A dispute over a memorial design featuring a statue of President Eisenhower as a barefoot boy is threatening to delay construction of a national memorial to the 34th president and leader of the Allied forces in World War II.
A congressional subcommittee is set to hear testimony Tuesday on the design of the memorial, which had been scheduled for completion by Memorial Day 2015 on a four-acre plot between the National Air and Space Museum and the U.S. Department of Education.
The design features a park area and stone panels engraved with portraits from Eisenhower’s military and political careers set off by 80-foot columns supporting woven metal tapestries depicting scenes from his Kansas upbringing.
But vocal opposition to the memorial’s design, led by Eisenhower family members, has threatened to derail the $100 million project in large part because the lone statue inside the memorial area depicts Eisenhower as a boy.
Supporters say the design, by renowned contemporary architect Frank Gehry, was meant to capture the arc of Eisenhower’s life, from humble beginnings in Abilene, Kan., to his service in the military and the presidency.
Members of the Eisenhower family object to portraying him as a barefoot boy amid humble circumstances as an unnecessary dwelling on matters other than Eisenhower’s adult achievements, such as desegregating Washington. They also say it makes the memorial alienating to contemporary Americans.
“Celebrating Eisenhower’s roots rather than his accomplishments risks isolating Ike from contemporary visitors, especially those from urban industrialized parts of the country and immigrant communities,” Anne Eisenhower, one of Eisenhower’s granddaughters, said in a January letter on behalf of the family to the National Capital Planning Commission.
Another of Eisenhower’s granddaughters, Susan, also has been critical of the design and is expected to testify before the hearing of the House subcommittee on national parks, forests and public lands Tuesday.
Controversies over memorial depictions are nothing new.
The Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial, which opened last year, was criticized for its depiction of King with a cross-armed posture that some thought made the civil rights leader appear confrontational and for a paraphrased quote that some said made him sound arrogant.
The Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial also was hotly debated before it opened in 1997, with some questioning whether the president who went to great lengths to conceal his polio affliction should be memorialized by a statue depicting him in a wheelchair.
But the fervor over the Eisenhower memorial appears set to eclipse previous debates, with members of Congress lining up for and against the design and the project appearing destined for what could be indefinite delays.
Origin of the memorial
The plan for an Eisenhower memorial, the seventh national memorial to honor a U.S. president, was approved in 1999 by President Clinton.
Authorizing legislation dictated that “an appropriate permanent memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower should be created to perpetuate his memory and his contributions to the United States,” and Congress formed a commission to oversee the memorial’s development.