Streets of Independence

 

"I began taking…walks when I first went to Washington as a senator in 1935," Truman remembered after he had returned home to Independence in 1953. "And since [they] seemed to keep me fit then, in spite of all the sitting around I had to do, I have kept them up." (Mr. Citizen, 1960.) The walks usually began at 7 a.m. Truman walked probably a mile or two each morning, moving quickly, at 120 paces per minute, as he had learned to do in the Army. He went past the old houses and churches and schools on the streets around his home at 219 North Delaware Street, his companions through very long acquaintance. During his presidential years, Truman often had to walk with a large entourage of reporters and Secret Service men. After he left the presidency, the Secret Service men and most of the reporters dropped away, and Truman could often enjoy a fairly peaceful walk. Mike Westwood, an officer with the Independence Police Department who was assigned to protect the former president, often walked with him.

In his diary, Truman describes two walks he took in 1953, on May 20 and July 8. He apparently took different routes from morning to morning. On May 20, he started out by going west on Truman Road, then turned south on River Boulevard. On July 8, he started out south on Delaware Street, and turned east on Maple Avenue, then south on Pleasant Street. He mentions that on other days he walked on Farmer Street and "up the hill" at Union Street and Maple Avenue. (Handwritten manuscripts, May 20 and July 8, 1953, President's Secretary's File.) Sometimes when he walked past 611 West Maple Avenue he would stop and look at a big old gingko tree that grew close to the sidewalk, and he would say to it, "You're doing a good job." (David McCullough, Truman, citing the author's interview with Thomas Melton.) He also liked to walk down Waldo Street, going past the scenes of many games with neighborhood boys during his later childhood years, and then past his old home at 909 West Waldo Street. (Sue Gentry oral history interview, Truman Library, 1971.)

Occasionally as Truman walked and thought about the day's business ahead, people would come out from their homes or jump out of their cars and come up to him to shake his hand or ask for an autograph. "I always try to be as pleasant as I can to the numerous people who want to see and talk to me," he wrote. "They, of course, don't know that I walk early to get a chance to think over things and get ready for work of the day. But they come from every State in the Union and I must consider that they've made a special effort to see me--so I treat them accordingly even [if] it does sometimes spoil a train of thought." (Handwritten manuscript, July 8, 1953, President's Secretary's File.) Mike Westwood remembered that Truman was friendly to everyone who came up to him. "…He always was real friendly, when we would take walks, with people that would stop and want to shake hands with him and chat with him, and he never, ever, that I know of, ever turned down a child that asked for his autograph, or a picture. He loved children, he loved them very, very much; he was very graceful, gracious to all of them." Truman and Westwood became friends during their many walks together. "…He would talk things over with you. If I thought I had a problem, I could talk to him just the same as I talked to my father. He would iron it out, if it needed ironing out, or else he's say, 'You don't have a problem there, figure it out yourself'--if you didn't have a problem, if you just thought you had a problem…. He was always kind and considerate, and I think that was his greatest quality, and he never, that I know of, ever hated anybody." (Mike Westwood oral history interview, Truman Library, 1975.)

In his last years, after his health began to fail, Truman shortened his walks. A schoolboy at William Chrisman Junior High School in 1968-69 remembers that President Truman walked by every morning a little before 8 o'clock, in every kind of weather. His route was apparently east on Truman Road from his house, then right on Pleasant Street, then right on Maple Avenue, where he walked past the junior high school, and then right on Delaware Street, and back home. The Secret Service was never too far away from the old President, and their cameras, placed on the tops of buildings along the way, monitored his progress. (Author's interview with Paul Richey, 1999.)

To follow the route taken by Mr. Truman on one of his morning neighborhood walks, contact Harry S. Truman Historic District Walking Tour, between the Truman Library and the Truman Home, Independence, MO 64050, Phone: 816-836-7111.

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