Sunday, November 6, 2011

Harry Truman's Birthplace

Truman’s early years come to life in Lamar

A tree planted to honor Harry Truman’s birth grows outside the house he was born in.

When I gave a talk in Lamar Missouri, I took the opportunity to visit Harry S Truman’s birthplace, now a state historical site with a small visitors center. As he is one of our favorite presidents, Carla and I present an overview of his contributions when we teach in the Osher Lifelong Learning program.

Truman was born May 8, 1884, to a father who was a mule trader and farmer. His father announced the sale of some mules in the Lamar Democrat but did not mention his son had just been born. However, in honor of Harry’s birth, he did plant a tree that is still standing next to the house.

John Anderson Truman and his new wife, Martha Ellen Truman, had bought the Lamar house in 1882 for $685. Signs of its age are apparent. It is 20 by 28 feet — I am sure many readers have rooms in their homes that are as large. When I stepped inside, I was impressed with how many rooms had been carved out of that small space. On the first floor are a living room, a kitchen with a dining area and two bedrooms. A double bed fills half the bedroom in which Truman was born. A steep, narrow stairway, like the one I climbed to my bedroom as a child, leads to two upstairs bedrooms.

When the Trumans came, all of their furniture was on a wagon, and when they left, all of the furniture was on a wagon, so the home has been furnished with period pieces. Young people might be particularly interested in the more primitive equipment of the times: kerosene lamps, pots under the bed instead of a toilet, corn cake bakers on a black wood-fired stove in the kitchen.

The home has no electricity and has an outdoor toilet of the period and a hand-dug well next to the building. A smokehouse stands beside the well. Most homes had them because, without refrigeration, meat had to be smoked to keep it from spoiling. The lot across the way that held the barn for John Truman’s mules is now an empty lot.

When Harry was 11 months old, the family moved about 100 miles north to the Independence area. The United Auto Workers donated the Lamar home to the state in 1959 for preservation, and it is now also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A guide gives brief tours to visitors when they arrive and spends some time on the collection of family pictures showing Truman as a child and at some of the major turning points in his life. The visitors center has three mannequins dressed in women’s dresses of the era.

Lamar was preparing for the 127th birthday celebration of Harry Truman, but I was a day too early to take part in this annual celebration, held on the nearest Saturday to May 8, Truman’s birthday.

The major historical sites for Truman are in Independence, and if you go, they have the bright-red Truman Trolleys that visit the Independence Square and circle past major tourism attractions during spring, summer and early fall. The fare is only $1 for all day, and you can visit both the Truman Home and the Truman Library and Museum.