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Eisenhower Presidential Library Expanding Hours Next Week

The interior of the Eisenhower museum
Courtesty of Eisenhower Library and Museum
The Eisenhower Presidential Museum in Abilene.

The Abilene museum is gradually increasing its hours in the wake of the pandemic shutdown.

Starting next week, the Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home will be open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

It currently is open during the same hours Wednesday through Saturday because of pandemic restrictions.

“We are moving forward,” said Dawn Hammatt, the library and museum’s director. “We have a plan in place, and we are really excited to be able to do this in a safe and healthy fashion.”

Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran has been urging the National Archives of Records Administration to allow the library and museum to open beyond its current 25% capacity limit for visitors. The agency oversees about a dozen presidential libraries.

Last week, the Biden administration announced it would lift the federal restrictions, and agencies can now submit their own plans for reopening. The National Archives is one of those agencies.

The Abilene Convention and Visitors Bureau has been using transient guest tax collections to measure the effect the museum's reduced capacity has had on the city. Director Julie Roller Weeks said lodging sales for Abilene have dropped from $2.5 million in 2018 to $796,000 this year. Its accounting period for 2021 ends in  September.

“Without (transient guest tax) revenue, we have a smaller marketing budget and that ripple is felt throughout the community,” Roller Weeks wrote in an email.

The restrictions, though, are not all bad.

“You know those things in your office that you say, ‘I'll get to it one day?’” Hammatt said. “Well, we've done those things. … and it's been fantastic.”

When the pandemic limited in-person visiting, the Eisenhower Library and Museum increased its virtual reach. Hammatt said it was able to digitize analog pieces for researchers and participate with other presidential libraries.

The annual Symphony at Sunset concert to commemorate D-Day wasn’t possible under COVID-19, but the museum decided to host a virtual Emerging Scholars D-Day Symposium instead. It invited scholars such as  doctoral candidates to discuss their topics of interest.

“What we learned about developing virtual programs and engaging with guests in a virtual capacity has been astounding, and I am grateful that we were able to learn these things,” Hammatt said.

Many museums across the country have experienced significant losses during the pandemic. The American Alliance of Museums surveyed 1,000 museum directors, and75% of them reported that operation income decreased by an average of 40%.

Hammatt says museums are safe spaces to have difficult conversations. So, as the country tries to return to normal, Hammatt also looks forward to society entering museums once more -- both virtually and in person.

“Museums play a seminal role in the development of our society,” Hammmatt said. “It's a place to not only commemorate the past, but more importantly, learn and support your society as it moves forward in time.”

Katelynn McIlwain is KMUW's Korva Coleman Diversity in Journalism intern. She will be a senior this fall at the University of Missouri.
Copyright 2021 KMUW | NPR for Wichita. To see more, visit KMUW | NPR for Wichita.

Katelynn McIlwain, originally from Freeport, Illinois (go Pretzels!), is the managing editor for KBIA. She assists KBIA newsroom leaders in planning, supervising and producing news programming for radio broadcast, including daily news and in-depth reports, as well as public affairs programming.
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