The Gettysburg Foundation and the National Park Service are bringing several Eisenhower-era artifacts out of storage for the first time in 15 years.
Beginning on December 2, 2014, visitors at the Museum and Visitor Center can view three newly conserved Nativity dioramas that President Dwight D. and Mamie Eisenhower displayed during the holiday season in the East Room of the White House.
The dioramas, gifts from Raymond and Mildred Pitcairn of Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, were hand crafted by artists Winfred S. Hyatt and Hanna Weil Fischer-Binder with additional work by Bryn Athyn Studios of Building & Architectural Arts. In 1954, the first of the dioramas depicting the manger scene was presented to the First Family. In 1957 two additional scenes depicting the shepherds and the wise men were also crafted and presented along with an audio narrative of the Christmas story.
Before leaving the White House in 1961, Mrs. Eisenhower presented the three Nativity dioramas to the Gettysburg Presbyterian Church where they were displayed until 1994. With major church renovations underway, the congregation loaned the dioramas to the Eisenhower National Historic Site for display. Donated to the NPS permanently in 1998, the dioramas were only displayed for two years because of sustained damages.
The NPS and the Gettysburg Foundation worked with Art Guild Inc. to complete the conservation work which included the reproduction of missing figurines, lighting repairs, securing exhibit cases, producing exhibit labels and overall structure restoration. Funding was provided by the Gettysburg Foundation, and also made partially possible by a grant from the Glencairn Foundation, a foundation established by the family of Raymond and Mildred Pitcairn.
The exhibit will be on display in the lobby of the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center beginning December 2 through early January of 2015 and is free and open to the public. Gettysburg Foundation President Joanne Hanley states, “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to once again share these historic dioramas with the public and further educate our visitors about the life and legacy of President and Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower.”
“These nativity scenes were so important to the Eisenhowers that after being displayed in the White House from 1954 to 1960, Mamie gave them to a local church, the Gettysburg Presbyterian Church, for continued display and enjoyment,” said Carol Hegeman, Supervisory Historian at Eisenhower National Historic Site. “We are pleased that we can continue that tradition of displaying them each holiday season."
In addition to experiencing a glimpse into a unique piece of Presidential history from the 1950s, visitors are encouraged to visit the Eisenhower National Historic Site for the annual holiday celebration. The Eisenhower home will be decorated for Christmas, December 1-31, 2014 as it was done by Mamie Eisenhower nearly 40 years ago.
As White House Chief Usher J.B. West recalled, “Mamie Eisenhower decked the halls with more than holly.” Her hand is evident in the home’s recreated decorations which include everything from mistletoe and poinsettias to a life-sized Santa and a candy-cane covered Christmas tree. The Eisenhowers’ specially designed White House Christmas cards will also be on exhibit, along with Christmas gift prints of the President’s paintings. NPS park interpreters will be available to share Eisenhower family recollections of Christmas in Gettysburg.
The Eisenhower National Historic Site is open daily with shuttle buses leaving the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center at 10:00 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 2:00 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Admission is $7.50 for adults, $5.00 for youth ages 6-12, and free for children aged 5 and under. Advance reservations are available and highly recommended for groups. To make reservations, please call 877-874-2478 or visit www.gettysburgfoundation.org.
Eisenhower National Historic Site preserves and interprets the home and the farm as a fitting and enduring tribute to the life, work, and times of General Dwight David Eisenhower and to the events of far reaching importance which occurred on the property. Learn more at www.nps.gov/eise
The Gettysburg Foundation is a non-profit educational organization working in partnership with the National Park Service to enhance preservation and understanding of the heritage and lasting significance of Gettysburg. The Foundation raised funds for and now operates the Museum and Visitor Center at Gettysburg National Military Park, which opened in April 2008. In addition to operating the Museum and Visitor Center, the Foundation has a broad preservation mission that includes land, monument and artifact preservation and battlefield rehabilitation—all in support of the National Park Service’s goals at Gettysburg.