Tuesday, February 19, 2013

CADDYSHACK: EISENHOWER’S FALLOUT SHELTER DILEMMA


Eisenhower_Dont Ask

“I am not sure whether I would really want to be living in this country of ours should [we] ever be subjected to a nuclear bath.”

-- Dwight D. Eisenhower in a letter, September 25, 1961

When President Dwight D. Eisenhower left office on January 20, 1961 he probably anticipated a pleasant retirement filled with days of golf, fly fishing and the occasional session of memoir dictation. The aging general could be forgiven for assuming that pesky questions about fallout shelters and other Cold War headaches would be the sole province of his New Frontier successor, John F. Kennedy. But such was not to be the case. Indeed, a mere nine months after Ike left Washington for his beloved Gettysburg, Pennsylvania farm he received a missive requesting his support in the construction of a community shelter at his new winter residence in California.[1] This is the story of how the former Supreme Allied Commander and Commander-in-Chief sought to handle a thorny neighborhood matter.

El Dorado Country Club_Lo

As the clock ticked down on President Eisenhower’s second term, the Associated Press published a story detailing his immediate post-presidential schedule. The final item listed in the article stated that Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, would soon be traveling to the Eldorado Country Club in Palm Desert, California where they had “rented a house.”[2] What the A.P. piece did not mention is that Ike’s dream cottage on the eleventh fairway of the resort’s golf course had been built for him by his friend, Robert P. McCulloch, a wealthy oil and real estate executive (and Eldorado manager). The reported cost of the house was $175,000 on which the former president was said to have paid a “nominal rent.”[3]

It was in late September of 1961 that President Eisenhower received the aforementioned letter from his future neighbor, Mary Florsheim Jones, proposing her idea of a community shelter for the new residents of Eldorado. Mrs. Jones was the wife of celebrity Allan Jones (father of Love Boat crooner, Jack Jones) and an heiress to the Chicago footwear fortune. Mr. Jones, a singer and actor, had performed as part of Eisenhower’s inaugural festivities which might be why the former president was giving the letter his attention.[4]

AJ&Mary-wedding-in-LasVegas

My dear General Eisenhower:

I am taking the liberty of writing to you to ask you to help my husband and I to start a group of fellow Americans joining together to build a Bomb Shelter at Eldorado Country Club. I know you are building there this summer and so are we. Our home is on the second green and we had originally thought we would build a shelter for ourselves. This seems selfish and I thought perhaps we could ban [sic] together and ask for a piece of land and make this a community project that might also set a good example.

A letter from you endorsing this idea if you think it a good plan is all we would need to start the idea into a reality.

My husband asked me to remember him to you; he sang at both your inaugurations.

Thank you for your consideration of our idea.

Very Sincerely yours,

Mrs. Allan Jones.

September 19, 1961

Mary Jones Letter to President Eisenhower RE: Country Club Fallout Shelter by Bill Geerhart

During his eight years in office, Eisenhower had the option of turning to his White House staff or cabinet (or anyone else in the free world) for advice and counsel on any issue big or small. For this post-presidential fallout shelter dilemma, however, he decided to contact his friend and Eldorado golfing buddy Freeman F. Gosden. Gosden, who was white, is best known for originating the comedic character of Amos, an African American, on the long running and hugely popular (and later controversial) Amos ‘n Andy radio series that began in 1928.[5]

freeman_gosden

President Eisenhower’s letter to Gosden is fascinating because it reveals his own conflicted attitudes about survival as well as his concern for the service workers at the country club – many of whom may have been black Democrats. The note begins with some friendly pleasantries before moving on to the former president’s community shelter quandary:

I enclose a letter from Mrs. Allan Jones, who proposes that all of us at Eldorado join together to build a bomb shelter, apparently on the theory that this would be a good example for others as well as a possible refuge for those of us who might be living there during a catastrophe. So far as I am personally concerned, I am not sure whether I would really want to be living in this country of ours should [we] ever be subjected to a nuclear bath. But even if I were persuaded that the building of a shelter would be good, I would most certainly insist that it would have to be ample to take care of all of the caddies, the workmen on the golf course, together with everybody that works in the clubhouse, including waitresses, maids, janitors and all the rest. Certainly, I do not want to offend the lady, but I wonder whether you could give me your opinion of how to answer her.[6]

Eisenhower to Freeman Gosden RE: Country Club Fallout Shelter by Bill Geerhart

It is not clear if Mr. Gosden ever offered the former president any guidance on how to respond to Mrs. Jones or whether Eisenhower ever replied to Mrs. Jones’s query. CONELRAD contacted an archivist at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum who informed us that the correspondence on the Eldorado shelter issue is limited to what is presented in this post.[7]

It is, of course, possible that Eisenhower simply discussed the matter directly with the parties involved because of their close proximity at the country club. CONELRAD spoke with Mary Elizabeth Florsheim Bradley’s daughter, Ellen Hunt, about her late mother’s letter and she confirmed that Eisenhower met her mother many times at Eldorado. On one such occasion, according to Ms. Hunt, the former president had shot a golf ball through their window and the Jones’s maid promptly gave the architect of the Normandy invasion an earful when he tried to retrieve it.[8]

The final question that trumps the preceding ones herein is whether a fallout shelter was ever built at the Eldorado Country Club. CONELRAD asked Geoff Hasley, the current chief operating officer of the resort about this point and he stated categorically that no shelter had ever been constructed on the grounds.[9]

El Dorado Country Club

Less than a month after receiving the letter from Mrs. Jones, President Eisenhower was again asked about his views on fallout shelters—this time publicly—at a campaign event in Newark, New Jersey (the general was stumping for James P. Mitchell, a gubernatorial candidate). The retired Eisenhower, free to speak his mind, conveyed much the same sentiment that is evident in his private correspondence. He told the Associated Press that he would “just walk out” of a shelter if his family was not with him during an attack. He added, “I wouldn’t want to be left in that kind of a world.”[10]

Eisenhower_Shelter Value

CONELRAD would like to thank Ellen Hunt for her kind cooperation with this article. Ms. Hunt is the founder of Aspen Film.


[1] Eisenhower, Dwight D.: Papers, Post-Presidential, Special Names Series, Box 4, Folder: Gosden, Freeman, 1961. Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum.

[2] “Eisenhower Schedules Busy Last Few Days,” Los Angeles Times (via A.P.), January 17, 1961, p. 11.

[3] For McCulloch’s role in the construction of the Eisenhower winter home see: David Eisenhower and Julie Nixon Eisenhower, Going Home to Glory: A Memoir of Life with Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961-1969 [New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010], pp. 12-13 and Jean Edward Smith, Eisenhower in War and Peace [New York: Random House, 2012], p. 764. For cost of house see “Eisenhowers Arrive for Palm Desert Sun,” Los Angeles Times, December 22, 1961, p. B1. For “nominal rent” see Margaret Childs, “The Lush Resort Where Ike Lives,” Washington Post, April 13, 1962, p. A16.

[4] For biographical information on Mary Florsheim Bradley (the former Mrs. Allan Jones) see Serena Maria Daniels, “Mary Elizabeth Florsheim Bradley dies at 90,” Los Angeles Times, February 16, 2010. For biographical information on Allan Jones and his relationship to singer Jack Jones see Glenn Collins, “Allan Jones, 84, Hollywood Singing Star, Is Dead,” New York Times, June 30, 1992. For Allan Jones’s participation in Eisenhower’s first inauguration see “Actors Fly to Inauguration,” Los Angeles Times, January 16, 1953, p. 10. For source of Mrs. Allan Jones’s letter see end note number 1.

[5] For biographical information on Freeman F. Gosden and a brief history of the Amos ‘n Andy radio and television programs, see Joseph B. Treaster, “Freeman F. Gosden Is Dead At 83; Amos In Radio’s ‘Amos ‘N Andy,” New York Times, December 11, 1982.

[6] For source of Freeman F. Gosden’s letter see end note number 1.

[7] Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum archivist Chalsea Millner to Bill Geerhart in a telephone conversation on February 7, 2013.

[8] Telephone interview with Ellen Hunt on November 13, 2012 conducted by Bill Geerhart. Ms. Hunt was also asked if she was aware of any written response from Eisenhower to her mother’s letter and she stated that she was not. She added that her mother “kept a clean house” and that such a document may have been discarded.

[9] Telephone interview with Geoff Hasley on Novemer 19, 2012 conducted by Bill Geerhart.

[10] “Shelter Value Uncertain to Eisenhower,” Los Angeles Times (via A.P.), October 19, 1961, p. 31.

Eisenhower-El Dorado-1967

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