Visitors to the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum frequently ask, “What’s new?” They are often surprised to hear that quite a bit is new, or at least new to the Library’s archives and museum departments. Although the Truman administration ended 65 years ago, the Truman Library continues to collect documents, photographs, artifacts and other historical materials concerning Harry Truman and his life, times and presidency.
With a few notable exceptions, the library seldom obtains large collections any more. Most of the time, it is offered one or a handful of photographs and documents, as well as an occasional museum artifact. The library obtains materials primarily through donations and through the generous support of the Harry S. Truman Library Institute. Thanks to the Institute’s assistance, the library this week received a collection of color slides concerning the Middle East mission of State Department diplomat Edwin Locke in 1951-52.
Earlier this year, the Truman Library acquired a letter written by a young serviceman, Harold Baker, following President Truman’s visit to Olympia, Washington, in June 1945. During a large ceremony in which Truman honored a soldier with a medal, Truman took a moment to publicly recognize Baker, who was a member of the Honor Guard, as a “Missouri boy” whom he had met when he was a Senator and recognized from his 1944 vice-presidential campaign in Tacoma. The President even called Baker to the platform, an action that made a deep impression on the young man (“I felt as if I were president myself”) and demonstrated Truman’s remarkable memory for names and faces and his interest in people.
In the past 10 years, the Library’s archives department has opened several important collections. The Bess W. Truman papers, and additional papers of Margaret Truman Daniel (including her diaries) and Harry Truman, have deepened our understanding of the Trumans’ daily lives, their financial situation and their connections with Independence. Interesting documents from the Bess Truman papers include a 1972 letter from Richard Nixon to Bess Truman in which Nixon expressed his enjoyment of the “Truman balcony” at the White House (see https://catalog.archives.gov/id/6882407), and a 1925 letter from Bess to Harry Truman concerning her wish to cut her hair (see https://catalog.archives.gov/id/24192698). Other notable openings include the John Paton Davies papers, which document the career of a State Department diplomat, China expert and victim of McCarthyism; and the Wallace Graham papers. Graham was Harry Truman’s personal physician.
Two of the most exciting acquisitions the Truman Library has made in recent years involve the Korean War. In 2016, the library obtained the Center for the Study of the Korean War records, which are now open for research. Korean War veteran Paul Edwards established the center in Independence for the purpose of collecting documents, photographs, artifacts, and other historical materials concerning the Korean War.
The Library obtained a second large collection concerning the Korean War when the Korean War Veterans National Museum and Library, formerly in Springfield, Illinois, shipped its collections to the Truman Library late last year. The Truman Library is currently reviewing and organizing this collection for research and possible exhibit.
The Truman Library’s museum collection has obtained some very interesting artifacts in recent years. In 2015, the library hosted a ceremony unveiling a bust by sculptor Dexter Benedict of Robert Jackson, a U.S. Supreme Court justice and chief prosecutor for the United States at the Nuremberg trials.
In 2017, the library received a bronze sculpture and a painting of the artist Thomas Hart Benton. Both the sculpture and the painting were executed by the late artist Charles Banks Wilson, a close friend and colleague of Benton's. This year, the library received a bust by sculptor Elmer Peterson of diplomat George Kennan. The Jackson bust is currently on display at the library, which plans to exhibit the Kennan bust this summer. Other items of note include three small badges issued by the Secret Service to be worn by Research Hospital medical personnel who cared for Truman during his last illness, in 1972, about eight months prior to his death.
– Sam Rushay is the supervisory archivist of the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence.