Truman Presidential Museum and Library Independence, Mo. Visited: August 3, 2004 NPS Site Visited: Not an NPS Site Presidential Library Visted: 3 of 12 Local Website
WHAT IS IT? The Presidential Museum dedicated to the life of the 33rd president, Harry S. Truman.
BEAUTY (5/10) Two days later, we don’t remember what the building looked like from the outside.
A Thomas Hart Benton mural, Independence and the Opening of the West awaits the visitor in the Museum’s lobby. The painting pales in comparison both artistically and thematically to his scathing Social History of Missouri mural, found in the Jefferson City State Capitol. In Social History, among other critiques, Benton portrays Kansas City politicians as being spineless subjects to political machinery “Boss” Tom Pendergast.
Was Truman, known in his congressional days as the “Senator from Pendergast”, not familiar with Benton’s work? Or did he just not care. Independence… is still classic Benton. The mural symmetrical shows the clash between the Indians on the left side and the American on the right. The painting builds and collides in the center. Neither side is shown any sympathy or any preference.
Independence… makes no reference to Truman, overtly or sub textually. It is an odd sight to see in the entranceway to his presidential memoriam.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (8/10) Nothing of note happened on the property here in Independence. The Presidential Museum examines the historical incidents that occurred during Truman’s tenure with unique depth and understanding. The exhibits should fascinate you; in many ways they are an explanation of the world in which we live.
The Museum looks at circumstances, decisions, short-term and long-term results of such events as the dropping of the Atomic Bomb, the Berlin Airlift, the formation of NATO, the beginning of the Cold War, the creation of the state of Israel, McCarthyism and the Korean War. You see original copies of Truman’s diaries and personal letters where he ponders the choices he will make. You read flip books filled with newspaper articles and speeches both praising and condemning the president. And of course, there is a plethora of both Truman-related and post War era memorabilia.
CROWDS (2/10) We did not see eye to eye with many of the other visitors. Let’s just leave it at that.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5) The Truman Presidential Library is located near the historic town square of Independence, Mo. It is approximately five miles north of Interstate 70, Exit 12 or three miles east of Interstate 435, Exit 59 along U.S. Route 24. Numerous signs point you towards “Truman Historic Sites”. Problem is, Independence is full of Truman Sites. The turnoff from Route 24 to the Site sneaks up on you. Unless you have ultra quick eyes or a super specific map, you might be in trouble.
The Truman Library website states that the Library is “prominently visible on the north side of U.S. Highway 24”. True, but unless you have been their before, how would you know what it looks like? We did not find it terribly distinctive, unlike Independence’s other landmark: the Community of Christ, neé Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Temple and Headquarters.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (3/5) More books than the Truman NHS but a disappointing selection when compared to the other Presidential Museums we have already visited.
COSTS (3/5) The Museum costs $7 per person. Be on the lookout for the Independence, Mo. Welcome Pamphlet. It includes a buy-one-get-one-free coupon for the Site.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (1/5) There are no guides available to answer questions in the Museum’s rooms. We started on a volunteer-led tour of the Site but quickly jumped off board due to his rapid pace; we wanted the time to read, comprehend and appreciate the historical treasures that surrounded us.
TOURS/CLASSES (9/10) The Museum is a tremendous interactive learning experience. Your tour begins with a 15-minute film that takes you through Truman’s life up to the point of his inauguration. The film pulls no punches. Harry’s shortcomings and Pendergast connections are not glossed over. When FDR dies, we hear the infamous exchange between Eleanor and Harry that portends doom and sympathy on the inexperienced farmer from Missouri. We couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by Truman’s accidental Presidency.
We left the theater and immediately see a huge black and white mushroom cloud. How did this happen? We found out what all sides believe through written quotes, newspaper articles, recorded interviews and video. We read Harry’s diaries and saw his misgivings. The Museum also includes a guest book where visitors explain their thoughts on the dropping of the A-Bombs and the horrifying slow death of approximately 250,000 Japanese civilians. The cruelty in the majority of the guest book’s messages intensely saddened us.
The remainder of the Museum continues at the same powerful clip. Truman provides a great deal of subject matter. The Museum does not fail its topics.
FUN (7/10) Despite the difficult and decidedly not fun subject matter, we had a good time. Our biggest negative was the lack of sympathy and understanding among our fellow man. In this case, the other tourists. Harry’s letters show that he saw there to be no definite rights and wrongs. The choices made during his presidency weighed down his soul. Ours too.
We loved the Site’s interactivity. We voiced our opinions through voting in the two “Decision Theaters”, we made our own campaign buttons and we participated in a Truman Quiz Show (Gab won). Downstairs at the museum, there are also opportunities for folks to try on clothes from the Truman era, sort mail and write a letter to President Truman.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (8/10) Yes. It is a great museum that covers its seemingly familiar subject matter fairly from all angles with a probing conscience.
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