in the White House
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
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.
sit here in this old house and work on foreign affairs,
read reports, and work on speeches . . . The floors pop
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
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."
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.
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.