INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — It’s Presidents Day Weekend and what better way to celebrate by learning more about our hometown commander in chief, Harry S. Truman.
Truman’s Presidential Library and Museum is located in Independence. His influence is woven throughout the fiber of the town and he left memories on practically every street corner.
Truman never wanted to be president. As vice president, he had only met with President Rooselvelt three times before Rooselvelt died of a brain aneurysm. When watching newsreels of the time, you can see the stress on Truman and his wife’s faces as he was being sworn in while the U.S. was in the middle of World War II.
A replica of Truman’s Oval Office sits in his museum. He said his toughest decision wasn’t whether to drop the atomic bomb twice — it was whether the U.S. should enter the Korean War.
“A lot of people have said to me, ‘Your father sure loves to fight. True or false?’ Well, I never hunted up a fight, but I never ran from one if it was necessary to meet things head on,” Truman said.
After serving in the White House from 1945 to 1953, Truman did what most presidents don’t after they retire from public office. He came home to his wife’s family’s house in Independence.
Today, the National Park Service doesn’t allow cameras inside the Truman House. But when he returned from Washington, President Truman didn’t initially have Secret Service protection or a pension. So he mowed his own grass and painted his own walls.
The house remains almost exactly as it was when the Trumans lived there.
“It’s like walking through time capsule,” said Norton Canfield, a Truman Home guide. “It’s like they’re still there. They just stepped out so we could take a look.”
And where the once most powerful man in the world lived out the remainder of his life with his dear wife Bess, he walked to work at the presidential library. Ann Williams, the library’s deputy director, has heard the stories from Independence natives about those days.
“He came over and talked to me and said, ‘You know when I was a little boy, I used to time my walk to school so that I could walk for one block with Mr. Truman,’” Williams said.
“There is an elementary school close to the Truman home and that’s just one of the ways that the Trumans were and are so intigrated into this community is we still have a generation plus of people that actually remember the Trumans as the people next door,” she said.
Famous for sayings like “The Buck Stops Here,” President Truman didn’t mince words. Perhaps he loved three things best — his country, his wife Bess and his frequent brisk early morning walks around the hometown that still embraces him.
“I think his ghost is everywhere. You can go into the Diamond Bowl and see a retro picture of him bowling in a suit and tie,” said Janeen Aggen of Independence Tourism.
“You can go into Clinton’s — that’s where he had a first job as a teenager, dusting the counter and sweeping the floor. You can also have his favorite chocolate ice cream with butterscotch topping,” she said.
The image of the walking man whose politics and decisions changed the nation still hovers over the city he called home.
On Monday afternoon in honor of Presidents Day, visitors to the Truman Library will be treated to a tray of cookies made from favorite recipes of U.S. presidents.