“Tru(e)” Education in Independence

A Glimpse of the Newly-Renovated Truman Presidential Library

By Bill Clevlen

After a $29 million dollar renovation and a pandemic shutdown, the Truman Presidential Library has finally reopened its doors to the public for the first time since 2019. The library contains Truman’s presidential archives and a museum detailing his time in office through unique artifacts and engaging exhibits. The new complex includes a beautiful entry building where visitors can purchase tickets, shop for gifts, and gather for special events. (The air conditioning is brand new, too – so bring a jacket if you get chilly easily!)  A theater is available for presentations, along with brand new meeting rooms as part of the latest addition.

Having visited the museum once before in 2015, I was eager to see the updates. While it was obviously dated back then, I still found it to be a really engaging museum. The renovations didn’t disappoint and will do a great service in preserving Truman’s legacy for future generations. “We designed the new museum for different types of visitors,” says Clay Bauske, the museum’s curator who helped oversee the new exhibits. Some guests may want to dig deep and read every paper, while others may just desire to quickly roam the halls and get an overview. Others may want to touch and feel and interact. There’s something for everyone, and guests can now enjoy learning Truman’s story as they see fit.

The Harry Truman Presidential Library includes:

  • Immersive sound-and-light theaters depicting WWI and the Cold War
  • 14-foot interactive globe exploring the hard problems of peace following WWII
  • Expanded insight on Truman’s leadership on Civil Rights and the recognition of Israel
  • Fresh perspective on Truman’s family, including Bess Truman’s role as advisor and confidante
  • Loyalty Review Board role-playing game where players uncover government disloyalty during the Red Scare
  • Increased storytelling and never-before seen artifacts from the Korean War
  • 230 artifacts including hundreds of facsimiles of documents, letters, and handwritten materials.

A Historical Overview

The museum includes an Oval Office replica and a display case featuring Truman’s “The Buck Stops Here” sign. Winding your way through the museum, you’ll learn about the many challenges Truman faced during his time as president. You’ll also be reminded that he was largely unknown to the public and spent time alone with President Roosevelt just twice before he assumed the presidency. One sobering artifact – and a reminder of the challenges he immediately faced after being sworn into office – is the safety plug from the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Another notable artifact: A copy of the infamous front page “Dewey Defeats Truman” newspaper.

The interactive exhibits are top-notch, including a roundtable game where visitors answer questions that were once asked of federal employees to root out potential spies. You can hold up your favorite Harry Truman quote for a fun, Instagrammable photo-op. My favorite interactive exhibit allows you to tour The White House and see the construction work that took place while Truman was in office. The White House had fallen into serious disrepair and was determined to be unsafe. A touch screen console lets you select various rooms to see archive photos of the building before, during, and after the renovations.

Harry and Bess Truman were both laid to rest in the library’s courtyard. Their grave site is just steps away from Truman’s post-presidency office that was preserved the way he left it. Visitors can look through a window to view his office furniture, decor, and items he had left on his desk.

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Just A Regular Guy

When the Truman Presidential Library first opened in 1957, visitors would often catch a glimpse of the former president who routinely worked from an office on-site. Truman, who lived just a couple of minutes from the building in Independence, Missouri, would often surprise visitors and even give impromptu tours. He regularly worked on weekends when the museum itself was closed. Of course, the weekend didn’t stop the library’s phone from ringing. Visitors often called looking for directions or information about schedules or admission fees. And with no one around to answer the phone, Harry Truman would pick up and guide unsuspecting callers as best he could. No one knew that the receptionist wasn’t an intern or secretary – they were speaking with the 33rd President of the United States.

The Truman’s home is also available to tour through the National Park Service and should be part of your visit to Independence. Compared to modern day presidents, the Trumans lived quite modestly.

 

MEET

Bill Clevlen is a contributing writer from St. Louis.

 

 

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