Ike’s heirs prefer his Kansas roots not be unearthed

opinions

March 20, 2013 - 12:00 AM

A planned memorial park honoring Kansas’ President Dwight D. Eisenhower hangs in jeopardy because Eisenhower’s heirs dispute its design by architecture great Frank Gehry.
Eisenhower’s granddaughters, specifically Susan and Anne, are at odds with the design for it being on one hand too grandiose, and on the other, too provincial.
The four-acre park was to be at the foot of Capitol Hill near the National Air and Space Museum. On Tuesday, a hearing in the House called for a halt to the project at the women’s request. If Congress fails to extend the project because of a lack of consensus, the four-acre site will be up for grabs.

ART CRITICS have lauded the open-air design that includes metal tapestries depicting the Kansas plains, Eisenhower as a five-star general and again as our 34th two-term president.
The dominant feature to which the two sisters object is the 80-foot colonnade that rings the site, giving it “walls” across the vast landscape. The classic columns also provide support for the transparent woven metal tapestries depicting Eisenhower’s life of service.
When put in perspective of its setting, the park seems a natural fit.
Perhaps it’s helpful to note the designs of both the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials were protested at their inceptions. Why was Lincoln portrayed as so down in mouth, his supporters lamented. And a Roman temple for Jefferson?
Today, of course, the two monuments are standouts.

THE WOMEN also want to rid the display of any depiction of Eisenhower being a Kansas farm boy.  Sounds a touch defensive. In his return from World War II, Eisenhower referred to himself as a “barefoot boy” from Kansas. The architect Gehry took inspiration from those words in developing the diorama.
Abe Lincoln, after all, is frequently portrayed as a scrawny youth in too-short britches splitting logs. Nothing wrong with humble roots.
What’s the matter with Kansas, anyway?
Nothing, Susan Eisenhower says, as long as it stays in Kansas. She commends a statue of Eisenhower as a youth in  a park in Abilene, the president’s hometown. That’s fitting, the granddaughter says.
But for the nation’s capital, “To focus on his origins obscures a focus on his accomplishments,” Eisenhower said in a story last year in the New York Times.
Ouch.
The country admires Ike because he was a “chief of staff of the Army; he was a two-term president of the United States. It’s in these roles that America has gratitude for him, not as being a young boy with a great future in front of him,” Susan Eisenhower said.
Double ouch.
One has to wonder if the president, noted for his down-to-earth ways, would concur.

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