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  • Living in the White House

    Harry Truman settled into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with a keen awareness of those who had lived and worked there before him. He enjoyed hosting formal events and presiding over ceremonies, but he disliked the protocol imposed on everyday meals. He befriended the reporters who followed his every move, but resented the editors and publishers who criticized him. Truman reveled in the 1949 Inauguration celebration, happy to be the center of attention. But his high profile also put him in peril: in 1950, he was the target of a foiled assassination attempt.

    This Old House

    From the moment he and Bess moved in, the drafty, creaking White House inspired Truman to imagine the ghosts of the presidents who came before him. He wrote to Bess, The ghosts may have been imagined, but the creaking walls and floorboards were all too real. The 140-year-old mansion was structurally unsound from hard use and haphazard alterations. Truman would preside over the most radical renovation in the history of the White House.

    White House renovation"I sit here in this old house and work on foreign affairs,
    read reports, and work on speeches . . . The floors pop and
    drapes move back and forth - I can just imagine old Andy
    and Teddy having an argument about Franklin. . . But I
    still get some work done."

    "One More Club"

    Truman liked the "working press" and got along well with the reporters who covered the White House. He also gave photographers new status. They made Truman honorary president of the "One More Club," named after their constant request for "one more" photo. Publishers and columnists were another matter. In his view, most of them were Republicans who provided hostile and biased coverage of his administration. He bristled at criticism he received from syndicated columnists such as Drew Pearson and Westbrook Peglar. Truman was known to call his press critics "guttersnipes" and "character assassins," and their newspapers "lie outlets."

    Dinner is Served

    Truman was accustomed to a friendly, family atmosphere at the dinner table and the simple meals prepared by Vietta Garr, the family cook at the Independence home. However, in the White House even everyday meals were very formal. Truman often dined alone, served by staff members trained to keep their distance. Never really comfortable being served hand and foot, he did his best to put White House servants at ease, shaking hands with every new staff member and telling them, " Now don't you be disturbed by me. You just do what Fields [the Maître d'hotel] tells you and I know we will be happy to have you on board."

    Ceremony and Protocol

    In 1946, the Trumans presided over the first official social season since before World War II. The
    President's schedule was full of people eager to meet him. Truman enjoyed social and ceremonial events and took them in stride. But for Bess, such duties were an unpleasant but inescapable part of her job as First Lady. She wrote Margaret that the final two weeks in February 1947 were "really going to be a handshaking two weeks - conservative estimate forty-one hundred." She concluded that it was fortunate she had "a good tennis arm."

    '49 Inauguration

    The most impressive display of Presidential pomp and circumstance in Truman's honor was the 1949 Inauguration. He had become President as a result of Roosevelt's death, but now he had won the office on his own merits. The press and pollsters had almost unanimously predicted that he would lose, so it was a sweet victory. Truman's first swearing in had been a subdued private affair, but this time he had reason to celebrate publicly, and with the war over, the freedom to do so in grand style. After taking the oath of office, Truman delivered an unusually stirring speech. He then watched the parade and stayed up late into the night at the Inaugural Ball, enjoying every minute.

    Attempted Assassination

    From late 1948 until early 1952, the Trumans lived at Blair House across Pennsylvania Avenue while the White House was renovated. Truman walked back and forth to his office in the West Wing. Shortly after 2:00 p.m. on November 1, 1950, the sound of gunfire woke Truman from an afternoon nap in his upstairs bedroom. Two Puerto Rican nationalists, Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola, had tried to shoot their way in to assassinate him, but White House police and the Secret Service stopped them. One attacker died after fatally wounding a guard and injuring two others. The other attacker was wounded, but survived to stand trial and go to prison.