Every time we so much as touch a toe out of state, I’ve put cemeteries on our travel itinerary. From garden-like expanses to overgrown boot hills, whether they’re the final resting places of the well-known but not that important or the important but not that well-known, I love them all. After realizing that there are a lot of taphophiles out there, I’m finally putting my archive of interesting tombstones to good use.
Though he was born in Texas, President Dwight D. Eisenhower considered himself a Kansas man, through and through—his parents moved to the small Midwestern town of Abilene when Dwight was just 2.
In fact, when he came home to visit his mother after WWII, Ike gave a moving speech that credited Abilene with his wholesome upbringing:
"Because no man is really a man who has lost out of himself all of the boy, I want to speak first of the dreams of a barefoot boy. Frequently, they are to be of a street car conductor or he sees himself as the town policeman, above all he may reach to a position of locomotive engineer, but always in his dreams is that day when he finally comes home. Comes home to a welcome from his own home town. Because today that dream of mine of 45 years or more ago has been realized beyond the wildest stretches of my own imagination, I come here, first, to thank you, to say the proudest thing I can claim is that I am from Abilene. "Through this world it has been my fortune or misfortune to wander at considerable distance; never has this town been outside my heart and memory. Here are some of my oldest and dearest friends. Here are men that helped me start my own career and helped my son start his. Here are people that are lifelong friends of my mother and my late father, the really two great individuals of the Eisenhower family. They raised six boys and they made sure that each had an upbringing at home and an education that equipped him to gain a respectable place in his own profession, and I think it's fair to say they all have. They and their families are the products of the loving care, labor and work of my father and mother; just another average Abilene family."
Though Eisenhower could have been buried at Arlington National Cemetery or even in Gettysburg, he and Mamie decided that their final resting place would be in good old Abilene, population 6844. And in 1967, Eisenhower completed a very important and personal step in the process of constructing his own memorial. In 1921, Ike and Mamie lost their three-year-old son, Doud Dwight (“Icky”), to scarlet fever. Eisenhower later said he never recovered from the event, and it almost destroyed his marriage. Though Icky had been buried in Denver for 46 years, in 1967, Eisenhower quietly had his son moved to the building in Abilene that he and Mamie had decided upon as their final resting place.
Two years later, Eisenhower suffered from a heart attack—the last of several—and died on March 28, 1969. A military man until the end, the five-star general was buried in his iconic green jacket and his family eschewed an expensive casket for an $80 soldier's coffin. After his body lay in state at the United States Capitol, a cross-country train trip returned him to his boyhood home of Abilene, Kansas—and his son. When Mamie passed away from a stroke 10 years later, she took her place next to Ike and Icky at the Place of Meditation at the Eisenhower Library in Abilene.
View all entries in our Grave Sightings series here.