Getting Eisenhower's statistics right

WAY BACK WHEN

General was 62 at inauguration, with birthplace official

Back Story

August 03, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun Reporter

In a recent Sun column, Theo Lippman Jr., a retired Sun editorial writer and author, wrote that if Sen. John McCain is elected, "he will take the oath of office when he is 72 years and five months old. That would be the oldest ever at the first day of a presidency."

Ronald Reagan was the oldest man when he was elected to the presidency and was 69 years and 11 months old when he arrived at the front door of the White House.

Reagan's seniority bumped William Henry Harrison, who was born in 1773, to second place, but he still holds the record for presidential brevity.

Harrison, a Whig, was 68 when he was inaugurated on a rainy and cold March 4, 1841, which probably contributed to the new president's coming down with pneumonia. He died a month later on April 4.

Lippman also added a quote from Um ... Slips, Stumbles and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean by author Michael Erard that when Dwight Eisenhower began his eight year presidency, he was 63.

"Wrong," Douglas R. Price, a semiretired Chestertown businessman and collector extraordinaire of presidential trivia, who in his younger days was a member of Eisenhower's White House staff, wrote in an e-mail.

"That was not the case," Price wrote. "I attended Ike's 62nd birth anniversary celebration aboard his presidential campaign train in Texas on Oct. 14, 1952, fourteen weeks before he was inaugurated at 12:32 p.m. on Jan. 20, 1953, as the 34th president."

Price added that "Ike was still 62 when sworn in as president and was not 63 until Oct. 14, 1953."

"Ike always said that you have one birthday and the rest are 'birth anniversaries.' That was his outlook," Price said.

The confusion over his exact age and date of birth may have risen out of the fact that a birth certificate for David Eisenhower, as he was known after being born in Denison, Texas, on Oct. 14, 1890, had never been filed in the Grayson County clerk's office.

Ike was a toddler when his family left Denison and moved to Abilene, Kans.

"In time, his mother changed his name to Dwight David Eisenhower, in part thinking two Davids (her husband was David) in the house would be confusing," Price said.

"In the fall of 1952, The Denison Herald reported that there was no record of Eisenhower's birth there," Price said.

After reading the story, Lonnie S. Roberts, a Denison resident, wrote to Mamie Eisenhower, who replied in a letter, that her husband "was amused that he wasn't a matter of record in Grayson County," reported The New York Times.

After Mrs. Eisenhower sent Roberts copies of the necessary documents, he filed them with the county clerk.

"Mr. Roberts sent a birth certificate to Arthur Eisenhower, the general's brother, in Kansas City to attest to the facts," reported The New York Times.

Ike wasn't in Texas when the birth certificate was filed Oct. 1, 1952. He was busy making campaign appearances in Michigan, stopping at Bay City, Saginaw, Jackson, Lapeer, and Grand Rapids.

Price reported that Ike was in Texas aboard his campaign train on his 62nd birthday.

"We arrived in Houston from New Orleans on Oct. 14 aboard the Eisenhower Campaign Special at 7:25 a.m.," Price said, checking his voluminous records from the time.

After a speech in Houston, Ike and his campaign staff, including Price, boarded a plane and made campaign stops in Waco, Lubbock and San Antonio, before re-boarding the campaign train.

"I think the birth anniversary party aboard the train was Tuesday evening before we left San Antonio, but I cannot locate papers confirming our exact location during the party," he said.

Price said that Eisenhower thoroughly enjoyed the party arranged by his campaign staff as the train rumbled through the Texas night.

However, Price said, that wasn't quite the case a year earlier on his birthday.

"Indeed, he always enjoyed recognition of his birth anniversary, and on the occasion of his 61st birthday, he was NATO commander in Europe and living in Paris," Price said.

"He became sulky when he was not congratulated at the top of the morning by his valet or his wife Mamie. Nobody congratulated him," Price said. "It was a joke the Gen. Alfred Gruenther played on Ike."

Gruenther, who was supreme allied commander in Europe, had ordered all telephone messages and trans-Atlantic calls stopped and no letters or telegrams of congratulations were delivered.

Guests who gathered for a midday rubber of bridge offered no birthday wishes.

"As the day wore on, Ike became more somber," Price said. "At 6 p.m. sharp, a crowd of friends arrived singing 'Happy Birthday' and showered him with presents."

C.L. Sulzberger, a foreign correspondent for The New York Times and a co-conspirator in the birthday plot, recalled that Ike "'sat like a little boy grinning from ear to ear as he went through his presents and messages,'" Price recalled.

"Ike proved that you do not need evidence of birth or of U.S. citizenship to attend West Point, become a U.S. Army officer, achieve the rank of a five-star general and Supreme Allied commander in Europe or be nominated as the GOP standard bearer," Price said.

Returning to the current presidential campaign, Price added an interesting footnote about the candidates.

"Both McCain and Obama both share that fact that they were born offshore," he said.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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