Sam Rushay: Truman Library has been presidential destination for years

The Examiner
Sam Rushay

The Harry S. Truman Library and Museum has long been a stop for U.S. presidents and first ladies. Since its dedication on July 6, 1957, eight presidents and five first ladies have come to the library. Four of those eight presidents were Democrats (as was Harry Truman) and four were Republicans, so visits were bipartisan. Some presidential trips to the library were social calls, while others dealt with substantive matters.

Former President Herbert Hoover attended the dedication of the Truman Library. Harry Truman reciprocated the gesture and attended the dedication of the Hoover Library in 1962. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt also attended the Truman Library's dedication.

In 1961, Dwight Eisenhower came to the Truman Library. Eisenhower, who had left office as president in January of that year, wanted to see how the Truman Library was designed and staffed. In 1961, he dedicated his own presidential library in Abilene, Kansas. Truman did not attend the dedication of the Eisenhower Library.

Senator John F. Kennedy visited the Truman Library twice, in 1959 and 1960, as he sought the Democratic presidential nomination. He won the nomination and the presidency in 1960.

President Lyndon Johnson visited the Truman Library several times, during which he toured and met with Truman in his office at the library. Johnson’s most important visit occurred on July 30, 1965, when he signed the Medicare Act in the library’s auditorium. Harry and Bess W. Truman, first lady Claudia A. (Lady Bird) Johnson, and Vice President Hubert Humphrey were in attendance. President Johnson returned to the library about six months later to present Medicare cards 1 and 2 to the Trumans and to announce the creation of the Harry S. Truman Center for the Advancement of Peace, in Israel.

On March 21, 1969, President Richard Nixon and first lady Pat Nixon arrived at the Truman Library, where President Nixon famously played the “Missouri Waltz” for Harry and Bess Truman on a piano in the north lobby. He evidently didn’t know that Harry Truman disliked the song. Nixon presented the piano, which Truman had played during his White House years, to Truman, and he and Mrs. Nixon toured the library.

Presidential treks to the Truman Library continued even after Harry Truman’s death in 1972.

On May 8, 1976, President Gerald Ford dedicated the Truman statue on the courthouse grounds at the Independence Square. He and first lady Betty Ford then toured the library. President Ford laid a wreath at Truman’s gravesite on what would have been Truman’s 92nd birthday.

On Sept. 2, 1980, President Jimmy Carter visited Independence, where he spoke at a town hall meeting at Truman High School. He then placed a bouquet at Truman’s gravesite and toured the library.

President Ford and Carter’s stops in Independence occurred during the years of their failed election (Ford) and re-election (Carter) bids.

On July 30, 1994, President Bill Clinton and first lady Hillary toured and had lunch at the library. Prior to his arrival, President Clinton had given a speech about his health-care plan at the Independence Square, where he spoke on the 29th anniversary of the signing of the Medicare Act at the library. As a former president, Clinton returned to Independence in 2007, when he spoke in the Community of Christ Auditorium on the occasion of the Truman Library’s 50th anniversary.

Three presidential nominees who were defeated in general elections also visited the Truman Library during their campaigns. Democrat Michael Dukakis came in 1988; Democrat John Kerry arrived in 2004; and Republican John McCain toured it in 2008.

The Truman Library’s upcoming museum renovation will feature a video exhibit featuring presidents who have quoted Truman. Most of these presidents also visited the Truman Library.

Sam Rushay is the supervisory archivist of the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence.