A museum honoring President Dwight Eisenhower in his childhood home in Kansas reopened Monday after undergoing its first comprehensive renovation since the 1970s.
The modernized exhibits in the 25,000-square-foot (2,322-sq. meter) museum in Abilene feature new display cases, videos and digital interactive stations where visitors learn about Eisenhower’s presidency from 1953 to 1961 and about his experience before that during World War II — when he was a U.S. Army general who served as supreme commander of the Allied forces.
“We have reinterpreted a story of an incredible man and woman to reach a new audience, an audience that doesn’t have a personal connection to either,” said Dawn Hammatt, director of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum.
The museum, which has had only partial renovations since the 1970s, has been closed since May 2018. It originally was supposed to reopen in time for the 75th anniversary of D-Day in early June, but the federal government shutdown in December and January delayed the timeline. During the restoration, museum exhibits were moved to the library portion of the complex, where visitors can also tour the home in which Eisenhower spent most of his childhood.
The home is a compliment to the museum, which begins with the story of Eisenhower’s family. Visitors learn about how his father worked as a mechanic at a creamery to support his seven sons, six of whom survived to adulthood. Hammatt described Eisenhower’s siblings as “amazing. They included a banker and the president of Johns Hopkins University. The display also features photos, needlework from his mother and Eisenhower’s desk from school.
“You get a sense of what growing up in the Heartland provided him,” Hammatt said. “It helped shape his character.”
The museum then launches into Eisenhower’s early military career and his marriage to Mamie Eisenhower, who came from a wealthy family. Visitors can see her wedding dress, the electric car that her family owned and digitized film of the couple with their second son; their first son died at the age of 3 of scarlet fever.
Eisenhower’s star rises as the U.S. enters World War II. The tour includes films, a display of military uniforms and weapons and the actual table where Eisenhower and other military leaders finalized plans for the D-Day invasion.
Visitors learn that as president, Eisenhower, a Republican, fought a different war — the Cold War — while the nation also enjoyed a period of prosperity in which he created the interstate highway system. Not all shared equally in the prosperity, and the museum touches on the civil rights legislation passed during his presidency.
The formal dedication is planned for Oct. 12, two days before what would be Eisenhower’s 129th birthday. The Eisenhower Foundation, the fundraising arm of the museum, raised about $9 million for the renovation.