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Travels in the Heartland: Saluting a president and more in Abilene, Kansas

It's the hometown of President Eisenhower and a whole lot more
Historic Seelye Mansion. Photo courtesy Abilene Vistors and Convention Bureau.jpg
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Darkroom exhibit at Jeffcoat Photography Studio Museum.jpg
Greyhound Hall of Fame Museum.jpg
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Russell Stover store.jpg
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Posted at 2:15 PM, Feb 03, 2022

ABILENE, KS (KMTV) — Dwight D. Eisenhower frolicked along the streets of Abilene as a child. He hunted in fields outside the small Kansas town. Fishing the Smoky River, he never thought he’d grow to become the highest decorated general in American history. Abilene, about 3.5-hours southwest of Omaha, embraced Eisenhower, whose family moved there from Texas when he was two years old. While Eisenhower may be the shining star of this town of about 6,500, Abilene has much to celebrate, from its days as a dusty end of cattle trails to the home of dog racing royalty.

Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum, and Boyhood Home

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The Eisenhowers' resting place at the meditation chap

You’ll have an opportunity to soak in a lot of scenery and information during a visit to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home. Start your visit with a tour through the museum. Tracing his early days in calling Abilene home, you’ll get a glimpse into his youth and how his family helped form his views on society. Several exhibits explore his military career, from his time at the Military Academy at West Point to the D-Day invasion. Learn about the challenges and successes he had serving two terms as president, including fully desegregating the military, building the interstate system, and starting the American space program. A smaller exhibit examines Mamie Eisenhower’s life and role as First Lady. The museum concludes with a look at his post-presidency life.

Visit the Place of Meditation, a small chapel next to the museum, where you can pay your respects to both the President and Mrs. Eisenhower, who are buried there. A short walk away is Eisenhower’s boyhood home, which includes the family’s furnishings during their time there.

A statue of “Ike"—Eisenhower’s nickname since childhood—overlooks the museum complex, and is encircled by five stars, signifying the highest rank given to a general.

Seelye Mansion

Seelye Mansion during antique car show. Photo courtesy Abilene Vistors and Convention Bureau.jpg
Seelye Mansion during antique car show. Photo courtesy Abilene Vistors and Convention Bureau

Presidents and celebrities, from President Theodore Roosevelt to Thomas Edison, broke bread at the Seelye Mansion. Featuring 25 rooms, the Georgian-style mansion was built in 1905. Guided tours take guests through the rooms, including a front parlor where the owner has been known to play a song or two on a century-old Steinway piano. The home is a museum of 20th-century inventions, including a phonograph player and light fixtures, each designed by Edison. The basement includes a one-lane bowling alley. Col. Harlan Sanders once attempted to buy the Seelye Mansion with the intent to relocate the national headquarters for Kentucky Fried Chicken, including a restaurant on the first floor. Imagine sitting at the same spot as Edison and chowing down on a three-piece Colonel’s extra crispy combo meal. Fortunately, the deal fell through.

C.W. Parker Carousel

Travel back to your childhood and hop on one of the 24 horses on the C.W. Parker Carousel. The 1901 carousel, which also has four other character rides, has called Abilene home for more than 90 years. One of hundreds that were once produced in Leavenworth, Parker carousels were the top carnival attraction until the Great Depression impacted business. The family-owned business was finally sold in 1955 when Parker’s son decided to call it a career. Today, the Abilene carousel is located at the Dickinson County Heritage Center.

Dickinson County Heritage Center

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Pistol used by Pat Garrett as Abilene's marshal

Offering a look into Abilene’s past, the Dickinson County Heritage Center is home to a blacksmith, one-room schoolhouse, and log cabin. Inside the museum, you’ll find exhibits highlighting the area’s telephone history, cattle drives along the Chisholm Trail, and the cowboys who passed through the old Cowtown, including “Wild Bill” Hickock and Pat Garrett.

Public art

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World's largest spur

With some of the most beautiful murals we’ve seen, Abilene helps tell its story through art. With murals celebrating the history of the bison and Hickock, you’ll also find waste cans decorated, including a painting of President Eisenhower. The world’s largest cowboy boot spur is, appropriately, located in front of a western wear store.

Old Abilene Town

Step back into the Wild West during a visit to Old Abilene Town. The living history town includes storefronts common during the days of the cowboy. The summer season includes gunfights and can-can dancers. Home to the annual Chisholm Trail Days Labor Day weekend, you’ll find a real-life cattle drive and western re-enactors, as well as country music concerts.

Jeffcoat Photography Studio Museum

Offering a look at the history of the Abilene area through the eyes of three Jeffcoat generations, the Jeffcoat Photography Studio Museum includes vintage photos, cameras and accessories. You’ll find early 19th century cameras, film, canisters, and other accessories. An interesting exhibit highlights the history of a dark room when photographers used to develop their film and print their photos.

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Greyhound Hall of Fame Museum

My parents were greyhound racing enthusiasts, so visiting the Greyhound Hall of Fame Museum brought back memories. The museum, opened in 1963, celebrates the history of greyhound racing with a look at some of the key race tracks across the country. You’ll also find the national Hall of Fame at the museum, with both dogs and people recognized for their roles in the sport. With only five racetracks in the United States, greyhound racing doesn’t have the impact it once did, but the museum remains popular with visitors. An added plus is that retired greyhounds call the museum home and earn their treats by greeting guests.

Russell Stover store

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Sweets at the Russell Stover store

When in Abilene, a stop at the Russell Stover store is a must. With a warehouse in the back, shoppers have a variety of chocolates and other candy from which to choose. Joining standards such as Stover’s assorted chocolates, you’ll find gourmet caramel apples, 20 varieties of freshly-made fudge, ice cream sundaes with melted chocolate sauce, and almost 50 flavors of Jelly Belly candies. You can also create your own Stover’s candies box.

While you can spend at least an afternoon at the Eisenhower museum complex, Abilene has much more to offer and makes for a great weekend getaway. With excellent dining options, you can enjoy everything from a burger to a nice sit-down dinner. Stay at a local hotel or enjoy a bed and breakfast experience.

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