I'll be honest. I didn't know much about President Eisenhower. I knew he was a general in World War II. I knew his wife was Mamie. And of course I knew his campaign slogan, "I like Ike." Otherwise? Not much.
I'll even admit the Eisenhower National Historic Site wasn't high on my list of places to go. Then I learned two things that changed the calculus. First, it was right next to Gettysburg National Military Park where we would be anyway. Second, the Junior Ranger program wasn't a Junior Ranger program at all. It was a Junior Secret Service Agent program. And the badges were metal. BOOM. Sold.
More than any other in the modern era, Eisenhower seemed like a people's president. He wasn't born to a rich and powerful family and although he rose to the pinnacles of both the military and government he still had everyday tastes.
Touring his farm we saw this around every corner. He had an outdoor BBQ where he cooked steaks, though barely rare by today's standards. His house was furnished sparsely with reminders of his past. And his man cave would make any manly man proud.
Of course, he was still a president. The Secret Service installed surveillance all over the house and managed it from a little shack near the barn. And he got to use Shangri-La... er... Hi-Catoctin... um... Camp David. In fact, he renamed the presidential retreat after his grandson.
I came away with a much better understanding of what President Eisenhower did for our country and the kind of man he was. It was really good visit and one I'd recommend. Even if the Junior Secret Service badges didn't turn out to be metal after all.
When you go, know that this is one of the few National Park Service sites that doesn't accept any of the usual passes for entrance. Get your tickets at the Gettysburg visitor center (ranging from $5 to $9) and plan on at least a two hour visit.