December 17, 2007

Strange Presidential Visitors

President Milton S. Eisenhower (1956-67/1971-72) was a superb public speaker. He appeared as a featured guest at many gatherings around the country. That provided some positive attention for Johns Hopkins and for him, but it had a downside. Often, shortly after the media covered one of his talks, strange people would appear at his office asking to see him.

One day, in the early 1960s, an older lady, well dressed with a powder blue coat, matching hat and white gloves, came to Eisenhower’s office saying she had an “urgent message” for him. She was referred to Eisenhower’s assistant. “What can Dr. Eisenhower do to help you?” he asked. She said she had just arrived, by bus, from Oregon and she needed Dr. Eisenhower’s assistance in arranging a meeting with his brother, Dwight D. Eisenhower. She explained that “the world will come to an end very soon, and only [U.S.] President Eisenhower can prevent that from happening.” The assistant assured her that he would give Dr. Eisenhower the message and gently ushered her to the door.

On another occasion, Eisenhower’s secretary told him she was concerned about a man who had parked his car near his office, which was in what is now Homewood Museum, and was acting strangely, pacing about and talking to himself. When the president was about to leave the office that evening, the secretary asked his assistant to accompany him to his residence across campus at Nichols House. The two started out in the dark of a winter night. Shortly after they passed the car, a man jumped out and began yelling, “I am going to bomb this university, Eisenhower. Your people stole all my patents.” Eisenhower’s assistant knew the campus well and took the president through Remsen and Merganthaler halls, then into Gilman Hall, down the back stairs and out to a spot not far from Nichols House. They had eluded the man, but he returned the next day. City police were called and arrested him for trespass. He lived in a nearby community and had no connection with Johns Hopkins.

One night, after leaving the office, Eisenhower and his assistant were having a cocktail in the library of Nichols House (Wild Turkey was his drink of choice at that time). The doorbell rang, and the assistant went to the door. A box was lying on the front step with an envelope on top of it. A car was speeding away from the parking area in front of the house. The assistant brought the box to the president, who opened it. Inside was a beautiful cake smothered with a light orange-colored icing. A cautious man, Eisenhower held the cake out in front of him and called for his housekeeper, Margie Morgan. “Margie,” he said, “get this thing out of here. You never know what might be in it.” Then he opened the envelope. It was full of black-and-white photos of two women. Their dress styles indicated the pictures were taken in the 1920s or 1930s. The same thing happened two months later. Another cake, more photos and a car speeding away from the house.

About three years later, Eisenhower received a call from a judge in Alexandria, Va. He said he was about to commit a woman to a mental institution, but she had begged him to call Eisenhower. She told the judge that she knew the Johns Hopkins president and that he would speak well of her. Eisenhower told the judge that he had never heard of the woman. He later said to his staff, “I’ll bet that’s the person who delivered the cakes and photos.”