Visiting grandpa's new presidential library
As Kurt Graham takes a pair of special guests through the renovated Harry Truman Presidential Library & Museum, a day before it reopened to the public, the library’s director reaches a simple page-turning display of Truman’s family life in Independence.
After an “Aw, look at the cute kid here,” Graham jokes to his guest. “Isn’t that just what you want, to come to a museum and see your childhood on display.”
“You know you’ve reached a certain age when…,” the guest responded.
The guests, Truman’s eldest grandson Clifton Truman Daniel and his son Wesley, the president’s great-grandson, toured the new-look library for the first time Thursday afternoon and spent some of Friday morning greeting the first day’s visitors.
The display page notes that a young Clifton fell off the toy rocking horse and started to cry, then heeded his grandfather’s request to get back on the horse.
“Actually, the first thing he said was, ‘You, you’re not hurt, quit crying,’” he said.
Some of Friday’s visitors echoed a few of Daniel’s reactions as he walked into exhibit areas and finished his tour – “fantastic” and “great job” and expressing the need to see it again to catch everything.
“It’s fantastic; it’s all new,” said Daniel, who serves as the honorary board chair of the Truman Library Institute. “I’m having trouble remembering what it used to look like, and I’ve been coming here since I was about 2.”
“It’s like night and day. There’s so much more to see and do, and even though it’s more, it’s not overload. It’s a really good combination of more and easier, and that’s not easy to do.”
While Clifton Daniel’s positions with the board and as a Truman descendant afforded him some knowledge about how the exhibit areas would look and flow, and he naturally knows how the story goes, the tour still elicited a first-time visitor feel, including a “Wow!” for the giant interactive globe depicting the problems of maintaining world peace after the war.
Daniel himself narrated the video for the display about Truman’s re-election campaign whistle stop train tour in 1948 but confessed he forgot much of it because he recorded it months earlier.
“Don’t let the soothing sounds of this narration lull you to sleep,” Graham joked to the Daniels, both of whom got a chuckle out of video spots then and earlier where Truman’s “ability to swing the job” or his re-election chances had been in high doubt.
Father and son spent the most time in the display of the atomic bombs Truman decided to drop on Japan, ending World War II. The safety pin pulled from the Nagasaki bomb is juxtaposed with many origami paper cranes, including a tiny one made by initial bomb survivor Sadako Sasaki before she died from radiation effects and given to the library by Sasaki’s brother. Clifton Daniel has forged a peaceful relationship with some Japanese friends, including the Sasaki brother. The display includes several survivor or citizen accounts, including a couple of interviews that Daniel conducted.
Both Daniels say the new-look library will continue to make their famous relative’s life and career accessible and relevant for future generations, as many Truman policy decisions and hopes continue to affect the present day.
“We are living in the world that Grandpa made,” Daniel said. “It’s a modern museum, but it does bring him and his times to life.”