It was difficult deciding where to stay in Kansas City/Independence Missouri area. Not many RV parks to choose from and I was torn between two – a positively reviewed park north of Kansas City that was next to to an amusement park or a smaller RV park with less enthusiastic reviews in Independence. I decided on the park in Independence and it ended up being a great find. We found this park to be walking distance to the historic town square as well as other points of interest. This was the first time we were able to walk to so many places. Although the park itself was nothing special, our site backed up to a wooded area and the birding here was great! Another plus was the park was not near a major highway or road. We did hear plenty of train whistles as the tracks were right across from us! But as I have said before, we like trains, so all was good.
The most famous citizen of Independence is Harry Truman and he lived here most of his life. There are many places in town you can visit that were an important part of his life. This town really celebrates him. I knew very little about Harry Truman before but left knowing quite a bit about this former president’s interesting life. Above is a picture of the Independence courthouse where Harry got his political start as a judge. It is a gorgeous courthouse modeled after Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
The best place to learn about Harry and the United States during his presidency is at the Truman Presidential Library and Museum. This has been one of the best museums we have visited on our trip. Truman never planned to become president – he supposedly didn’t even want to become Vice President. He had only been Vice President for three months when Franklin D. Roosevelt died during his fourth term in office. During Truman’s presidency he had to deal with some trying times including dropping the Atom bombs, ending World War II, the reconstruction of Europe, beginning of the Cold War with Russia and the Korean War. Above is a picture of Truman’s most famous phrase, “The Buck Stops Here.” This sign sat on his desk in the Oval Office.
In 1948 when he decided to run for re-election his popularity was very low and public opinion was he could not win. Truman went on a whistlestop campaign; traveling by train across the United States with many stops to win back the confidence of the people. In spite of the negative predictions, he won the election. Although not popular again when he left the presidency at the end of his term in 1957, he was welcomed enthusiastically back to Independence.
When Truman left office there was no presidential pension and no secret service. The Trumans had to survive on a small military pension from World War I. They returned to their home in Independence. Harry began working on his presidential library and museum which was completed in 1957. Below is a picture of his office at the library.
Harry and his wife are both buried on the library grounds. Below is a picture of their graves. Harry died in 1972 at the age of 88 and Bess died in 1982. She holds the record of longest lived First Lady at 97 years.
The National Park service now manages the Truman home and gives tours. The inside of the home was left just as it was when Bess died. The Trumans lived quite modestly compared to most former presidents who returned to more fancy homes. Photographs are not allowed inside but here is one of me in front of the house.
Truman’s last car, a 1972 light green Chrysler was also donated to the National Park Service and is parked in the garage. I read that Harry loved his cars and took great care of them. I thought it was interesting that he asked the State License Bureau for the number 5745. May 7, 1945 was the date of victory in Europe, an important date for Truman as President.
Mark found a book for me on Kindle called “Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip.” Harry and Bess took off alone on this trip across the United States in 1953. I have always enjoyed reading road trip stories so could not resist this one. Maybe I will give a review when I have finished reading it.
There are a number of places that you can visit in the “neighborhood” that were important to Truman. As a teenager, Harry’s first job was at the Clinton Soda Fountain on the old town square. The fountain (above) still operates and of course we had to stop for an ice cream treat. There is a fun letter in the back of the store from Harry to his daughter talking about his first job and how he was paid $3.00 per week to mop floors, wipe off bottles, make ice cream for sodas and wait on customers.
Harry loved to walk around town, even in his later years and often took a similiar route. The historical society has created a visitor walking guide and I walked his route one day. On the sidewalks in front of a number of homes in Harry’s neighborhood are plaques noting people that were important to the town and especially to the Trumans. Here is an example of one of the plaques, Harry’s former teacher.
Walking Harry’s route reminded me of the 10km Volkssport walks I used to do around California with my friend Arlene. We saw so many historic homes, many of them Victorian. I have always believed that in order to really get to know a town or city you have to walk around it. Here is one of the homes from my walk that I thought was so attractive. Harry served in World War I with a man who lived in this home.
One of the last stops on the walking tour was the Episcopal church where Harry and Bess were married in 1919. In a town with many big churches, this church from 1881 was much smaller.
Thanks for spending the time reading the blog. Next time I will talk about some other interesting places in Independence.