When Truman arrived in Independence as a former President, he was once again a normal citizen and he played the role perfectly. Without a pension or Secret Service protection, other than the throng of daily visitors interested in seeing the former President, he lived a fairly normal life. He drove his own car (always a Chrysler) and still took his daily walks, but instead of wandering around D.C. or Key West, he walked the streets Independence at his usual pace of 120 steps per minute.
Since we planned to spend Thanksgiving with Anna’s family in Colorado, and neither of us had spent any time in Kansas City, spending a few days exploring as we made our way westward on I-70 made a lot of sense. Also, as I’ve always been a Truman fan, I had already factored a stop in Independence into our schedule.
There are not a lot of camping or RV options around Kansas City in mid-November. The county has a few campgrounds that looked promising, but they had already closed for the season and the only remaining public camping option that was open was 20+ miles east of town. This left us with Independence’s Campus RV Park.
Centrally located to all the Truman sites (The NPS Visitor Center, the Truman House, and the Truman Presidential Library and Museum), as well as downtown Independence, Campus RV Park is a typical mid-range, private RV park. The full hook-up sites are close together and the facilities are clean, but a little Spartan and dated. Our site was level, but not very long. Our fellow campers appeared to be a mix of folks passing through and long-term Work Campers (lots of trucks that left early and returned late each day of our stay). It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad. If we were to visit Independence again, and we couldn’t get into the County Parks, then we would stay at Campus RV Park.
We really hadn’t done any research on Independence or any of the Truman stuff prior to arrival. Therefore, on Monday morning after our Sunday night arrival, I headed into town to check out the Harry S. Truman National Historic Site Visitor Center, get the lay of the land, and pick-up the Junior Ranger Booklet. I also grabbed my computer and planned to get a little writing done at a local coffee shop while Anna and Owen worked on school.
It was a quick trip from the RV Park into the quaint downtown area. At the Visitor Center, I spent a good twenty minutes talking to the on-duty Park Ranger. Since the Truman House was closed to tours on Mondays, he recommended that we visit the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum that day and visit the Truman House on Tuesday. With a sound Truman game plan for the next two days, I headed down the block to the Main Street Coffee Shop, a cute little coffee shop with a friendly staff, tasty coffee, fast WiFi, and delicious pastries.
After Anna and Owen finished school, we headed across town to the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, stopping for about an hour of playtime at a bad-ass playground located across the street from the for museum. After Owen had his wiggles worked out, we crossed the street and spent the remainder of our afternoon at the museum.
The Truman Library and Museum was our first visit to a Presidential Library on the Big Big Trip—in fact, it was our first visit ever to a Presidential Library and Museum. We had a great time! The first Presidential Library created under the 1955 Presidential Libraries Act, we spent several hours wandering through the exhibits. The museum has several interactive areas that kept Owen engaged and interested (I’m not sure if I would have taken him a year ago, but at almost eight-years-old, and being a veteran of several dozen museum visits, Owen is becoming quite the museum nerd). Surprisingly, even though we stayed right up until closing, Owen could have easily spent a little longer investigating, especially the World War II portion of the museum.
“This Library will belong to the people of the United States. My papers will be the property of the people and be accessible to them. And this is as it should be. The papers of the Presidents are among the most valuable sources of material for history. They ought to be preserved, and they ought to be used.” – Harry S. Truman, New York City, May 8, 1954
By the time we closed down the Museum we were feeling pretty famished. Our plan of the day was to satiate our appetites with some world-famous Kansas City BBQ. However, being a Monday in November, we didn’t have a lot of options near Independence. Anna fired up the Googler and the Yelper and we decided on an up-scale BBQ place in Kansas City.It took us about 25-minutes to navigate our way to Q39-Midtown from Independence, but it was worth every minute of the journey. Located on the south side of Kansas City in an older residential/commercial neighborhood, Q39-Midtown had a distinctive Hipsterish atmosphere. As much as I dislike Hipsters, I like the restaurants, breweries, and coffee shops that come with them and their ilk (perhaps I’m part of their ilk?). I also like BBQ, and regardless of the philosophical underpinnings of Hipsterdom, Q39 can bring it. Two Thumbs Up! With full bellies, we made our way back to Independence and our humble rolling abode. On Tuesday morning, following an abbreviated school day for Owen, we headed over to the Visitor Center to pick-up our tickets to tour the Truman house and watch the NPS video. Afterwards, we headed over to the Truman House.
Across the street from the Truman Home is the Noland House, home of Harry S. Truman’s cousins. Owned by the National Park Service, the Noland House has a very nice exhibit on the Trumans’ life in Independence, including enough push buttons and interactive displays to keep the kids interested. We spent about 20-minutes in the Noland House before we strolled across the street to meet our Park Ranger Guide for our tour of the Truman House. We spent a wonderful 30-minutes getting a very thorough tour from a knowledgeable Park Ranger with almost 30-years experience at the Truman Site. He shared many Truman anecdotes, as well as some personal stories regarding various tours he’s given over the years (including an impromptu tour to President Obama). Afterwards, we returned to the visitor center for Owen’s Junior Ranger swearing-in and then headed out for a late lunch.
One of Anna’s old friends grew up in Kansas City and recommended a local burger place. Based on her recommendation, we grabbed an early dinner at Fritz’s Railroad Restaurant, a Kansas City tradition since the early 1950s. Kitschy and silly, Owen really enjoyed the overhead model railroad car and associated pneumatic contraption that delivers food from the kitchen to your table. Overall, we enjoyed this light-hearted conclusion to our stay in Independence. The next morning we crossed the state line in Kansas for our final leg into Colorado.[i]