I was a kid when my mother and I went to visit President Harry S Truman at his home in Independence, Missouri. My father, a good Republican, stayed in the car while she and I walked up to Harry's house to see him. "Take off your rings, Madam," a Secret Service man said, "they hurt his hand." Mother did so as the man continued, "He will be shaking a hundred or more hands today." The former president is long gone, of course, but his former home is still here, and you can visit when you're next in town.
Harry (in Missouri, that's what we called him and everyone knew who we were talking about) lived in the modestly large white house at 219 N. Delaware Street from the time, aged 22, when he married the daughter of the house, Bess Wallace, until his death in 1972 at 88, excepting those years as senator, vice president and president in Washington, D.C. It was still called the Wallace House until after his death and Bess' passing, when the National Park Service took it over and made it a National Historic Site. It has just reopened on Memorial Day this year after being closed for repairs since October, 2009.
You pick up your tickets at the Visitor Center at 223 N. Main Street, where you may wish to view an orientation film about the former president and his life here. There are walking tours on selected days, with rangers to answer questions. Guided tours (just 8 persons at a time) are the only way to see the Home, and tickets must be used the day you purchase them. Tickets often sell out by early afternoon in summer, and on weekends and holidays.
The house dates from 1885, is considered to be in the Queen Anne Victorian style and is furnished in the manner Harry and Bess liked, with many pieces of furniture and much of the décor dating back to its opening year. What you see is almost exactly the way the house was left when it was acquired by the Park Service in 1983. Fans and weirdoes began invading the house and even pulling boards from the exterior during his presidency, so the Secret Service had to install a fence in 1949, the year Harry began his first full term. A good thing, too, as there was no Secret Service protection for former presidents when Harry retired and moved back into the house in 1953.
Harry was six when he met Bess, who was five. According to historians, it took him five years to get up the courage to speak to her, another 15 years to call on her, and then he courted her for nine years while attempting to make his fortune. Her family was considered well-to-do and the Wallaces thought Bess married beneath her at the time.
The house was filled with possessions and gifts over the years. When Bess Truman died and the Park Service took over the house, they found, among other things, 295 pairs of footwear and 196 pairs of socks.
You can also visit Harry's boyhood home at the Truman Farm House, located in Grandview, MO, a few miles south of Independence on Blue Ridge Boulevard. It's open only from Memorial Day to Labor day each year, tours from 9:30am to 4pm. The impressive Truman Library & Museum is not far from the Home. It was established in 1957 by the former president himself and contains an exact reproduction of the Oval Office in the White House. There is a Memories of Korea exhibition at the museum through December 31, 2010
Not far away also is the National Frontier Trails Museum, presenting the history of the Santa Fe, California and Oregon trails and the stories of the pioneers who opened the West. All three trails originated in Independence, by the way.
The fascinating Mother Church of the Community of Christ (www.cofchrist.org) (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) is also in Independence, across the street from the Temple Lot, where believers think the New Zion will be established. The Auditorium of the Community of Christ Church has one of the largest pipe organs in the country, with 6,334 pipes ranging in length from ¼ inch to 32 feet. Free organ recitals every Sunday at 3, daily in summer.
Fees and Hours
The Visitor Center is open daily from 8:30am to 5pm. Tours of the Home cost $4 for adults, children 15 and under are free. The same ticket also gets you into the Truman Farm House, and vice versa.
The number of annual visitors has dropped from a high of 125,000 in 1988 to only 28,384 in 2009.
The official website of the Historic Site is www.nps.gov/hstr, phone is tel. 816/254-9929.