The Accidental President

In January 1945 Harry S. Truman was sworn in as Vice President to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Three months later, on April 12, 1945, upon Roosevelt’s death, Harry Truman was suddenly the 33rd president of the United States.  Truman, a high school graduate without a college degree, once commented that he became president by “accident.”

DSC00066A visit to the Harry S Truman National Historic Site in Independence, Missouri is like stepping into a time capsule and returning to the 1950s.  Downtown Independence is like a modern-day Mayberry. (Referring to the old Andy Griffith Show.)  The visitor center, on the corner of Main and Truman, is located in a renovated 1928 Fire Station.  It is here that tickets can be purchased to tour Harry and Bess Truman’s home, the “Summer White House”; a short movie can be viewed catching a glimpse into the Truman’s life in Independence; souvenirs can be purchased; and walking maps can be obtained highlighting sights around Harry’s neighborhood.  Harry Truman was known for his walks about town and it is fun to follow in his footsteps; especially to Clinton’s, a drugstore where Harry worked his very first job.  Today Clinton’s is an ice cream parlor and a yummy afternoon treat.

DSC00062The ranger-guided Truman home tour is not so much a tour of a beautiful house than it is a tour of a family’s home.   Elizabeth (Bess) Wallace and her brothers and mother moved into Bess’s grandparents house at 219 N. Delaware Ave in 1904 shortly after her father died.  Harry S Truman married his childhood crush, Bess, on June 28, 1919 and moved into the Wallace family home.  Harry and Bess had one child, a daughter named Margaret, born February 17, 1924.  The close-knit family continued to live in the house on N. Delaware, returning often during Truman’s presidency.  In fact, Bess and Margaret stayed in Independence more than the White House.  (Bess never did like Washington D.C.)  Upon returning to Independence in 1953 after his second term as president, Harry goes right back to living a “common” man lifestyle.

The park ranger tells stories about the Truman family as he points out various items that reflect Harry’s surprisingly humble lifestyle.  There is only one indication in the entire house that Harry S Truman was ever President of the United States:  dishes in the cupboard with the White House seal.  The poor quality wallpaper in the kitchen reflects Harry’s frugal nature.  Harry and Bess would often sit on the back porch to read the paper and sip coffee and tea.  The Secret Service planted bushes and placed a fence around the property to protect the former president from the curious public.  Harry never did give up his daily walk around town.

Harry Truman lived in the house on 219 N. Delaware for over 50 years until his death in 1972.  He never forgot his roots nor his strong midwest family values.  “I tried never to forget who I was and where I’d come from and where I was going to.” – Harry S Truman


2 thoughts on “The Accidental President

  1. We made a visit here two years ago on our way back east. Too bad it was the only day the VC and the home were closed but we did enjoy walking around town and had ice cream at the Clinton’s. My husband knew many little facts about Harry and his routines around town so he gave me a great tour. While John went to the library and museum, I went to the Pioneer Museum. We had just done Roosevelt’s Museum two days before. I couldn’t do another especially I’m not a big history person. From your narrative, I’m sorry we missed the home tour.


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