“Heart Attack Strikes Ike,” President Eisenhower’s 1955 Medical Emergency in Colorado

Today’s post is written by Cody White, Archivist at the National Archives in Denver.

Today the University of Colorado Anschultz Medical Campus provides state of the art medical care while teaching the next generation of medical professionals. Taking over the former Fitzsimons Army Hospital in Aurora, Colorado upon its closure in the 1990s, the school and the facilities are firmly entrenched in modern medicine with one notable exception: a suite of rooms on the eighth floor of Building 500, once the centerpiece of the army hospital and now the administrative center for the campus. These three rooms have been meticulously restored to be frozen in time, 1955 to be exact, when the entire country’s eyes were upon the hospital and its famous patient: President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

At the time of its completion in 1941, Building 500 at the Fitzsimons Army Hospital was the largest building in the state, and two years later was even the birthplace of current Secretary of State John Kerry. But in the historical files turned over to the National Archives at Denver upon the hospital’s closure, it is clear the biggest event in the hospital’s tenure was President Eisenhower’s heart attack and subsequent convalescence. It is from the series, “Historical Records, 1918 – 1996” found in Record Group 338: Records of U.S. Army Operational, Tactical, and Support Organizations (World War II and Thereafter) where photographs, books, and newspaper clippings all come together to tell the story of the president’s unexpected hospital stay.

Eisenhower’s ties to Colorado ran deep, largely through Mamie who first moved to Denver in 1905 at the age of nine with her family. The couple was married in Denver at the Doud family home and son John was also born in the city. The state, and his in-laws’ home where they would stay, became a getaway of sorts for the couple even after he became president, as was the case in August of 1955.

Eisenhower flew into Denver on August 14th, 1955, for what he was calling a “work and play” vacation until October. The work part would take place at Lowry Air Force Base in eastern Denver, also since closed and turned into a residential neighborhood, and the play would be either fishing at the Byers Peak Ranch in the Rocky Mountains or golfing on the many courses in the Denver area.

Ike Prior to Heart Attack

“President Eisenhower puts on golf gloves as he leaves Officers Open Mess, August 25, 1955, with Maj. Gen. Martin E. Griffin.”

It turned out to be on a golf course where some historians and medical experts now surmise his heart attack actually began. Feeling ill after a round of golf at the Cherry Hills Golf Club in southern Denver, he returned to the Doud home and turned in early on the evening of September 23rd. Awaking to chest pains in the early morning of September 24th, his personal physician was summoned and worked to relieve Eisenhower’s discomfort. Hours later, a delay scrutinized since, a cardiac specialist was summoned from Fitzsimons Army Hospital to conduct an electrocardiogram which confirmed the suspicion; the president had suffered a massive heart attack. Eisenhower was whisked away to the hospital in a secret service car.

Admission Card Reproduction

Reproduction of hospital admission card, September 24, 1955.

Ike's Room

Photograph of President Eisenhower’s 8th floor hospital room, taken November 15, 1955 after he was released.

The White House announced the hospitalization shortly thereafter, though the severity of the attack was softened at first, and the press understandably swarmed the hospital for any news or photographs they could get.

As cardiac experts were flown in to help in assessing the president’s condition, likewise family members, a parade of cabinet members, and even foreign dignitaries made the trek to Colorado.

Given the possible length of the president’s convalescence, First Lady Mamie moved into an adjoining suite at the hospital, decorated in all pink for her (our records note that the pink toilet seat was even saved, sent to the Army Medical Museum at Fort Sam Houston). Every day she appeared on a balcony to wave and greet any assembled well-wishers, attempted to respond to the numerous get well cards and gifts that began to arrive, and attended post functions.

Gifts and more gifts arrived for the president, which in turn he is said to have largely turned over to hospital personnel or the NCO and officers’ messes. One gift in particular was a horseshoe sent by Bruce Kinney from Los Angeles. Eisenhower had it hung above his door during his stay and after his discharge had it mounted and returned to the hospital, hoping to transfer the good luck he had to every other patient who arrived at the hospital. Gifts weren’t limited to artifacts: a tour script for the 8th floor and Eisenhower suite found in our holdings even notes that when it was reported Eisenhower would be charged $51.75 for his meals while at the hospital, offers to pay the tab flooded the hospital.

One gift that he did use was a set of maroon pajamas with “Much Better Thanks” embroidered on the left pocket. These were given to him on his October 14th birthday by the White House Press Corps and were his uniform of choice, along with a western necktie, when he made his first public appearance on October 25, 1955. The pajamas also featured five stars on each collar, denoting his previous Army rank, but in the photographs from that day a sixth gold star appears in the center. That extra star was a gift from Dr. Paul White, given to him for “good conduct.”

On November 11th, Armistice Day, President Eisenhower was released from Fitzsimons Army Hospital. Boarding the Columbine III, Columbine being his favored name for personal planes as a nod to the Colorado state flower, he gave a few brief words of thanks and closed with, “So I leave with my heart unusually filled with gratefulness, to Denver, to the people here, to the locality – in fact to everyone who has been so kind. And I hope that those people who have sent in messages – and Mrs. Eisenhower has not been able to reach them all; she did her best – that they will know, through this little talk, that we are eternally thankful to them. Goodbye and good luck.”

Ike With Doctors

According to the caption, before his discharge President Eisenhower requested this photograph to be taken of him along with his personal physician and the military doctors who cared for him while at Fitzsimons. From left to right behind President Eisenhower: Major General Howard Snyder, Lt. Colonel John Sheedy, Colonel Byron Pollock, Colonel George Powell, and Major General Martin Griffin.


All photographs along with supporting details come from the series Historical Records, 1918 – 1996” (National Archives identifier 607674), Record Group 338: Records of U.S. Army Operational, Tactical, and Support Organizations (World War II and Thereafter) at the National Archives at Denver. This includes a 1969 book published by the Associated Press entitled “Dwight D. Eisenhower; a Gauge of Greatness” by Relman Morin. Additional details were supplied by “Eisenhower’s 1955 Heart Attack: Medical Treatment, Political Effects, and the ‘Behind the Scenes’ Leadership Style” by Robert E. Gilbert, Politics and Life Sciences 27:1 (2008). Text of President Eisenhower’s remarks at Lowry Air Force Base were supplied by the University of California, Santa Barbara’s American Presidency Project, “Dwight D. Eisenhower 235 – Remarks on Leaving Denver, Colorado. November 11, 1955”

For further reading about President Eisenhower visit the President Dwight D. Eisenhower Library, Museum, and Boyhood Home.


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The Department of State Reports on the George Foreman-Muhammad Ali Fight (“The Rumble in the Jungle”) 1974, Part II

Today’s post was written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

Part 1 discussed preliminary activities relating to the bout, including the “Zaire 74” festival.

 In the lead-up to the fight, Foreman’s sparring partner inflicted a cut over Foreman’s right eye during a training session on September 16.  Such an injury obviously had the potential to affect the timing of the fight or cause it to be cancelled.  Cancellation of the fight could be seen as a blot on Zaire and Zairian authorities reacted in a somewhat panicked way as reported in the embassy’s telegram of the following day.


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The Department of State Reports on the George Foreman-Muhammad Ali Fight (‘The Rumble in the Jungle’) 1974, Part I

Today’s post was written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.



One of Muhammad Ali’s signature fights, perhaps even more famous than his wins over Sonny Liston, is the world heavyweight match with George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire, in October 1974.  Given that the fight was between two Americans and took place in a foreign country, it is not surprising that the records of the Department of State include some documentation on the bout.  A review of the records on the so-called “Rumble in the Jungle” reveals some little known aspects of events relating to that fight.

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Election of 1916: Republican Platform

Today’s post was written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

Recently, during travels through the records, I ran across a copy of the Republican Party’s national platform from 1916.  It includes sections on:

♦Protection of American Rights

♦Foreign Relations

♦Mexico Continue reading

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Foreign Reaction to President Nixon’s Resignation

Today’s post was written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

Last week’s post discussed President Nixon’s resignation and foreign policy.  Among the countries potentially most affected by the transfer of the Presidency was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.).  President Nixon had developed and pushed the policy of détente with the Soviet Union to ease Cold War tensions.  Despite assurances that basic American foreign policies would continue under President Ford, Soviet leaders had to be concerned about the transition. Continue reading

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President Nixon’s Resignation and Foreign Policy

Today’s post was written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

Forty-two years ago today, President Richard M. Nixon resigned from office.

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The Rent is Too Darned High

Today’s post is written by M Marie Maxwell, an Archives Specialist in Textual Processing who works at Archives I, in Washington, DC. 

Recently I rehoused a few series, moving documents from old boxes and folders into newer, archival quality folders and boxes. In doing so I encountered the letters from District of Columbia residents of the past almost all complaining that their rent was too high. This reminded me of a small New York City political party based on rising rent who inspired a meme a few years ago and inspired this post.

The series I processed are from a little used record group, Record Group 132 Records of the Rent Commission of the District of Columbia. The whole series is less than 8 cubic feet in size and quite small. The Rent Commission was established as an emergency agency by a 1919 Congressional act in response to rising rents after World War I.

RG 132 Entry 3 folder 1920J Letter

Letter From Charles Jenkins to Brigadier General I. W. Littell (NAID 34922747)

The title General Correspondence, 1920-1925 (NAID 2524363) does not truly reveal what is contained. A majority of the letters are from tenants appealing to the Rent Commission to complain that their landlords have raised the rent and their rent was too much. Sometimes letters come from supervisors or others on behalf of tenants as was the case with the Letter From Charles Jenkins to Brigadier General I. W. Littell (NAID 34922747), who in turn contacted the Commission. In an October 3, 1920 letter Jenkins wrote to Littell explaining that his rent at 1111 3rd St SW went from $19.50, then $22.50 and finally $25.00 in less than a year. In a previous August letter to Littell he complained about a leaking roof, falling plaster, a rotting porch and rising rents. The Commission responded October 14th requesting Mr. Jenkins to contact them directly.

In their letters to the Commission, tenants describe their living conditions and challenges, sometimes going into detail, which in turn give a sense of what life was like. In Ms. Annie Onley’s February 28, 1922 letter (Letter from Annie Onley to Commission, NAID 34922764) she describes the row of houses where she lives as having three presumably African American families and three white families. She claimed her neighbors were paying $13.30, and she $30.50 for a similar house. She mentions a small “Summer Kitchen” which could explain something about 19th century working class residential housing in the District of Columbia. Other letter writers go into multi-page detail regarding their rents, their living conditions, their landlords and other matters outside of the Commission’s purview.

Feb 28, 1922 handwritten letter

Letter from Annie Onley to the Commission (NAID 34922764). Front of letter.



Second and third parts of Letter from Annie Onley to the Commission (NAID 34922764)

The Rent Commission came to an end in 1925. The Commission experienced several legal challenges, particularly from the owners of large apartment buildings, such as the owners of the Chastleton– see Chastleton Case Files, 1923 – 1923 (NAID 2524366). The owners of the Chastleton appealed to the Supreme Court, and appears to have challenged the constitutionality of the Rent Commission. Others did too as well, with Karrick v Cantrill in the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia, which may be found in Cases Appealed to the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, 1923 – 1924 (NAID 2524365). According to the Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States, the Commission was abolished effective “May 22, 1925, as provided in final extension act, May 17, 1924.” Yet even in their last year residents were appealing to Commission to complain their rent was too darned high.

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A Catalog for the Records, 1936

Today’s post is written by Alan Walker, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

Today, if you can’t make it in to a National Archives facility or presidential library, you will be diving into our online catalog to find what you’re looking for. But in the early days of the agency, the research process was “hands on” from beginning to end. Here is the story of how our catalog began.

Getting records in the door was only the opening salvo in the battle; now our staff had to perfect their organization, house them, and create a system for accessing them.

64-NA-250 (NAID 12168722) Records of the National Recorvery Administration in the Receiving Room, Oct. 1940

64-NA-250, Records of the National Recovery Administration in the Receiving Room, Oct. 1940 (NAID 12168722)

One of the first operating units established for the Archives was a Division of Cataloging. At first, it had a slightly different name: Continue reading

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Escaping the Killing Fields of Cambodia, 1975

Today’s post was written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.


(c) The New York Times/Redux

Noted journalist Sydney H. Schanberg died on July 9.  While he is perhaps most famous for his reporting from Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge takeover in the mid-1970s, his list of accomplishments and reporting is both long and distinguished.  He won the Pulitzer Prize, the George Polk Award, and Overseas Press Club awards, among others. Continue reading

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The Susan B. Anthony Dollar Coin – the Dollar of the Future?

Today’s post was written by Cody White, Archivist at the National Archives in Denver.

A “Carter Quarter.” The “Edsel of coins.” From newspaper articles found in Record Group 104 Records of the U.S. Mint one gets a glimpse of the widespread dissatisfaction and derision heaped upon the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin, minted for only a few short years between 1979 and 1981. Still occasionally found in change today alongside the newer Sacagawea and presidential dollars coins, the story of the ill-fated Susan B. Anthony dollar can be found in the Denver Mint records held by the National Archives at Denver.

Denver Mint

Photograph of the Denver Mint building, date unknown (NAID 293491)

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