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A wedding gift for (history) lovers

Today’s post comes from Christopher Abraham at the Eisenhower Presidential Library. He answers a question each week on Facebook. This week’s special, matrimonial edition of Ask an Archivist comes from the Netherlands, and we thought it would be fun to post it in honor of the Eisenhowers’ 97th wedding anniversary.

“My friends Jerom and Natasja are getting married and I would like to give them something special. Since they are both lovers of American history and trivia, I’d love to give them some unexpected knowledge. I am writing a large group of American museums to ask if they could send me an anecdote, a factoid or a bit of trivia that surprises their visitors when they tour the museum; something that makes them laugh, think or realize a connection to American history they hadn’t known before. Would you please send me a contribution as well?” – Lambert Teuweissen

Wedding gifts run the gamut from appliances to zeolites (always appropriate for the love-besotted mineralogist in one’s life), but the gift of historical knowledge? Genius!

We think this is the first time that staff have been asked to contribute to the launch of a happy marriage, but we are confident that we can meet the challenge. This might be the start of a wedding registry service for history lovers if it goes well!

While that remains to be seen, your request brings to mind an artifact and a set of letters that Jerom and Natasja may enjoy. Visitors to the museum are often surprised by a very small artifact, a small sliver of cake, which arrived here in 1961. It came from the Doud family home following the death of Elvira Mathilde Carlson Doud (Mamie Eisenhower’s mother) in late 1960.

Food items make for poor museum artifacts in most cases, but in this particular case we gladly made an exception. Dwight David Eisenhower and Mamie Geneva Doud announced their engagement on Valentine’s Day, 1916. They were married on July 1st in the Doud home in Denver.

As a memento of this occasion, a small sliver of the wedding cake was saved and placed in a box shaped like the Shield of the United States. The cake is still in remarkably good condition after 97 years (due in part to a 1971 preservation treatment that helps prolong its existence).

Cake from the 1916 wedding of Dwight David Eisenhower and Mamie Geneva Doud.

On April 6, 1943, just as the cake sliver was about to turn 27, General Eisenhower sat down to write a letter to Ruth Eisenhower, the 4-year-old daughter of his younger brother Milton. In reply to a double-sided sheet of penciled “waves” addressed to “Uncle Ike” and signed “Ruthie,” Eisenhower wrote: “I enjoyed your letter. I know exactly what you said. I am astonished that you have made such progress since last I saw you. Since I cannot write as well as you do, I will have to have this done on the typewriter so your Mother may have to read it to you.”

This letter usually brings a smile to those who read it. Some readers find it heartwarming that General Eisenhower made time to write a pleasant note to his niece while conducting the business of war from the St. George Hotel in Algiers.

Page one of Ruthie's letter to her "Uncle Ike" (page two looks the same.) From the Eisenhower Presidential Library.

General Eisenhower's reply to Ruthie. From the Eisenhower Presidential Library.

Best of luck with the book, Lambert, and we hope you get lots of responses!

UPDATE: Jerom and Natasja were married on March 30 and thoroughly enjoyed their friend Lambert’s unique gift. In response to his request, he received replies from sixty museums. We thank Lambert, Jerom, and Natasja for permission to tell their shared story and wish Jerom and Natasja the best of luck together. Congratulations!

The 1916 Eisenhower wedding cake and a set of letters between Dwight and Ruth Eisenhower are just two of the many interesting items in the collection of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum. Library staff answer every reference question we receive, but not all questions will be posted to Ask an Archivist. Questions will be edited for length and privacy. If you would like to ask a question, please contact us!

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