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Eisenhower Memorial Going High-Tech

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Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1951. (Credit: AFP/Getty Images)

Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1951. (Credit: AFP/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON — Despite ongoing disagreement over designs for a national memorial honoring President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the nation’s capital, planners are creating a high-tech virtual memorial to accompany the future monument.

Development of the memorial has been delayed for months amid objections from Eisenhower’s family over famed architect Frank Gehry’s design. Gehry’s plan calls for a memorial park with statues of the president and World War II hero framed by large metal tapestries depicting Eisenhower’s boyhood home in Kansas.

Now a congressional commission working to build the memorial has quietly launched a preview of an “e-memorial” being developed online to show how multimedia features would complement Gehry’s design for a site near the National Mall.

The e-memorial will include a mobile app using “augmented reality” technology to superimpose historic images and recordings onto Gehry’s memorial scene and tapestries. It will include stories of Eisenhower as president and as World War II general.

“We will be the first of the presidential memorials to have this on-site learning opportunity,” said Victoria Tigwell, deputy executive director for the Eisenhower Memorial Commission. “It’s a way to enhance the experience and the level of engagement that each visitor can choose to use.”

The memorial park, though, will remain a contemplative space for visitors who want a quieter experience.

Some monuments, such as George Washington’s 555-foot-tall obelisk, require prior knowledge from visitors to capture their symbolic meaning. Other sites, including the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, have museum-style visitor centers to accompany and explain statues and words engraved in marble.

In the case of Eisenhower, the storytelling will be electronic.

Media design firm Local Projects LLC is creating the e-memorial after previously building interactive features for New York’s 9/11 Memorial.

Founder Jake Barton told The Associated Press he’s using new technology to introduce Eisenhower to a new generation. Using technology to present Ike’s story also evokes Eisenhower’s spirit of innovation as the creator of NASA and other 20th century advancements, Barton said.

“Individual decisions that he was part of literally changed the course of history,” Barton said. So designers are working to bring the 34th president’s voice, recorded at the dawn of the television age, into his memorial.

“If you could walk the Eisenhower Memorial with the spirit of Eisenhower himself, he would be calling forth all of these incredible memories from his own career,” Barton said.

One key focus point will be Eisenhower’s leadership on D-Day in World War II. As visitors walk through the memorial, they can look at the scene through a smartphone camera. Pictures from D-Day will appear as Eisenhower addressed his troops. Later visitors can hear his voice through a radio address as he spoke to the world at that moment.

Additional features will include games for children to find hidden messages in the memorial and unlock Cold War history, as well as videos and stories from those who knew Ike personally. Barton is drawing on content from the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Kansas and elsewhere.

Eisenhower’s family has called for a simple memorial to reflect Ike’s modesty. Susan Eisenhower, one of the president’s granddaughters, has said broader storytelling from history should be left to museums, not presidential monuments.

Despite the objections, memorial officials are pushing ahead, aiming to open the $142 million memorial by 2015. The e-memorial portion would be limited to as much as $2 million in development costs, Tigwell said. Then it would be turned over to the National Park Service to maintain.

As with the 9/11 Memorial, Barton said he is working to expand the Eisenhower Memorial’s reach with a robust website and mobile app and will refine them based on feedback from users ahead of the memorial’s opening.

“I’m all for simplicity and modesty but don’t feel like avoiding technology is the right strategy. Eisenhower himself engaged in the most cutting edge technology of his day,” Barton said. “There’s a big opportunity to reinvent how a memorial and the park rangers themselves can tell the story of Eisenhower.”

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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