Eisenhower Museum and Presidential Library remain closed to the public but hope for possible reopening
September 22 – “The proudest thing I can say is that I am from Abilene” – Dwight D. Eisenhower June 22, 1945
A name synonymous with Abilene, residents and visitors alike know Abilene as the hometown of former President Dwight ‘Ike’ Eisenhower. That’s why, on Veterans Day in 1954, the National Archives dedicated the newly constructed museum as the Presidential Dwight Eisenhower Library and Museum. For 76 years, scholars, tourists, locals, veterans and history buffs have toured the property to learn all about Eisenhower’s life and the history he lived.
However, when the pandemic began, the National Archives decided to shut down presidential libraries across the country due to public health concerns. These closings took place on March 14, 2020. The Eisenhower Museum had a small reopening from May 17 to July 19 of this year, but closed again due to COVID-19 numbers in Dickinson County.
“I am taking this step out of concern for the health of staff and the visiting public,” wrote United States archivist David S. Ferriero in a July 16 press release.
At the time, Dickinson County’s COVID-19 numbers exceeded the Centers for Disease Control’s definition of “high transmission,” meaning more than 99 new cases per 100,000 population and a positivity rate above 9.9 %.
“Our mandates are federal,” said Eisenhower Presidential Library Director Dawn Hammatt when asked why the museum and library are currently closed, while other museums in Kansas have remained open.
As of September 13, Dickinson County’s COVID-19 figures included 2,426 cases with 172 new cases since the Dickinson County website was last updated. According to the 2019 United States Census Bureau, Dickinson County had a population of 18,828. Based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, transmission is assessed by “the number of new cases in the county in the past seven days divided by the county’s population multiplied by 100,000.”
For Dickinson County cases, the 172 new cases divided by 18,828 residents multiplied by 100,000 equals 913.53 cases. According to CDC guidelines, this means the county has an extremely high level of transmission.
With the current federal mandate, Eisenhower may not open its doors until the number of cases in Dickinson County drops significantly. Hammatt hopes the doors will open soon, so the museum can start doing its job again.
“We are public servants,” Hammatt said. “We love to serve our audience”
During the small summer opening, Hammatt remembers that the museum sold tickets almost every day. Hammatt helped understand how to keep museum staff and visitors safe during this time.
“I like to solve problems,” Hammatt said. “So finding a way to be able to (open up) and do it right, was interesting to me.”
Although the doors have been closed, Hammatt and the Archivist are working to help researchers around the world through online services.
“Our archivist and archival team have been busy working with researchers electronically via email and phone calls,” Hammatt said. “We were able to provide some support to the researchers even though they cannot come into the research room. So we are looking forward to being able to reopen the research room and to see our researchers come back and support them with direct access to the building. . “
Currently, the museum has secured funding for a larger project for Eisenhower’s childhood home located on the library campus.
“We have received approved and appropriate funding to do exterior renovations to the Children’s Home, which is located on our campus,” said Hammatt. “We are still in a planning and programming phase with our contractors. I had hoped we would have started the work now, but we did not really get a start date.”