Topeka Capital-Journal: Some Don’t Like Ike’s Memorial
Is the story of Dwight D. Eisenhower about a small-town Kansas boy or about one of the 20th century’s greatest military leaders who became our nation’s 34th president?
The answer to that question, as everyone knows, is both. But telling that story within the framework of an Eisenhower memorial on the Washington Mall has created a rift between members of Eisenhower’s family and the architect selected by the Eisenhower Memorial Commission to design the tribute to the Abilene youth who grew up to do great things.
Eisenhower’s descendants think the design proposed by architect Frank Gehry focuses too much on Eisenhower’s Abilene roots and not enough on his accomplishments as a general and president.
As Kansans, we like the idea of recognizing Eisenhower’s roots. He once said, “the proudest thing I can claim is that I am from Abilene.” We are proud, too, that he was one of our own.
However, we also realize most people know him as the leader of allied forces in World War II and a president, and that it is for those things he is being honored, deservedly so, with a memorial in our nation’s capital.
Many a boy has grown up in Abilene; many more have grown up in Kansas. That alone hasn’t made any of them worthy of a memorial on the Washington Mall. Only one of those boys grew up to lead the victorious armies in a world war, integrate public schools, envision today’s interstate highway system and create NASA. Those are the things that make one worthy of a memorial.
That said, we still like the idea of “Ike’s” roots being recognized in the memorial. But when work on it is completed and a crowd gathers for the dedication, the members of Eisenhower’s family in attendance on that day should be able to look and it and know their forebear would approve of it.
There should be room for a compromise that would please the architect and the Eisenhower family.
Gehry’s vision is a statue of Eisenhower as a boy seeming to marvel at all that he would accomplish later in his life. The statue would be set in a memorial park framed by metal tapestries with images of Eisenhower’s boyhood home.
That is too avant-garde for Eisenhower’s descendants, who note he was a traditionalist who didn’t understand modern art. They also don’t like the metal tapestries.
“Great monuments to our leaders are simple in design and made of durable stone for a reason,” a member of the family wrote.
Gehry says he wants the Eisenhower family to approve the final design but won’t use a traditional statue. All the great sculptors are “long gone” he says.
We don’t know a lot of sculptors, but we do know there have been great ones throughout history. To dismiss the current generation so easily is a mistake. Great sculptors aren’t known as such until they are asked to do great things.
When asked to do great things for his country and the world, Eisenhower delivered.
Surely Gehry, or another architect, can produce a memorial that would display the designer’s artistic vision within a framework that would make Eisenhower’s family members and Kansans proud.
Members of The Capital-Journal Editorial Board are Gregg Ireland, Mike Hall, Fred Johnson, Ray Beers Jr., Garry Cushinberry, Joyce Martin, John Stauffer, Frank Ybarra and Sally Zellers. [emphasis added]