We skipped Lincoln, Nebraska and looked for as place for a week of R&R.
It was a little bit like we’d thrown a dart at the map. What we did, in actuality, was chart the shortest route from Kearney, NE to Cabot, AR and find out what lay along the route. It turned out to be about 750 miles and went through four cities of note: Salina and Wichita, KS, Tulsa, OK and Fort Smith, AR. We’d already spent lots of time in Wichita, so we chose the other three. As it turned out, we dropped Ft. Smith when delayed an extra day in Salina by broadside winds in the 40-50 knot range.
Our Salina campground was terraced into a hillside with a large stocked lake at the bottom. It was pretty empty, save for a collection of “permanents” — tradesmen working on jobs in the area, some with families aboard. The view was great, and wi-fi was excellent. There was no hassle about washing car and trailer, both of which were very much in need at that point. Only one drawback: trash was not collected effectively, and loose stuff blew around.
Before you ask: Salina is pronounced Sah-LINE-a. But it’s in Saline (SAY–leen) County. Go figure.
Abilene, about 30 miles to the east, has a 22 acre campus in the heart of town; the Dwight D. Eisenhower Boyhood Home, Library, Museum and Chapel. The Visitors’ Center logged us in and provided an introductory movie. The six-room Boyhood Home was the primary structure on the original 2 ½ acre property, which also had a barn, chicken house, smoke house, outhouse, orchard, strawberry patch and large garden. Sanitary plumbing went indoors in 1908, between two additions in 1900 and 1915. Ike’s mother Ida was the last family member to occupy it; upon her death in 1946, it was turned over to the Eisenhower and transferred to the Federal government in 1966. All furnishings are original, dating to 1946.
Ike’s parents, David and Ida, bought the properety from David’s brother and moved into it in 1898. At that point, all seven sons had been born. Ike was third; the fifth, Paul, died at 10 months. Despite the fact that it was a luxury to graduate from high school in those days, all six boys not only did so but went on to higher education and had notable careers. Milton, the youngest second most famous; served as president of Kansas State, Penn State and Johns Hopkins Universities as well as serving as an advisor to his brother on Latin America.
Next stop was the Museum. It’s divided into five galleries: Introduction, Rotating Exhibit, The First Lady, Military and Presidential. The introductory lobby included murals on four walls depicting Ike’s life from childhood through the Presidency. Unveiled in 1956, they were funded by the Edwin Austin Abbey Memorial Trust Fund and are the product of noted muralists Louis Bouche of New York and Ross Moffet of Provincetown, Mass. Bouche’s works occupy the North and South walls and are divided into sections. The South includes seven panels from boyhood through West Point and his 1916 wedding to Mamie Doud. The North wall includes the leadership of SHAPE (NATO’s force), Presidential oath of office, installation as president of Columbia University, at the Gettysburg farm, with family and delivering a speech to the UN General Assembly on the peaceful uses of atomic energy. Moffet’s works on the East and West walls are overall military scenes, one featuring Ike leading Combined Operations in the Mediterranean Theatre, and the other documenting his Supreme Command in the ETO.
The Rotating Gallery featured a marvelous exhibit of photographs by Alfred Wertheimer entitled Elvis at 21. Wertheimer was a 26 year old photojournalist who was sent by RCA to cover Elvis on his first trip to NYC, where he performed on both the Dorseys’ Stage Show and The Steve Allen Show. Elvis had already gained his initial notoriety from Heartbreak Hotel, but Wertheimer didn’t know who he was. On multiple occasions totaling ten days over the next two years, however, he was a live-in, with access equal to the intimacy that the White House photographer enjoys. On the day of Elvis’s conscription and departure for Germany, he took the last of over 2,500 photos. He never saw Elvis again, and it wasn’t until The King’s death in 1977 that his portfolio earned its deserved notoriety. Wertheimer went on to a well-deserved, celebrity-filled career.
Mamie’s multiple lives were charmingly covered; pictures and exhibits cover her from her youth through her multiple first lady responsibilities.
The Military Gallery breaks down both Ike’s career and the major campaigns of WW II into continuing exhibits. He passed entrance exams at both USNA and USMA but was beyond the age of eligibility for Annapolis, his first choice. Undistinguished at West Point, he paid only enough attention to remain in the top half of his class; but he later graduated first in class at the elite General Staff School at Ft. Leavenworth. His assignments were many, and his seminal knowledge of military history and tactics, paired with his inborn leadership qualities, were recognized by the likes of Pershing and MacArthur. He went to the Philippines with Mac in 1935 and stayed for four years. At the time of his departure, President Quezon offered him a blank check to resign his commission and stay. But Ike was not going to miss another war.
From there on, his career was meteoric. Summoned to Washington by General Marshall just five days after Pearl Harbor, he was sent overseas, commanded two major offenses in North Africa and Italy, and was then appointed Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Forces and planner of Operation Overlord. Six months after D-Day, he earned his fifth star and became Military Governor of the Occupied Zone. Heralded by nations throughout the world — a smattering of his awards is shown below — his adoration throughout the U.S. is unmatched. He returned to Europe in 1950 to create NATO. The first picture below shows the origin of the title of the War’s most famous movie. The third shows Mulbery Harbor, the giant series of docks built off Normandy to support the invasion. Just below it is one of the cases holding some of the honors accorded to Ike from Europe and Asia.
Ike resisted the presidential draft at first, but his two terms were relatively easy, marked by economic stability and improvement. He saw the end of the Korean War, refused to get involved in Vietnam, signed integration legislation and sent troops to reinforce it, and inaugurated both NASA and the Highway Administration. His military reviews are more consistent than his presidential reviews, but the negatives argue his lack of aggressiveness.
He and Mamie bought their 189 acre farm in Gettysburg in 1950; Ike had developed a love of the area as far back as a West Point cadet field trip. He spent his retirement there, golfing, painting, reading, writing and, most of all, making up for all the months and years of separation that he and Mamie had been forced to endure.
The Library was on the other side of the central courtyard. The open expanse contained by the structures includes a giant Presidential Seal at the foot of an eleven foot statue of Ike on a granite pedestal inscribed with significant quotes. Behind its garden stand five limestone pylons, honoring David and Ida Eisenhower, their six sons, America’s Veterans, American Democratic Ideals, and Ike himself. Finally, the Chapel, a.k.a. Place of Meditation, provides a small nave area as well as the final resting place for Ike and Mamie and their first child, Doud, who died of scarlet fever at age three.
After Abilene, we turned our attention back to Salina, unearthing two discoveries. The first was a trip through the Lee District of downtown to view Sculpture Tour Salina. The tour consists of a five block walk, mostly down Santa Fe Street, to view the temporary locations of two dozen sculptures created by artists from across the U.S. The sculptures are on exhibit for one year and are all for sale, with prices ranging from $6,000 to $23,000. Each is placed in front of a sponsoring business. In addition, private donations fund the operation and administrative costs of the organization. Their website solicits donations but doesn’t say they’re non-profit. An elaborate color brochure details the locations and pictures all the artwork, and it includes a People’s Choice Ballot that can earn the winning sculptor a large prize. www.sculpturetoursalina.com will give you a look at all of them.
Salina is also the home of the Smoky Hill Museum. Would you believe a tree growing in the outer lobby?? The museum does a good job of portraying the early history of the region and telling the story of what it was like to live there after its founding in 1872. I suspect you can guess the industrial thrust, since we were in the heart of the Nation’s Bread Basket. Wheat is the dominant crop, but far from the only one. In descending order of volume (acres planted), other money crops include alfalfa hay, sorghum, corn, soybeans, barley, sunflowers and oats. Large volumes of the productions are turned into livestock feed. But corn, soy and sunflower outputs contribute to biodiesel and other petroleum substitutes, and barley, of course, helps us all enjoy our Buds and Coorses.
One exhibit is a working milling machine in miniature. Originally used in university education, the mill demonstrates how the process graduated from backbreaking hand labor to profitable mechanization. The Glory Girls in the picture following it toured the country to promote their company’s products. While little milling remains in town, it is dotted with concrete relics that once made Salina the third largest flour-producing city in the world.
Salina is also corporate headquarters for both Phillips Lighting and Exide Batteries. Town founder William Phillips first brought a cast iron flour mill to the area in the 1850’s, and within a decade, both flour mills and sawmills sprung up along the banks of the Smoky Hill River.
The rest of our Salina stay was spent relaxing, writing and catching up on chores. The stop provided just what we needed – and more. Having this opportunity to witness Kansas from a viewpoint far different from its more industrialized eastern end, where we had spent several weeks in 2010, gave us more reverence for the Great Plains.