We Come Here To Remember…..

Checked out of the smelly Sheraton Tuesday morning and found a great coffee shop called The Roasterie.  The company is known for their air-roasted coffees that have received international recognition.  We went there because Robin found it on yelp and it was the closest coffee shop between our location (when we realized we needed our lattes) and the interstate.  In other words, we had no idea it was anything special.  In fact we came close to bypassing it altogether, as the neighborhood was suspect and it appeared that we had found the factory, not the cafe.  Fortunately our addictions got the best of us, plus we spied some people leaving the “factory” with coffee cups, so we parked and found this:

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It turns out that we did stumble upon the factory (sadly we missed the tour) but of course the facility included a cafe.  The 1943 DC-3 is on top of building to symbolize their special “air-roasting” process, as well as their commitment to travel anywhere in the world for the best beans.  Who knew?

I challenged the barista to make an airplane in the foam instead of the customary leaf.

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Happily fixed with our caffeine, we set off across the state of Kansas toward the town of Abilene, to visit the Dwight D. Eisenhower (Ike) Presidential Library, Museum, and Boyhood Home. Of course on the way we had to make a quick stop in Topeka for a sandwich and a view of the Kansas State Capitol Building.

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We also stumbled upon this building during our brief time in Topeka:

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Monroe Elementary School. Now a Historical landmark.

Parents from this school were the plaintiffs in the Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka lawsuit that was heard in the Supreme Court and ended state mandated segregation in schools.

Finally in Abilene, we excitedly made our way to the complex.  Afterall, being Eisenhower babies we were especially interested in examining the world as it was when we were brought into it.

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The facility consists of 5 distinct buildings:  The Presidential Library, the Presidential Museum, Visitor’s Center, Eisenhower’s Boyhood Home and Place of Meditation.  We started in the Visitor’s Center where we paid, were directed to the theatre for the introductory film, and given a map (lol).

The Library is where all the official documents are housed, so we skipped that and went to the museum.  The first half of the museum was completely devoted to World War II.  It felt very much like the WWI museum we had just visited the day before.  The world as it was prior to the onset of hostilities, key events that happened to each major participant between the wars, a timeline of the major events during the war, weapons, uniforms, models, and interesting artifacts were all displayed.  We thought it was odd that so much of the Library was devoted to every single aspect of WWII, but since it was such a defining time in Eisenhower’s life, we accepted it and moved on.

Presidential Museum

Presidential Museum

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Being much more familiar with this war, and only having 3 hours till closing, we moved through this part of the museum rather quickly, making sure to stop and read anything Eisenhower related.  The back half of the museum was strictly about the man, his career, presidency, and post-presidency.

The boyhood home tour was next. Dwight happily lived in this little house with his parents and 5 brothers until he left for West Point.  I asked the guide if the house’s current location was original, and she stated that it was, however the rest of the neighborhood was purchased by 2 of Dwight’s brothers and demolished.  Their intention was to build a WWII museum in honor of their brother who was Commander-In-Chief of Allied forces in Europe.  Later, when Dwight became president, they realized the museum would have to be expanded to include the Presidential Library.  So now the museum layout made sense to us.

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We finished our tour with a visit to the Place of Meditation where Dwight, Mamie, and their first-born son, Doud (died of scarlet fever at age 3) are buried.

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Here are a few interesting facts we learned about President Eisenhower:

  • His resume in chronological order:  graduate of the US Military Academy  at West Point, professional soldier, Commander-In-Chief of Allied Forces in Europe during WWII, military governor of the American zone of occupation in Germany, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, Supreme Commander of NATO, President of Columbia University, and 34th President of the United States.
  • Boyhood heroes:  Hannibal, George Washington, Robert E. Lee.
  • In his high school yearbook (1909), it was predicted that Dwight would become a history professor at Yale and that his older brother, Edgar, would serve as President of the United States.  (Edgar studied law at Michigan and founded his own law firm in Washington state.)
  • Dwight’s first choice was to enter the Naval Academy at Annapolis, but he was too old to enlist (20).
  • He played football at West Point until a knee injury ended his sports career.  His most impressive stat may be having one tackle of Jim Thorpe.
  • He met Mamie while stationed in San Antonio at Fort Sam Houston. Mamie’s family lived in Denver but would winter in San Antonio.  They had a very short engagement due to the impending American involvement in World War I.
  • He did not see combat in WWI.  Instead he was given command of Camp Colt, where soldiers were trained to operate tanks.
  • During his next assignment (Fort Meade) he met and became close friends with (then colonel) George Patton.  The two of them developed advanced tactics for tank warfare.
  • He commanded the American Battle Monuments Commission, tasked with creating cemeteries and memorials to honor the American dead in WWI, and to publish a guidebook of the American battlefields of the war.  In this capacity he reported to General Pershing.
  • After Pearl Harbor he was given responsibility for developing a defensive strategy for Allied bases in the Pacific which were rapidly falling to Japanese forces.
  • Later in the war President Roosevelt promoted him to Supreme Allied Commander, responsible for planning and implementing D-day.
  • Ike could have run for president on either ticket.  Truman even offered to step aside if he would run as a democrat.  Ike’s problem was that the republicans were against sending American troops to be part of NATO, the organization whose troops he commanded.  Of course he ran as a Republican and won 2 elections.
  • The rumor is that Eisenhower chose Richard Nixon as his running mate as a reward for Nixon’s role in convincing California’s Taft delegates to switch to Ike’s side at the convention.
  • He is responsible for the St. Lawrence Seaway and our fabulous Interstate Highway system.
  • Greatly increased accessibility to our National Parks through “Mission 66”, a 10 year program which created over 100 new visitor centers (we’ve been to many of them) and 78 new parks.
  • Renamed the presidential retreat Camp David (after his grandson).  Its prior name was Shangri la.

There are also very interesting exhibits on Civil Rights, McCarthyism and the Red Scare, the Cold War, his heart attack in 1955, election campaigns 1952 and 1956, Mamie’s life and sense of fashion, retirement to their farm in Gettysburg (he loved Civil War history), and some amusing displays on life in 1950’s.

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Another great Presidential Library that we could have spent much more time visiting.

Spent the night in Manhattan (referred to as the “little apple” by locals) Kansas, home of Kansas State University (go Wildcats).  Our friends back home, Barry and Jan Devilbiss, attended K-state, so we contacted them for dinner recommendations.  They both responded “Go to Aggieville”.  Aggieville, the campus town area for K-state students, is several blocks of college age bars, restaurants, and shops.  We settled on the So Long Saloon, home of the “Nancy”, a mixture of Old Milwaukee beer and pineapple juice.  We had a great time sitting at the bar, munching on a Chipotle Raspberry & Black Bean Dip, and drinking a Nancy (which was surprisingly good).

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Thursday was spent traveling to Oklahoma City.  We checked into the Aloft, settled into our room, then walked a few blocks to Bricktown for dinner.  Bricktown is the recently renovated warehouse district just east of downtown.  Its refurbished buildings now house clubs, restaurants, a system of canals (similar to the Riverwalk in San Antonio),  and the Chickasaw Bricktown Baseball Stadium (minor league Dodgers).  We very much enjoyed our trio dip and salads at the Bricktown Brewery.

Bricktown

Bricktown

Another healthy dinner

Another healthy dinner

Last night and today were dedicated to visiting the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, built to honor the victims, survivors, and responders of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing, April 19th, 1995.  We went last night just to see the Memorial grounds illuminated.

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Today we returned to the memorial, the site where Timothy McVeigh parked and blew up a rental Ryder truck filled with thousands of pounds of explosives, destroying the entire north face of the building, killing 168, and injuring over 600. The experience was reminiscent of our visits to the 9/11 and United States Holocaust Museums.  You leave exhausted, with feelings of melancholy, dismay, and bewilderment.

The museum starts with an exhibit on the history of the site and an orientation video “A Day Like Any Other”, referring to the ordinary and beautiful day it was prior to the blast. The gallery also includes information on the bomber, Timothy McVeigh, his growing radicalism, and his anger over the way the FBI handled the siege of the Branch Dividians compound in Waco (two years to the day of the OKC bombing).  The next gallery focuses on a hearing that took place at the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, at 9 AM that morning.  The meeting was being tape recorded in the building just across the street from the Murrah Building.  Museum visitors enter a mock-up of the boardroom and listen to the actual recording.  Two minutes into the hearing you hear an incredible explosion that literally makes your hair stand on end.  From there you are led into an exhibit hall simulating the confusion and chaos outside, including frantic helicopter news footage, the first to show the extent of the devastation.

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The rest of the galleries exhibit wreckage, personal belongings, share video of survivor experiences, rescue and recovery efforts, world reaction, impact and healing, and the fascinating investigation which led Timothy McVeigh to death row, and his accomplice Terry Nichols to life behind bars.

It was truly heart wrenching to hear the experiences of the parents whose children parished in the building’s second floor day care center.  You may remember this iconic picture from that awful day:

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Baylee did not survive.

Or stories like this one that emerged:

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The amputation was done without anesthesia. The right-handed doctor had to operate with his left hand due to the immovable debris.

The Gallery of Honor contains family provided pictures and artifacts of the 168 killed.

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Baylee Almon is the top picture.  Heartbreaking.

The Memorial is located on the Federal Building’s footprint, and the museum is in the Journal Record Building which was across the street.  The Memorial consists of a long rectangular reflecting pool that is located on what was once the section of 5th avenue where McVeigh parked the Ryder truck.  The pool is bordered by two arches, “The Gates of Time”, one is marked with the time 9:01, one minute before the explosion, representing the innocence of the city before the attack; the other is marked with 9:03, one minute after the explosion, representing the moment of being changed forever.

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On the site where the Federal Building stood now lies The Field of Empty Chairs. The Street (5th ave) in front of the building is now the Reflecting Pool. The parking lot in the lower right corner is where the Survivor Tree stands. The building behind the parking lot is now the museum.

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Reflecting Pool, the two Gates of Time on either end, Field of Empty Chairs across the pool, Survivor Wall is just to the right of the Gate on the left.

On the actual building site is the Field of Empty Chairs.  Each of the 168 bronze and stone chairs rests on a glass base that is inscribed with the name of one of the lost lives. Nineteen of the chairs are smaller, symbolizing the children who were killed.  The chairs are arranged in 9 rows, one for each floor in the building, and they are placed according to the floor on which those killed were working or visiting.  The children’s chairs are in the second row.  At night the glass bases illuminate (see prior picture).

In the previous night time picutre you can see the chairs illuminated

The day care center was on the second floor.  The Survivor Wall is at the end (with the 2 large plaques)

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On the east end of the memorial are the only remaining walls from the building, now referred to as the Survivor Wall.  It displays over 600 names on salvaged pieces of granite from the Murrah Building lobby.

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The Survivor Tree sits in what was once a parking lot directly across the street from where the truck exploded.  It is a 100-year-old American Elm that at first did not appear to survive the blast, but just before it was to be removed, the tree started showing signs of life and the citizens demanded it remain.  Twenty years later it is seen as a symbol of human resilience.

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The Survivor Tree and the museum.

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“We Come Here To Remember Those Who Were Killed, Those Who Survived And Those Changed Forever.  May All Who Leave Here Know The Impact Of Violence.  May This Memorial Offer Comfort, Strength, Peace, Hope And Serenity.

This entry was posted in Kansas, Oklahoma, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to We Come Here To Remember…..

  1. Nancy Cilenti says:

    Amen!

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