Harry S. Truman National Historic Site Independence, Mo. and Grandview, Mo. Visited: August 1, 2004 NPS Site Visited: 69 of 353 NPS Website; Local Website
WHAT IS IT? Five properties and buildings that celebrate the early life of 33rd president, Harry S. Truman. Only the Bess Truman Family Home in Independence, Mo. and the Truman Farm in Grandview, Mo. are open to the public.
BEAUTY (3/10) A typical Victorian-era country house painted a nice white and kept neat. The interior decoration existed of middle-class furnishings and absolutely no elegance. The only evidence that a man of great stature lived here is the presidential dishware tucked in a display case with the other good china.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (3/10) The Independence, Mo. portion of the Truman NHS’s main storyline is Harry’s persistent, failure-ridden courtship of Bess. A charming story but not exactly worthy of museum-dom. The Visitor Center’s film explains nothing of his political career or his presidency.
The Home you tour was not even Harry’s, it was his mother-in-law’s. Harry lived here for much of his life but the House does not reveal much of his personality, unlike his office, on view at the Presidential Museum and Library. You see his wife and his mother, not him. We had to draw our own conclusions about the president who made many of the most momentous decisions of the 20th century. He was on display only through his absentia.
CROWDS (2/10) It is hard to complain when the NPS allows only eight people per group on the House tours, Especially when you are alone on your walkthrough. Right? Wrong.
Somehow, the Ranger at the Visitor Center mistakenly credited six other people as being on our tour. While we waited to go inside a couple arrived that missed their 3:30 tour. Could they come with us? Our Ranger said, “absolutely not, you are late, you need to get another ticket. There is still space on a tour thirty minutes from now”. The incredulous couple watched our Ranger start the tour with just us two. We were uncomfortable to say the least.
Your visit probably won’t be as stressful but who knows.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (1/5) The Truman NHS Visitor Center is located on the historic town square of Independence, Mo. It is approximately four miles north of Interstate 70, Exit 12 or four miles east of Interstate 435, Exit 59 along U.S. Route 24. Despite its proximity to two major highways and a large metropolis, the Truman NHS is an accessibility challenge.
Guided Tours of the Truman Home leave every fifteen minutes. Tours are limited to eight people. The Home is six long blocks from the Visitor Center, especially on a humid 101º Kansas City summer day. You need to purchase tickets at the Visitor Center before going on the tour. From 4:00 to 4:15, the time of our Tour, at least 20 people either drove up or walked to the Home asking if they could join us. The Park staff rudely admonished them all as if the Site’s confusing ticket method were common knowledge. There were many angry tourists and that was before they were to get to the VC and learn that the next tour opening was at 4:45.
You are not allowed to carry anything on your person inside the home. No cameras, no purses, no nothing. A little strict for a modestly furnished country house.
The Truman Farm has very limited hours. It is open only on the Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from May 8 to late August.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (2/5) Small. A lot of Truman books but little about the era he shaped.
COSTS (3/5) An approximately 30-minute tour of the Bess Truman Family Home costs $3 per person. The tour is free with the National Parks Pass.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (4/5) There plenty of Rangers at the Site to assist the tourist. The small tour group size should only enhance the experience and a positive ratio. It doesn’t always work that way.
TOURS/CLASSES (2/10) Our Ranger compared the Victorian Era to Hip Hop (both fads) and Kansas City political machine boss Tom Pendergast to Saddam Hussein (they were dictators). Why did Bess Truman’s father kill himself? Well, “people do. It just happens.” No, what happened in his life? “They do it nowadays too, you know.” We left with lots of questions and no answers. We did learn, many times, that Harry never went college. Thankfully, there is a Truman Museum only a mile away.
FUN (2/10) Discomfort, confusion, astonishment, and a sincere craving for answers? Yes. Fun? No.