President Harry S. Truman’s life has been chronicled by biographers, portrayed in documentaries and even inspired a museum. However, young spectators witnessed a different approach Tuesday morning at the Truman Library: a giggly and rousing 30-minute puppet show.
Rather than his election or his decrees and challenges while in office, the performance – titled “Hats Off to Harry!” – let its audience in on small, lesser known moments from Truman’s childhood.
Kids laughed as they watched Truman chase his cat and sounded out words with him as he practiced reading. They winced knowingly when his mother warned him not to get dirty while playing outside. And when Truman met Bess for the first time at Sunday school, participation from the crowd helped him stammer through the nerves.
According to Nancy Clark, an adviser with the Puppetry Arts Institute who helped put on the show, this connection was always the goal.
“Often, when people come to the library, they’re middle schoolers or older, because it’s very historic. We wondered how we could make it family-friendly and for younger kids,” Clark said.
“We needed to find a way to relate to them. That’s why this show was all about little snippets of his life, so kids can say, ‘Oh my gosh, he was a kid just like us. Anyone can be president.’”
This message first drove Clark and Joann McMillan, a local puppeteer, to create and produce the show for Truman’s 120th birthday. McMillan made all of the puppets – including Truman, his mother, his grandfather and Bess – over a period of several months, a task for which she was well prepared.
“I have been involved in puppetry since I was a child. My mother was a dollmaker who gave me puppets as presents,” McMillan said.
“She made puppets with me when I was 5 years old. I enjoyed making them, and I just kept doing it.”
Along with stories from Truman’s childhood, “Hats Off to Harry!” also offered clues as to how he reached success – through everyday actions children can emulate. It emphasized Truman’s respect for his teachers and his love of school. Similarly, it encouraged parents to find out what their children’s dreams are and support them.
Klaire Smith, a 3-year-old who attended the show with family, said her favorite part was seeing Truman as a baby. After the show, she joined other children in coloring the Harry and Bess Truman dolls provided by the library.
IF YOU GO ...
“Hats Off to Harry!” continues through Saturday at 10 a.m at the Truman Presidential Library and Museum, 500 West U.S. 24 in Independence. The show is free with admission to the museum, which is $8 for adults, $3 for children ages six through 15 and free for children age 5 and under.