“The proudest thing I can claim is that I am from Abilene” - Dwight D. Eisenhower June 22, 1945
A name synonymous to Abilene, residents and visitors all know Abilene as the hometown of former President Dwight ‘Ike’ Eisenhower. This is why, on Veterans Day in 1954, the National Archives dedicated the newly built museum as Dwight Eisenhower’s Presidential Library & Museum. For 76 years, researchers, tourists, locals, veterans and history lovers visited the property to learn everything about Eisenhower’s life and the history he lived through.
However when the pandemic started, the National Archives decided to shut down presidential libraries nationwide due to public health concerns. These shutdowns took place March 14, 2020. The Eisenhower Museum saw a small reopening from May 17 to July 19 of this year, but closed its doors once again due to COVID-19 numbers in Dickinson County.
“I am taking this action out of concern for the health of the staff and the visiting public,” Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero wrote in a press release published July 16.
At the time, Dickinson County’s COVID-19 numbers exceeded what Centers for Disease Control’s definition of “high transmission,” which means more than 99 new cases per 100,000 residents and a positivity rate greater than 9.9%.
“Our mandates are federal,” Eisenhower Presidential Library Director Dawn Hammatt said when asked why the museum and library are currently closed, while other museums in Kansas stayed open.
Since Sept. 13, Dickinson County’s COVID-19 numbers included 2,426 cases with 172 new cases since the Dickinson County website’s last update. According to the United States Census Bureau in 2019, Dickinson County had 18,828 residents. Based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, transmission is evaluated by “number of new cases in the county in the past seven days divided by the population in the county multiplied by 100,000.”
For Dickinson County’s 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 transmission level.
With the current federal mandate, Eisenhower may not open its doors until the number of cases in Dickinson County lowers significantly. Hammatt hopes the doors will open soon, so the museum can go back to doing their job.
“We are public servants,” Hammatt said. “We enjoy serving our public”
During the small summer opening, Hammatt remembers the museum selling out tickets almost every day. Hammatt helped figure out how to keep museum staff and visitors safe during that period of time.
“I like problem solving,” Hammatt said. “So to find the way to be able to (open) and do it well, was interesting to me.”
Though the doors have been closed, Hammatt and the archivist work on assisting researchers across the globe through online services.
“Our archivist and our archival team have been busy working with the researchers electronically via email and telephone calls,” Hammatt said. “We have been able to provide some support to the researchers even though they can’t come to the research room. So we are looking forward to being able to reopen the research room and having our researchers come back in and support them with direct access to the building.”
Currently, the museum gained funding for a larger project for Eisenhower’s boyhood home located on the library campus.
“We have been approved and appropriated funding to do some exterior renovations to the boyhood home, which is on our campus,” Hammatt said. “We are still in a planning and scheduling phase with our contractors. I had hoped that we would have begun the work by now but we have not actually gotten a start date.”