy, I thought, was just a bit too cornball.

I settled instead for what you can nearly always rely on to reach a graceful conclusion - a quote. Two, in fact. My two favorite tree quotes:

A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.
Greek Proverb

They are beautiful in their peace, they are wise in their silence…
Galeain ip Altiem MacDunelmor

POSTED: November 10, 2012 POSTED BY: Johh Joyce

For weeks the polls predicted this past presidential election would be a very tight race. Not so in 1952. A week before the election, Gallup called it 48 - 39 in favor of Ike with 13 undecided. The prediction had it much closer than it turned out.

Ike was confident of his success as he and Mamie watched the returns on the evening of November 4th from their suite at the Commodore Hotel in New York City. Meanwhile, Stevenson worked in his ground floor office in the Governor's Mansion in Springfield as a group of friends and staffers listened to the returns on radios.

Early returns suggested it was going to be a long night for Stevenson. Ike was already well ahead in parts of Florida and Virginia and it appeared he had a chance to be the first Republican to split the Democrat's solid south.

By 8:30 pm, one CBS rookie prognosticator boldly proclaimed that Ike's odds for winning were 100-1 and predicted he would pile up 438 electoral votes to Stevenson's 93. CBS scoffed at the numbers and elected not to mention them on air.

This new hot-shot CBS "pundit" was the Univac I, a "one-car garage" sized computer in Philadelphia. CBS had decided to add the computer to spice up their election night coverage. The computer's predictions were teletyped to Walter Cronkite and the CBS crew at their studio in New York.

By midnight it looked as though Eisenhower was sweeping comfortably through the Midwest and into the West, but the Stevenson team was confident that they could still win Ohio and Pennsylvania and stay in the race. But when Ohio fell, it was over.

CBS was the first network to call the race. As it turned out, the official results were 442 electoral votes for Ike, 89 for Stevenson. Univac's prediction was less than 1% off. CBS confessed later in the evening that UNIVAC had made the accurate prediction hours before and the network chose not to air it.

Stevenson went to his Leland Hotel campaign headquarters and conceded at 12:40 am. He would conclude his concession speech with a reference to a fellow Illinoisan:

Someone asked me, as I came in down on the street, how I felt, and I was reminded of a story that a fellow townsman of ours used to tell, Abraham Lincoln. They asked him how he felt once after an unsuccessful election. He said he felt like a little boy who had stubbed his toe in the dark. He said that he was too old to cry but it hurt too much to laugh.

Ike won big. Most significantly, he was the first Republican to make inroads into the Democratic stronghold - the Solid South. Ike had taken Texas, Florida, Virginia, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. Stevenson carried only nine states, all southern. He even lost his home state of Illinois. The popular vote was closer than the electoral: Ike at 55.1% with 33,936,234 votes. Stevenson at 44.4% with 27,314,992.

The Republicans also gained 2 seats in the Senate and 22 in the House giving them majorities in each.

Just two years later in 1954, Ike would lose both his majorities in Congress. The Republicans wouldn't regain a Senate majority until 1980, nor a House majority until 1994.

In 1956, Stevenson would once again be persuaded by the Democratic Party to challenge Eisenhower for the presidency.

And 1956 would mark the return of the computer. All three networks would employ computer analysis in their 1956 election night coverage.

POSTED: November 5, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

It was September 1952, two months prior to the election, and Eisenhower was campaigning in Indiana. During a stop in Indianapolis, Ike found himself being photographed while hugged by Indiana Senator William Jenner. Ike was never comfortable with physical contact, but he was especially embarrassed and repulsed by this particular hug. "I felt dirty at the touch of the man," he confided to one of his aides.

Jenner, a virulent anti-communist and Senator McCarthy's most voracious supporter, had recently accused Ike's mentor, Secretary of State George Marshall, of allowing China to be taken over by the Communists and denounced him as a "front man for traitors." It was also a charge that had been continually leveled at Marshall by the communist witch-hunting McCarthy.

The hugging incident prompted Ike to suggest to his aides that he pay a personal tribute to Marshall in his upcoming campaign swing through Senator McCarthy's home state of Wisconsin. He wrote a paragraph praising Marshall and inserted it into the speech he planned to deliver in Milwaukee.

When Wisconsin Republicans heard of his intention, McCarthy and his allies intercepted Ike in Illinois. Ike met with McCarthy alone. Kevin McCann, one of Ike's campaign managers, recalled how Ike tore into McCarthy. "I never heard the General so cold bloodily skin a man. The air turned blue. McCarthy just grunted and groaned and went into shock." But McCarthy emerged, assuring the press that he had a very pleasant conversation.

On the way to Milwaukee, Ike's staff debated the political wisdom of Ike praising Marshall and denouncing McCarthy in the Republican Senator's home state. When Ike delivered the speech, he chose to delete the Marshall paragraph and also weaken his denunciation of McCarthy.

What made this a colossal blunder was that the original speech had been leaked to the press beforehand and everyone had high expectations of Ike standing up to McCarthy and defending Marshall. And what made it worse, everyone had watched as McCarthy reached out and vigorously shook Ike's hand at the conclusion of the edited speech.

Reaction was immediate and intense. Ike was universally criticized for lacking the moral courage to stand up for his mentor. The New York Times condemned him for a lack of backbone. Stevenson joked, "My opponent has been worrying about my funny bone, I'm worrying about his backbone." Herblock published a cartoon in the Washington Post depicting McCarthy as "a leering ape man in a pool of filth" holding a sign that read "Anything to Win."

This was October, not long before Election Day. For Ike it was the low point of his campaign and probably of his entire political career.

Another Look at the Presidential Campaign 60 Years Ago
POSTED: November 1, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

Both the U.S. and the world appeared to agree in 1952 that both political parties had selected decent presidential candidates. Facing off against the Republican candidate, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, was the Democrat's choice, the eloquent and well respected governor of Illinois, Adlai Stevenson. Stevenson was noted for his intelligence, integrity, and the ability to deliver a heck of a good speech. But those normally positive attributes would actually prove to be disadvantageous during the campaign.

On the stump, the Governor cranked out speeches that may have been poetic, but were too lacking in structure and substance to be overly effective. He refused to speak extemporaneously, insisting on prepared speeches that weren't tailored to each particular audience. He also refused to give the same speech twice even though he had to often give ten a day. The result was that he seldom mastered what he had to say and said it poorly. Ike was considered to have an advantage on the campaign trail because he "talked" while Stevenson "speeched."

There were many who complained the Governor also had tendency to talk over people's heads. Not only did he have a tendency to sound like one, but John Kenneth Galbraith said that Stevenson even "looked like a college professor going to class." Then too, he was often considered just too witty for his own good. Republicans pronounced him too flippant to be president. Stevenson, in keeping with his predilection for witty repartee, replied that GOP stood for Grouchy Old Pessimists. Democrats feared that the Governor's sharp wit and intellectualism made it difficult for him to connect with the average voter.

To his credit, but to the Party's dismay, Stevenson fortified his reputation for integrity while on the campaign trail. He wasn't afraid to tell his audiences what they didn't want to hear. At the American Legion Convention, instead of spouting the sort of anti-communist rhetoric that would appeal to the Legionnaires, he chose to speak up in favor of civil liberties - of the importance of America sustaining the rights of ordinary citizens in the face of accusations that they may be "red" or "pink.". Certainly an admirable choice of topics, but politically ill considered.

That honesty may have won him some votes, but lost him even more.

Parodying his habit of speaking his mind, his speechwriters one day jokingly wrote the Governor a campaign speech that they imagined he might pointedly deliver to farmers to whom government price supports were so important:

I have during this campaign traveled the breadth and length of this broad land looking upon the smiling faces of Americans everywhere, and I can tell you in all sincerity that I have never seen anywhere such a bunch of ignorant, shiftless, selfish, greedy people as you farmers.

Although he had no interest in agriculture policy, he did favor price supports to farmers. He was very reluctant to support civil rights issues, nor was he pro labor. He agreed with Truman's Korean War policy yet tried to distance himself from Truman and blame the war on the Republicans. He was a staunch supporter of civil liberties and took a strong stand against Senator McCarthy. However, Arthur Schlesinger, his speechwriter, considered him the most conservative Democrat since John W. Davis. He and other speechwriters would try to subtly work a more liberal slant into his speeches.

Republicans attacked Adlai as a "pinko" for defending Alger Hiss who was convicted of spying for the Soviets. They labeled him an egghead for his intellectual pretensions and his bald head. They spread rumors that he was homosexual. Even Truman commented, "The trouble with Stevenson is he's nothing but a big sissy."

It was bad enough he was divorced, which was viewed as a huge character flaw in the 50s and one that could easily singlehandedly lose him the election, but what was worse, his ex-wife threatened to expose him in a book she intended to write entitled, The Egghead and I." In an interview with Scotty Reston of the New York Times, she claimed Adlai was unfit for the presidency, was a lousy husband, that he was having her followed everywhere, and that she carried a gun with her for protection. In the midst of the interview, she pulled the big hand gun from out of her purse. Reston (God bless him) told her she should be ashamed of talking about her husband that way to a reporter and never published the interview.

Unfortunately, Stevenson's biggest challenge throughout the campaign was one he could never possibly overcome - his opponent, Dwight D. Eisenhower, the almost larger than life, extremely likeable war hero and everyman.

Another Look at the Presidential Campaign 60 Years Ago
POSTED: October 28, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

Ike covered over 51,000 miles in eight weeks during his race for the presidency, many of it aboard his campaign train, the Eisenhower Special.

The focus of his campaign boiled down to the formula K1C2 which alluded to the issues of the ongoing stalemated war in Korea, the threat of Communism, and Corruption in the Truman administration. Ike promised to clean the crooks out of Washington, halt the spread of big government, balance the budget, extend social security, and restore dignity to the White House.

While Ike advocated organizing and arming the South Koreans and withdrawing American troops to reserve positions, he also spiced his campaign talk with healthy doses of "Liberation," the idea that the U.S. would actively seek to push the communists out of Eastern Europe. He claimed to favor civil rights for Negroes, but asserted that those civil rights were the responsibility of the states, thus earning him the endorsement of many southern governors.

At each campaign stop, Ike gave a standard speech and tweeked it a bit to address the interests and concerns of the particular audience. His speeches were all well-timed and delivered without notes. In contrast to Governor Stevenson, he edited out all big words and fancy phrases. One time he even apologized for using the phrase "status quo," a phrase he considered more in keeping with speeches given by his opponent, the "intellectual candidate." It was commented that while on the campaign trail Ike shrewdly made "sophisticated use of the unsophisticated side of himself."

One early morning reporters gathered around Ike's campaign train in a North Carolina switching yard and shouted for the Eisenhowers to come out onto the platform. They emerged briefly in bathrobes, gave a quick wave, and then disappeared back into the train. Only one photographer managed to get off a shot. Other photographers were so disappointed they missed the shot of the couple in bathrobes, the Eisenhowers agreed to pose in the same way again later in the day. The Eisenhowers in their bathrobes became the signature photo of the campaign.

Ike was sending and receiving thousands of letters a week during the campaign. When his staff complained they couldn't handle all the mail, Ike was insistent that it all continue to be answered. Throughout his public life, he had always made a point of trying to answer every letter sent to him. "It's important to me, "he would say. When the Republican National Committee complained the campaign was spending far too much on mail, Ike instructed his aides, "You write the Committee and ask them how many of their Republicans have been elected over the past 20 years."

Ike's campaign staff eventually acknowledged that something as simple as answering letters was proving to be a brilliant campaign tactic. At every whistle stop there would inevitably be folks shouting, "Hey General, we got your letter!" And in the midst of the crowd, they would hold up for everyone to see the dog-eared letter that had obviously been shown to all their relatives, friends, and neighbors. Who knows how many votes each of those letters generated.

Just like every presidential campaign in American history, 1952 had its fair share of mud-slinging. And Ike, despite his war hero status, was considered fair game. Democrats circulated rumors that Mamie had a drinking problem, that Ike was secretly Jewish, that he had an affair with his World War II driver, Kay Summersby. Truman attacked him for endorsing "moral pygmies," for "compromising every principle of personal loyalty," for being a stooge of Wall Street, and for "knowing as much about politics as a pig does about Sundays." When Ike vowed if elected to go to Korea and assess the war first hand, Truman denounced it as a cheap gimmick and grandstanding publicity stunt. Communists accused Ike of being a fascist war monger while conservative Republicans claimed he was a friend of Stalin, and Democrats accused him of being a puppet of Senator Taft and the conservative Republicans.

Ike managed to successfully weather the attacks and criticism, but when delivering a speech in Milwaukee in October he committed the biggest blunder of the campaign, one for which he was universally derided and for which he would forever after regret.

Next Week: Ike's Big Campaign Blunder

POSTED: October 24, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

We had a visitor at the Eisenhower farm last week who was a dead ringer for Ike. He had the compulsory bald head, but also possessed facial features reminiscent of Eisenhower. He even acted Eisenhoweresque - erect bearing, a commanding presence, an authoritarian sounding voice, and an overall friendly demeanor. He came across as an avuncular general. Even called you by your first name within minutes of meeting you and through to the end of his visit - just as I imagine Ike would have done.

I've read where Robin Williams is portraying Ike in an upcoming movie about a butler in the White House. The movie studio would have probably been well served if they had gotten this guy instead.

In the classic movie about the D-Day invasion, The Longest Day, a gentleman named Henry Grace portrayed General Eisenhower. Grace wasn't an actor, he was an award-winning film set designer. He got the part simply because he looked like Ike. Mamie said that Ike had walked out on The Longest Day, frustrated with what he saw as Hollywood's freewheeling artistic license when it came to dealing with actual history. But perhaps the real reason was that he was simply upset with Grace's portrayal. If our visitor had been old enough at the time to assume the role and did so, I'm sure Ike would have been far more satisfied. Grace in no way looked anywhere near as Eisenhowerish as our visitor last week.

Neither have E. G. Marshall or Robert Duvall or Tom Selleck in their movie portrayals of Eisenhower come as close to looking like Ike as our visitor.

In fact, it's just possible he may look more like Ike than even Ike ever did.

Another Look at The Presidential Campaign 60 Years Ago
POSTED: October 20, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

The 1952 presidential race was America's first TV campaign. While Eisenhower, the Republican candidate, successfully mined the potential of the new medium, the Democratic candidate, Governor Adlai Stevenson, never comfortably adapted to the process of exploiting it as a campaign tool. In fact, he felt the whole idea of doing so to be entirely undignified.

"The idea that you can merchandise candidates for high office like breakfast cereal is the ultimate indignity to the democratic process," he huffed. He was confident that his fellow Americans shared his sentiments: "I think the American people will be shocked by such contempt for their intelligence. This isn't Ivory Soap vs. Palmolive."

Nevertheless, his party did produce some spot ads, one with a still-graphic of two valentine hearts pierced with an arrow, one heart labeled "Ike," the other "Bob." Off camera you hear one voice calling out for "Bob," the other replying each time," Ike!" (Each is rendered by Mel Blanc, the voice of Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny). One then gushes, "I'm so glad we're friends again, Bob." The other responds, "Yes, Ike, we agree on everything." It was evident to most viewers that "Bob" was Mr. Republican, Senator Robert Taft of Ohio. Bob's identity became absolutely clear when the spot concluded with a little ditty suggesting that Senator Taft would actually be the one issuing the orders if Ike were to become president.

Another is a cartoon of "The Republican Side Show." A side show barker introduces a fusty two-headed Republican presidential candidate, one head always contradicting whatever the other head has to say about foreign policy issues. A female voice from beyond bemoans all the Republican doubletalk.

Stevenson, who for good reason prided himself on his speaking ability, preferred to focus his TV campaign around 30 minute speeches. Eighteen half hour speeches were scheduled to air on Tuesday and Thursday nights at 10:30 pm, a little late to take advantage of many TV viewers. But even when given an entire 30 minutes, the verbose Stevenson couldn't fit a speech into the allotted time and was often cut off air before finishing.

In one 30 minute TV ad that was meant to close the campaign, Stevenson delivered a brilliant, inspiring speech but once again couldn't finish in time. The network cut the sound off while he continued to stand there speechifying, totally unaware the TV audience could no longer hear him.

Stevenson, of course, lost the election and would lose again in 1956 when TV played an even greater role in the campaign. But Stevenson, even then, never warmed up to the idea of merchandising his candidacy on television. And he would never quite master the art.

POSTED: October 11, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

The Republicans and Democrats will together spend hundreds of millions of dollars in presidential TV ads this year. You can thank Ike and Adlai for that. TV's merchandising of the presidency began with their campaigns in 1952. Theirs was the first presidential race in which the new medium of television played an important role. But only one of the two candidates would recognize its potential and utilize it effectively. And that would be Eisenhower

But Ike's first encounter with TV at the very start of the campaign was a disaster. The networks arranged for the formal announcement of his candidacy to be televised live outside his boyhood home in Abilene. A rainstorm hit at airtime. The drenched, unsheltered spectators could barely hear the poor candidate as he stumbled through an ill prepared speech with rain dripping from his glasses.

Thereafter, however, the Republican National Committee put Ike in the hands of a Madison Avenue advertising agency and whether he liked it or not he soon became a savvy TV veteran. While most campaign strategists preferred to buy up 30 minute time blocks to broadcast their candidate's speeches, Ike's ad exec, who had created the "melt in your mouth, not in your hand" campaign for M&Ms, convinced the General to go with quick and snappy 20 second spots to air before and after I Love Lucy.

The series of spots were titled Eisenhower Answers America and each featured Ike responding to a question posed by an ordinary citizen. In one, a young black gentleman addresses Ike, "General, the Democrats keep telling me I've never had it so good." And then Ike proceeds to set him straight: "Can that be true when we're billions in debt, prices have doubled, taxes are breaking our backs, and we're still fighting in Korea? It's tragic and it's time for a change."

Poor Ike filmed forty of the 20 second spots in one day at a Manhattan studio, reading from large cue cards so he wouldn't have to wear his glasses. Ike hated the ads. "To think an old soldier has come to this," he'd remark in dismay. The Democrats loathed them to an even greater degree, considering the blitz of short snappy spots to be insipid and appalling.

More memorable than the Eisenhower Answers America spots was a one minute animated cartoon in which crudely drawn voters brandishing Ike banners march about with Uncle Sam and an elephant to Irving Berlin's catchy tune, I Like Ike: "You like Ike, I like Ike, Everybody likes Ike for president."

Eisenhower easily won the 1952 election, but no one could determine precisely how great a role TV had played in his margin of victory. Studies suggested though, that many Americans considered TV to be their most informative source for campaign "news."

Ike and the Republicans would go on to use TV even more extensively and creatively in 1956. Ike would be aided by actor Robert Montgomery who served as the very first presidential media advisor.

One could argue that if it wasn't for TV, Ike would have never run for a second term in 56. After the heart attack he had suffered just the previous year, he knew he couldn't manage another exhausting whistle stop campaign like that of 52. He was counting on the convenience of campaigning via the miracle of television to avoid the grueling pace of a presidential race.

POSTED: October 7, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

What seems to be one of the most vivid memories of our visitors who grew up in the 1950s is that of standing out in their back yard on an October evening as their dad pointed out a small white light quietly moving through the night sky and being told that it was actually a man made "satellite" launched into outer space by a Russian rocket ship and was now circling around and around the earth. Just like a science fiction movie.

The awe and wonder they felt at that moment is something they've never forgotten.

President Eisenhower wasn't so awed or impressed by the Russian accomplishment and downplayed its significance until, that is, he was eventually overwhelmed by the hysteria of Americans' response.

Sputnik, the first satellite to reach space, was launched by the Soviets 55 years ago on October 4, 1957.

POSTED: October 2, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

Perhaps it may seem weird, but for me one of the more notable and emotionally impacting highlights of our WWII Weekend a couple weeks ago was the smell of canvas. Tent canvas, truck canvas, duffle bag canvas… More than anything else it's that particular odor that so vividly reminds me of my years in the army. The smell throws open a floodgate of cascading memories. Much more so than seeing the army vehicles and uniforms or hearing war stories and the barking of commands and the singing of cadence or tasting a tin cup full of bad coffee, all aspects of Army life little changed from WWII to Vietnam.

Studies conducted over the years indicate that, indeed, of all the senses it's smell that most strongly evokes memory. And so it's ironic that as park interpreters, when utilizing storytelling to conjure up the past and bring characters and events to life, we typically provide detailed visual and audial description. But the smells of the past we tend to ignore. Even though interpretive trainers always remind us not to overlook the olfactory, we do. And it's easy to, particularly when we're interpreting history as opposed to nature.

Over the summer I presented a program about the 1952 presidential national conventions. I attempted to bring each convention to life by describing the chaotic and riotous atmosphere of each, but it never occurred to me at the time how conjuring up the smells of the packed convention halls might heighten a visitor's appreciation of the event: the stench of cigar and cigarette smoke, of sweat, hair oil, and bad cologne, of confined agitation and escalating excitement, of the witheringly stagnant heat of an un-air-conditioned* convention hall during a sultry Midwestern July… And I'm sure I'm omitting quite a few others.

Next door on the Battlefield it's, of course, the smells of war and its aftermath: sweat and fear, acrid gunpowder and the smoke of campfires and smoldering ruins, the stink of human and animal waste, the reek of death and decay…

Certainly for the French writer, Marcel Proust, it was smell (paired at times with taste) that brought back most vividly remnants of the past. In his Remembrance of Things Past, Proust paid homage to the evocative power of smell:

When nothing else subsists from the past, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, the smell and taste of things alone remain poised a long time, like souls bearing resiliently, in the tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence, the immense edifice of memory.

I hope to remember the power of smell next summer when I present my program on Presidential Cattle Raising and Cold War Diplomacy.

*Much to my surprise and dismay, my recent research uncovered the fact that the International Amphitheater was actually air-conditioned in 1952. They installed the massive system just two months before the Convention. It was one of the first facilities of its kind to be so equipped. So I guess there was far less sweating going on than I imagined. The Amphitheater was torn down in 1999, but in its heyday it hosted Nixon's Republican National Convention in 1960, Elvis in 1957, the Beatles on their first US tour in 1964 and on their last tour in 1966, and the notorious 1968 Democratic National Convention.


Last updated: February 26, 2015

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