- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 15, 2002

The living room may have a coffee table from Korea and a silk Tabriz rug, but visitors seem a lot more taken by the contents of the sunroom. Perhaps it's the box of cigarettes there, placed carelessly on a side table as if their owner has just stepped out for a moment or two. Or maybe it's the remote control within arm's reach of the easy chair that provokes the smiles on the faces of everyone but the smallest guests.

If the only chief executive you've associated with Gettysburg is Lincoln and the only military leader Lee, you may be ready for a return visit. Our 34th president (1953-61) also has a presence here. Indeed, Dwight D. Eisenhower's association with Gettysburg stretches from early in the 20th century to his death in 1969.

"Eisenhower loved Gettysburg," says Carol Hegeman, historian at the Eisenhower National Historic Site, the small dairy farm he bought in 1950. "It was his way of getting [away] from the concrete of Washington to the countryside."

There's more to Gettysburg than the battlefield. Visitors can stop in at the Eisenhower farm, take a guided "Hike with Ike" through downtown, or ride on an old passenger car from the railroad's glory days. Later, they can check out Gettysburg's 1925 vintage Majestic Theater a favorite stopping place for the former president and his wife, Mamie Doud, that continues to show first-run movies.

In fact, it's easy to spend the day in Gettysburg without setting foot on the battlefield.

•••

The town began in 1786, when James Gettys, the second son of a local farmer, laid out 210 lots. His choice was a shrewd one; located at a crossroads, Gettysburg quickly became a prominent agricultural transportation center. Light industry appeared early in the 19th century. Educational institutions were established as well, including the Lutheran Theological Seminary and Pennsylvania (now Gettysburg) College.

True, it was north of the Mason-Dixon line, but like many towns in Southern Pennsylvania in the early part of the 19th century, Gettysburg was divided by the slavery question. Some farmers, like James Gettys' father, had owned slaves. In the meantime, free black people, drawn to the area by the promise of employment in agriculture and industry, began to develop a presence of their own. According to the 1790 census, says local historian Betty Dorsey Myers, there were 600 black people in the Gettysburg area, half enslaved and half free.

By the time of the Civil War, there were no slaves left in Gettysburg, thanks to a 1780 law which provided for the gradual abolition of slavery in Pennsylvania. The free black population in the area lived largely separate lives from whites. They worshipped in separate churches and were educated in separate schools. But when the war finally came, many men from the black community flocked to enlist.


Buried in the town's segregated Lincoln Cemetery are 29 veterans of the Civil War who served with the U.S. Colored Troops. Shut out of the whites-only cemetery just a short distance away (Soldiers National Cemetery, known to the ages as the cemetery dedicated by Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address on Nov. 19, 1863), the men were memorialized each year after the war by the town's black population, until World War II. Ten years ago, the ceremony was revived.

Just a stone's throw from the historic African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church on Franklin Street is a marker commemorating the one-room, blacks-only school built in 1884 and abandoned in 1933, when the students were dispersed to other schools.

Before 1884, classes for blacks were held in various places around town. That the school was built at all was the result of frequent petitions from the black community.

"It was a revelation to see how many there were," says Mrs. Myers, who painstakingly combed through town and board of education records to piece together the history of the community. "These kinds of things show me that the people then did what they could do to get a quality education."

•••

Just as historians are learning more about Gettysburg and reappraising what they know, so to is the town's most famous former resident, Dwight D. Eisenhower, getting renewed attention and a reassessment. Thanks in part to Stephen Ambrose's 1990 biography, "Eisenhower: Soldier and President," Mr. Eisenhower is being given more credit as a policy-maker and leader.

Critics long disparaged Mr. Eisenhower for his seeming reluctance to publicly challenge the tactics of Red-hunting Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy, for example. Yet today they are more willing to concede the success of his technique of working behind the scenes to engineer the Senate hearings that in 1954 helped to bring about Mr. McCarthy's downfall.

A similar shift can be seen in historians' view of Mr. Eisenhower's record on civil rights as evidence surfaces that the president was more aggressive on the issue than previously thought. Robert Preston, a professor of history at Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, Md., and author of articles on desegregation in Washington from 1945 to 1953, says Mr. Eisenhower called the Motion Picture Theater Owners of America to complain about segregation in the capital's movie theaters. A quiet desegregation followed, Mr. Preston says.

"He did a lot of his work behind the scenes," Mrs. Hegeman says of Mr. Eisenhower. "He wasn't the cheerleading type."

He was instead a man for whom words like duty, honor and service had a real meaning.

"A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both," he said in his first inaugural address in January 1953. He opened that address with a prayer and soon after his inauguration became a communicant at the National Presbyterian Church in the capital.

•••

A down-to-earth quality is reflected in the Eisenhower farm, where Mr. Eisenhower raised his prized show herd of Angus cattle until 1966.

"It's such a comfortable place," marvels one woman, a tourist from Mr. Eisenhower's home state of Kansas. "You wouldn't think a president lived here."

Then there's the barn. Rather than the traditional red, it's a distinctive shade of light green.

"He mixed the paint color himself," Mrs. Hegeman says. "But he made sure to check with Mamie before he had the painters lay it on."

Indeed, Mr. Eisenhower was more familiar with paint than most people know. Over the years, he produced a number of paintings of landscapes, contemporaries and family members, many of which were painted from the sunroom.

The Eisenhowers spent many evenings here in front of the television, eating dinner from TV trays. He liked "Gunsmoke" and "The Lawrence Welk Show" although according to Mrs. Hegeman, he did like to "ride the remote" and yes, they did have remote controls in those days.

Mrs. Eisenhower preferred soap operas.

"There were a few times that she actually had one of the Secret Service men watch "As the World Turns" for her when she had another engagement," Mrs. Hegeman remembers. "This was before the age of VCRs, you know."

The Eisenhowers also enjoyed stately company. One visitor was British Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, a wartime colleague of Mr. Eisenhower's who defeated German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in Egypt at El Alamein. True to the self-important swagger that set Eisenhower on edge, the field marshal signed the guest book as "Montgomery of Alamein."

Here, too, came Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Even the prickly Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev reportedly thawed a bit after a sojourn at the farm and a visit with the Eisenhower grandchildren.

But of all the farm's features, the most curious must be the putting green a single golf cup surrounded by lawn, a gift from the Professional Golfers' Association.

"He was an avid golfer," Mrs. Hegeman says. "You'd often find him at the Gettysburg Country Club playing a round."

•••

Mr. Eisenhower's association with Gettysburg was already well-established by the 1950s. It began with a visit in 1915. Take the "Hike with Ike" along with Ranger Andy Tarbert and he'll position you where the West Point cadet, in town with his class to tour the battlefield, posed with his classmates on the steps of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church.

"They called this class of 1915 the class the stars fell on," Mr. Tarbert says. The class produced 59 generals, of whom two Mr. Eisenhower and Omar Bradley were five-star generals.

The future president returned to Gettysburg in 1918 as commander of Camp Colt, a site established to train the new tank corps. Unfortunately for Capt. Eisenhower, an enthusiastic advocate for the new technology, the army had only two tanks and no method of communication between the tank commander and driver.

"They developed the 'kick in the head' method," Park Ranger John Joyce says. "Two kicks on the right meant turn right. One kick meant stop. Several kicks meant go back."

The Park Rangers who lead the "Hiking with Ike" tour will take you to a few of the homes that Dwight, Mamie and their first son Doud Dwight (who died in 1921 at age 4) lived in during the Camp Colt years. One residence served as a fraternity house for Gettysburg College during the school year. It had a large ballroom but no kitchen.

"Mamie had to do the dishes in the bathtub," Mr. Tarbert recalls.

You'll also stop by the old post office building, now the library. For several weeks in 1955, the president ran the country from a second floor office here while recovering from a heart attack.

After he retired, Mr. Eisenhower maintained an office at Gettysburg College. Both he and Mamie were frequently seen about town. There was just one problem:

"Eisenhower really didn't know how to park," Mrs. Hegeman remembers. "He couldn't parallel park at all, and when he could pull into a space, he often couldn't get out of it."

•••

There is no evidence that Mr. Eisenhower ever rode the train to Gettysburg in later years he took a helicopter but that shouldn't stop you from taking an excursion on the tracks of what was once the Gettysburg and Harrisburg Railroad. The successor line, the Gettysburg & Northern Railroad Co., runs freight along this route and operates the Gettysburg Scenic Railway for tourists.

You can buy your ticket at the 1884 railroad station, just up the line from the one that Abraham Lincoln rode into when he came to deliver the Gettysburg Address. Stop by the old Lincoln Diner, within spitting distance of the railroad tracks, and you're likely to see a freight train pass by.

Nearing its 50th year, the Lincoln Diner is a favorite of locals who stop in to savor a piece of cheesecake or other dessert baked by John Arahovas, the owner's uncle.

Manager Theresa Miller remembers the diner 25 years ago, when it was called the Varsity Diner and was a popular hangout for students from Gettysburg College.

College students still come by to study or take a break; the place is open 24 hours a day.

Unlike other small towns that roll up the sidewalks after sunset, Gettysburg remains lively, thanks to the tourist trade. Evenings on the town square are marked by horse-drawn carriages, lantern-led tours, stores that remain open and live music.

Just about every night during the summer and on weekends the rest of the year, you'll find the Lincoln Street Quartet playing Vivaldi, Bach, and other masters in front of the Gettysburg Hotel. The three college-age students and one high school junior got together when they were all playing with the Gettysburg College Symphony.

"All of us really enjoyed playing together," cellist Allison Kendleheart, a freshman at Drexel University, says. "And we were looking for something to do."

Undeterred by the noise of motorcycles or the trucks that rumble by, the four draw a considerable crowd. They even have groupies, youngsters who seem more than happy to sit through a rendition of a Vivaldi concerto to run up at the end and place a dollar or two in first violinist's Devin Odom's open case.

"People really appreciate that there's music going on," Miss Kendleheart says. "Even the police come by to listen."

That's one part of a summer night in this small town. Among the others are couples strolling around the square, children popping wheelies in front of the open ice cream parlor, the movie-house marquee lit up for the second show. And off in the distance, that high lonesome whistle from the train.

It's enough to make you think that you had arrived in the middle of the Eisenhower era.å

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