On the afternoon of Jan. 20, 1961, Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower slipped away from the Inauguration Day festivities, piled into their 1955 Chrysler Imperial and famously drove to their farm at Gettsyburg, Pa. Contrary to myth, they were not alone — two servants and a chauffeur, Leonard Dry, were with them, but even then, the ex-president felt “an eerie loneliness about the absence of motorcycle escorts and caravans of Secret Service and press cars” according to Ike’s grandson, David.
It was about to get lonelier.
“When the Eisenhowers approached the entrance to their Gettysburg farm,” David Eisenhower wrote, “the Secret Service honked the horn and made a U-turn, heading back to Washington.”
Ex-presidents didn’t get security. His predecessor, Harry Truman, didn’t even receive retirement pay — he had to live, at least initially, on his $112.56 Army pension, and took out a bank loan in his last week in office to tide himself over.
Not issues that will face Barack Obama, who will leave office Jan. 20, 2017, a rich man, the way politicians tend to. He’ll head, not back to Chicago, but to New York City, to join the claque of rootless wealth.
That has to raise some tangled emotions here.
If I had to categorize it, I’d say a disappointment but not a surprise.
Reading Mike Sneed’s column Friday on how the Obamas are set on living in New York, which means their library will probably be set there too, has to sting.
Though Chicago was never really Obama’s home, despite his house in Kenwood. That notion was just another spoonful of a politician’s honey, and shame on those who swallowed it. Born in Hawaii — really, get over it, join us in the fact-based world — gone to school in Boston, Obama didn’t set eyes on Chicago until his late 20s. Chicago was a way station and not really, as it turns out, his home. A means, not an end.
At least not to Michelle Obama, and a husband goes where his wife wants to go, if he knows what’s good for him. When people were aghast that I would move to Northbrook, I told them, “If I didn’t follow my wife’s lead, I’d still be a single guy living in a one bedroom apartment in Oak Park…”
Sure, we’d like to imagine otherwise. “Mr. President?! I never expected to bump into you here at Al’s Italian Beef. Would you sign this napkin? Gosh, thanks!” It isn’t as if the Obamas living here would affect regular folk, except as an enormous inconvenience. You can both want something and have it be a bad thing (trust me on that one). The city held its breath and hoped to win the 2016 Olympics, gathering in public places, confetti clutched in our hot fists, ready to squeal in joy at getting what is invariably a financial disaster. (Geez, between the way Richard M. Daley pushed the Olympics, sold off Chicago’s assets for a song and dug the city’s pension grave, maybe he secretly wanted to destroy Chicago. He tried hard enough).
We dodged a bullet with the Olympics and if the Obamas really go to NYC and take their library with them, we’ll dodge another. Three weeks into Obama’s caravan careening around Chicago, sirens blaring, and it would get old. New York is already a shrieking gridlock of strobing sirens and armored convoys. What’s one more or less to them?
Although, I would point out that nobody loves you like your hometown, even your adopted hometown. More than 60 Gettysburg organizations held celebrations for Eisenhower when he returned. At “Welcome Home Day” a business leader declared Ike “the best-loved president since Lincoln.” New York will never love you but it will tolerate you, for a while, if you make enough money. And Obama will surely do that, wherever he lands.