The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, after nearly two years of renovations that were complicated by COVID-19 restrictions is now ready to welcome back visitors with an updated focus on Truman’s legacy.
The museum will open to the public on July 2. Hours and visitor numbers were initially restricted due to pandemic regulations.
The museum has been completely rebuilt since its opening in 1957 in Truman’s hometown of Independence in Missouri. It is located in an eastern suburb of Kansas City. Nearly $30 million was spent on the project, which includes a new entrance, more photographs, videos, and films, and exhibits that encourage interaction with and touch displays.
One solemn gallery shows Truman’s first four years in office. These were some of the most important months in American history. Germany surrendered and the U.S. dropped nukes on Japan to end World War II. The Potsdam conference established the composition of the postwar world.
Nearly everyone knows Truman dropped bombs. But his legacy was formed during the next 7 1/2 year of his presidency when he set out for peace and brought the world together, according to Kurt Graham, Museum Director.
You can’t miss the core of Truman’s legacy if you only focus on the bomb. He said that although he did not get everything right, it is important that people, particularly young ones, realize that Harry Truman had greater influence over the world than any other U.S. presidents.
Graham stated that the museum closed in July 2019 to make way for renovations. He said that the only thing left is a Thomas Hart Benton mural and some artifacts.
Visitors will first be able to see Truman give a speech in 1945, when he was running for vice president of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s campaign. Graham stated that FDR died just 82 days after he began his term. This left the world asking, “Who is this farmer from Missouri taking over the free world?”
These exhibits attempt to answer this question. The first gallery shows Truman’s Missouri life before he became a politician. It includes his childhood, his wartime service in World War I, his failed haberdashery, and his connections to Thomas Pendergast, Kansas City’s political machine boss.
The museum that Truman had been in previously showed his political life and presidency, but left Truman’s personal life in Missouri behind. His story is now told in a more linear manner.
Kelly Anders, deputy director at the museum, stated that “now you can weave through his boyhood to the presidency and beyond.”
The gallery’s centerpiece shows a safety pin from the Nagasaki bombing. A display is located nearby about Sadako Sasaki’s origami cranes that symbolize peace. Sadako was a Japanese girl who, at the age of 12, died from radiation poisoning. The museum was given by her brother, which is believed to have been one of the last cranes she ever folded.
A.J. said that these artifacts show why Truman is one the most important presidents in American history. Baime is the author of several nonfiction books including “Dewey defeats Truman” (author) and “The Accidental president”.
Baime said that presidential libraries are important because they allow people to do research and tour the library during renovations. While many people won’t open 300-page books, seeing artifacts like those makes history come alive.
These galleries show challenges such as Red Scare over perceived Communist threat in U.S. during Cold War; Truman’s firing Gen. Douglas MacArthur following disagreements regarding the Korean War; desegregating military and promoting civil right; and recognizing the state of Israel.
Another display includes a beam from White House, which was updated extensively during Truman’s tenure. He also received humorous gifts and his famous “The Buck Stops Here” sign, which he kept at his desk in Oval Office.
Truman’s controversial decisions led to a 32% approval rating. This is the lowest ever for a president in American history.
However, politicians and the public have grown to respect Truman’s legacy over the years and are now able to cite his example. The museum has been visited by former President Lyndon Johnson, as well as other prominent politicians, to sign legislation. Graham stated that the museum features praise from current leaders who hold vastly different views to emphasize Truman’s continued relevance.
Visitors can stop at a courtyard to see Truman, Bess, their daughter, and son-in law as they head towards the exit.
The majority of the museum’s renovation was funded by private funds. Another $7 million was raised to support programming and endowments.
Baime stated that at first he was skeptical about the need for a museum renovation, but that he was pleasantly surprised by the results. It is “a great experience that opens people’s eyes, minds, and hearts.” People walking by will remember those events and children walking through will see them as a way to inspire them to learn more about how this country got to be what it has become.