Sunday, August 27, 2017

A Trip with Truman

Earlier this summer I read (and wrote about) Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure. That got me in the mood to go to the Truman Library and Museum, but I didn't think I'd be able to talk the family into it. But then Mr. Presidentressor expressed interest in going to see the eclipse, and I noticed that Independence, Missouri, was in the path of totality, and suddenly a weekend getaway was born.

If you want to see all things Harry Truman in Independence, it's important to know that his home (available for tour) is a separate entity from his presidential museum, so plan accordingly. We arrived at the Visitor Center for the home (a few blocks from the house itself) in the morning, which was a good plan because tour spots and times are limited and were going quickly. We snagged spots for the 2:30 tour, which gave us plenty of time to go to the museum beforehand.

The Visitor Center is small but it has a film and a few small exhibits (mostly about baseball). That's also where my kids got their Junior Ranger booklets. My 5-year-old is obsessive about filling out any kind of booklet/scavenger hunt/etc. he receives at museums, so that kept him busy for a good chunk of the day. My 8-year-old found the booklet for kids under 9 to be too basic, so she asked to upgrade to the book for 9-12-year-olds, which is also the one my 13-year-old did. (I saw an adult doing it, too, so I guess anyone can become a Junior Ranger. I wish I'd known that years ago.)

Once my kids filled out what they could at the Visitor Center, we drove over to the Harry Truman Library and Museum. There, the kids got scavenger hunt cards, and I realized--despite what I said in my previous Truman post--that I had never been to the Truman Museum before. Oops.

Mr. Presidentressor and I both thought the museum was great, and even the kids seemed to enjoy it. The first floor is primarily about Truman's presidency, and I felt they did a good job presenting balanced information about tough topics like the Korean War and the dropping of the atomic bombs. I especially liked the exhibit on atomic-related popular culture.

The first floor wraps around in chronological order, and when you get to the end, you're able to walk out to the courtyard where Harry, Bess, daughter Margaret, and son-in-law Clifton are buried.
After we paid our respects and were walking away, my 5-year-old shouted, "Farewell, old people!"

After hurrying the children back inside, we explored the lower level of the museum, which was less "Harry the Politician" and more "Harry the Human." There were exhibits about his pre- and post-presidency life, and many of the exhibits were interactive. My kids' favorite activity was making Harry Truman campaign buttons.

They could also write a letter to Truman. This is what my 5-year-old wrote before giving the letter a kiss and sticking it in the mail slot:

I ❤️ you. I miss you in your grave

Should I be worried?

The whole time, my 8-year-old was keeping an eye out for a paper crane folded by Sadako Sasaki, the Japanese girl who was stricken with leukemia after the bombing of Hiroshima. My daughter read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes a few months ago and is obsessed with it, and the only way I could entice her to go to the Truman Museum without complaining was by telling her they had a crane there. After searching in vain, we asked a kindly security guard, who told us exactly where to find it: Right next to the front doors. We went back upstairs, and there it was. We were both surprised by how tiny it was, but my daughter was very pleased to have found it.

The gift shop has a nice selection of Truman memorabilia and the requisite American flag-type stuff. I was tempted to get a plush "Pete," the squirrel who used to take walks with Harry, but instead I got this string-doll-keychain because it seemed weirder.

After the museum the kids were hangry, so we headed back toward the quaint old downtown area and wound up eating at a hotdog place called Up Dog. (Excellent tater tots!) When we were done eating, we drove over to the Truman home for our tour.

The ranger leading the tour was knowledgable and helped make it interesting for the kids. Due to structural concerns, only the first floor of the house is available to tour, so it doesn't take very long. However, the house is preserved just the way the Trumans left it, so what it lacks in accessibility, it makes up for in character. I absolutely loved the midcentury mint-green-and-red kitchen.

Courtesy: National Park Service

Later at the Visitor Center the ranger asked my daughter what she liked best about the house, and she said, "The wallpaper." In the photo above the walls look pink, but the wallpaper is a fabulously gaudy/busy red print, and it's on the ceiling as well as the walls. I want some.

Courtesy: National Park Service

High-five, Harry!
When we were done with the house, we checked out the very small museum/tour-holding-pen in a house across the street (protip: it has bathrooms!), then headed back to the little downtown area for ice cream at Clinton's Soda Fountain, in the building where Harry Truman had his first job in a drugstore. We had sundaes and the kids finished up their Junior Ranger booklets, which we then took back to the Visitor Center so they could get their badges.

The rest of our weekend consisted of non-Harry-Truman-related stuff, like visiting the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, and heading to Columbia, Missouri, to see the total eclipse. The museum and the eclipse were phenomenal. I recommend both.

For a while there it looked like we might not see the eclipse due to weather and traffic concerns, but we decided that even without it, the trip would have been a success and a good way to end the summer. In the end, it all worked out. I guess you could say it wound up being an excellent adventure.


  1. So...your son misses Truman (in his grave), and you bought a voodoo doll keychain of the former prez. I think *I* should be worried.

    PS I wish you'd gotten the squirrel!

  2. The resorts can be discovered everywhere throughout the world - not simply in well known vacationer regions.mci airport hotels