17. Abilene, KS
At the railhead end of the dusty old Chisholm Trail, Abilene was a rough-and-tumble watering hole—for both cowboys and cattle—like a page out of a Larry McMurtry novel. Those days are fondly remembered in the saloons and log cabins at Old Abilene Town, the 1887 Rock Island Depot and the Dickinson County Heritage Center with its still-operating 1901 C.W. Parker Carousel and Museum of Independent Telephony, dedicated to the nascent telephone industry. A cultural oasis amid the farm fields and silos of central Kansas just south of Interstate 70, Abilene has a circa 1900 Carnegie Library, Great Plains Theater, staging professional productions from June to December, and American Indian Art Center. But its depth of character comes from Dwight D. Eisenhower, who spent his boyhood in Abilene, then grew up to mastermind the Normandy invasion as a World War II general and to become the nation’s 34th president. “The proudest thing I can claim is that I am from Abilene,” Ike once said. So it’s fitting that the town was selected as the site for his Presidential Library and Museum, enshrining Ike’s grave and modest childhood home where the seeds of the 1950s American dream were planted. Exhibits and events explore his approach to global peace-keeping during the cold war, role in desegregation, shrewd use of early television-age public relations and, of course, Ike’s wife Mamie.
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