Oh my god, presidential history is so boring. Why would anyone want to go to a presidential library?
Because this president was the one who dropped THE bomb twice in one week. He was the one in charge when the Cold War started to heat up… or cool off… whatever. He was the one who took over after FDR’s fourth term and death.
He was Harry Truman, and he’s pretty badass.
Just a matter of blocks away from his historic home, where his wife, Bess, lived until the 1980s, and another few blocks away from his office building in downtown Independence, is the Truman Library and Museum.
The museum features two permanent exhibits: Harry S. Truman: His Life and Times and Truman: The Presidential Years.
His Life and Times features important personal objects, including letters between Harry and Bess Truman. Its a reminder of how in the United States a simple haberdasher can get involved in politics and eventually lead the nation.
The Presidential Years is a dramatic walk-through exhibit that begins at the height of World War II, after Roosevelt died, leaving the country with a new, untested leader. The landscape quickly changed as Germany fell and Truman learned of the horrible new weapon that would quickly end WWII and spark the Cold War.
The museum also features rotating collections. During my last trip to the Truman Library and Museum, we walked through Spies, Lies and Paranoia: Americans in Fear. It only runs for a few more weeks before it makes way for Read My Pins: The Madeleine Albright Collection, beginning November 30, 2014, and running through February 22, 2015. After that be sure to check the museum website to see what’s new.
Some of the more notable items include Harry’s “The Buck Stops Here” desk sign and a model replica of the Oval Office. One of my most vivid field trip memories from my childhood years was from looking in the Oval Office exhibit. Most of us will never have the opportunity to stand in the real one, and it was fascinating, even as a child, to take in the scale and power in the office.
Truman’s post-presidential office is also on site, as are his and Bess’s graves.
The museum does a fantastic job of highlighting the drama of Truman’s life. Displays of cold-war propaganda seem so immediately timely while having clearly aged to a distant cultural memory. Along the way, several guest books ask questions that are still relevant today.
For instance, one guest book station asks if Truman was right to use nuclear weapons to end World War II. Reading the comments was fascinating. Even today, people are clearly split on the decision, though some of the reasons I read during my visit were – in a word – nuts. It’s worth a few minutes to flip through some pages to see how your fellow man thinks about serious decisions like this.
Lest you think this is the only thing going in Independence, if you enjoy this stop, you really ought to check out Truman’s old office off Independence Square and tour his beautiful home, too.
While you’re in Independence Square, I recommend checking out some of the shops. They have a wide variety of stores from an old-fashioned soda fountain to a new-fashioned nerdy board game store. (Nerdy is used with love. I had a great time in there.)
By far my favorite store on the square, though was Wild About Harry, which is a total guys’ store. It’s hyper-masculine in that old-fashioned sense. Globes and pocket watches and bar supplies and books fill the place with that timeless, WWII-era masculinity. It’s the perfect place to go shopping after immersing yourself in all things Truman.
Truman Library and Museum
500 West U.S. Highway 24
Independence, MO 64050