Thursday, September 17, 2020

Get Out! And See the New Eisenhower Memorial

by Peggy Robin

This week’s “Get Out” recommendation is about an event taking place online, which will afterward become an activity that you can do in real life, outdoors, while maintaining social distance from anyone else….if you pick the right time.  

The new Eisenhower Memorial  will be unveiled tonight, September 17 2020 at 7:00 PM at a small outdoor ceremony for invitees only – but the public at large is invited to watch it in virtual reality


Memorial Dedication Ceremony  

Thursday, September 17, 2020 | 7:00pm

Hosted by the Eisenhower Memorial Commission Via Facebook Live

Live stream open to the public | Registration not required  

The Memorial Commission explains: “The events celebrating the opening of the Eisenhower Memorial have been redesigned due to the impact of COVID-19. Given the constraints on public gatherings, and in consideration of public safety, we have restructured the dedication events. Following CDC guidelines for safe social distancing, space is more limited and we are unfortunately not able to allow for additional guests. We appreciate your understanding and hope that you will join us via Facebook Live for this reimagined commemoration of the memorial. or questions and assistance, email”   

You may know something about the history leading up to this moment – the 21 years of squabbling, lobbying, redesign hearings and re-hearings in front of various panels and commissions – finally bearing fruit with the compromise design that is being unveiled this evening. If you’re not up on this subject – or you want a quick refresher course – I recommend this recap in the New York Times: 

For an illuminating review of the design of the Eisenhower Memorial, the Washington Post’s architecture critic Philip Kennicott is the one to read: 

Here’s my own commentary on the process and outcome of this public installation:

The original, sole designer, starchitect Frank Gehry, came up with a concept for the memorial that had as its centerpiece a statue of the young Eisenhower as a barefoot child in Kansas – thus relegating his accomplishments as the Supreme Allied Commander in World War II and his two-term presidency (which, arguably, had the most bipartisan support of any president in our history) to side pieces in the panorama of his life. United in outrage and opposition to the design, the Eisenhower family and their allies spent years organizing, lobbying, and presenting the case for scrapping the design and starting anew. Over the years, a number of new and compromise plans were put forth, more changes were ordered; and eventually the ; the National Capital Planning Commission (the deciding agency) had its say. In the final version, several new statues of Eisenhower in his prime took over the main stage. Former Secretary of State James Baker served as the chief negotiator among the warring parties, hammering out the compromise arrangement of the statues that was to prove acceptable to all.   

You know the old saying about the camel – that it’s an animal designed by committee. The moral of that story is that when a design is worked on by a group of disparate people, the result will be something awkward, ugly, and not to anyone’s liking. Well, that story has never made sense to me. The camel is NOT ugly – unless you have a very constrained and stereotypical idea of what beauty is. The camel is truly a magnificent creature – amazingly well adapted to its harsh environment, serving its purpose better than almost any other pack animal. It deserves our respect, even admiration.

So it is with the Eisenhower Memorial. Yes, it was designed by a committee, but they found a way to represent all the various aspects of this towering figure of the Twentieth Century – and serve the goals of beautiful landscaping, public accessibility, and clear storytelling of history – all in a relatively compact space. This camel serves its purpose well  – and you should go to see it and admire it.  

Take Philip Kennicott’s suggestion and see it as the daylight fades, so that you’re there as it’s lit up at night. After dark there will be fewer visitors and you will find it easier to maintain social distancing. Please be sure to wear your mask. If there’s anything Ike taught us, it’s that when faced with a dangerous enemy we all must be prepared to make sacrifices to protect our country, our people. In this case, what we’re being asked to do is not that hard. Wear a mask when you go to visit the memorial. It’s what Ike would have done.   

The "Get Out" events column is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Thursdays.     

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