tv [untitled] CSPAN June 15, 2009 7:30am-8:00am EDT
in the same family-owned and in the same business. if you happen to be taking u.s. 40 through western maryland and frostburg the princess has been preserved and they have a little plaque that says harry and bess truman ate lunch here june 21st, 1953. they went to washington and saw friends he gave the speech in philadelphia and went to new york and spent eight interesting days with margaret as their guide sightseeing in new york. they stayed at the waldorf towers. i was curious how harry was to afford this at the truman library, he saved everything. harry never wrote a letter that he didn't save and he has -- they have all the correspondence with the general manager of the
waldorf towers and soon after the waldorf heard harry was going to be making a trip and they wrote him a letter you know would you like to stay with us for free and harry wrote back and said i think that would be all right. [laughter] >> so that's how harry truman, former leader of the free world now cash-strapped was able to afford eight nights at the waldorf. it's kind of interesting harry was in -- i'm going to forget the floor. his suite was directly above herbert hoover's. hoover lived at the waldorf at the time. and truman and hoover had a sort of back and forth -- they had a complex relationship. truman kind of rehabilitated hoover's reputation after roosevelt died, they changed the name what was it boulder dam back to hoover dam and so they had become quite close but then in the election of 1952, truman again invoked the name of
herbert hoover as comparing eisenhower to hoover. the democrats ran against hoover for 30 years and, you know, with some success so harry wasn't about to stop. so i think they had tiff at the time because there's no record the two saw each other while harry was upstairs and herbert was downstairs. and i always wonder how they managed, the staff of the waldorf must have been pins on needles all week trying to keep these two apart not to mention doug mcarthur was six floors up. they ate at all the trendy restaurants and they went to the 21 club and shortly after they got there, another diner came in. it was the governor of new york thomas dewey. [laughter] >> which presented a problem for the maitre d' and they were lucky, they were able to seat dewey and truman far apart.
everywhere they went in new york by the way they took cabs. harry parked the car at the waldorf and they took cabs everywhere they went unlike most tourists they didn't have trouble getting a cab because as soon as a cabbie would recognize that harry truman was trying to wave him down, they'd pull over in droves. they had no trouble getting a cab. incidentally, my wife and i did stay at the waldorf two days and we were not comped. we were upgraded, though. we did get upgraded. they gave me that at least. on the drive home, a state trooper named manly stampler, a great name for a cop, a state cop in pennsylvania, manly stampler -- he pulled harry over on the pennsylvania turnpike for careless driving. harry liked to hang out in the left lane and in pennsylvania you have to stay to the right except to pass. and so harry was in the left lane and there was a -- there were cars lined up behind him
so manly stampler zipped up for the right lane and motions for harry to pull over and he adjusted his big smoky bear hat and bent down and looked inside and he said, oh, crap, what am i going to do now? [laughter] >> i just arrested harry truman. [laughter] >> truman later insisted the cop just pulled him over to shake his hand. [laughter] >> manly stampler is still alive and well. he lives outside phoenix. and he says i did not pull him over to shake his hand. i pulled him over because he was violating the law. he also said he didn't ask for an autograph either but wished he had because it might be worth something today. he did -- he did let him off with a warning and casually when he went back to the barracks at the end of the day, casually mentioned to the desk sergeant you'll never guess who i pulled over today and the next day it was in all the papers that harry truman had been pulled over for a traffic violation and in the republican papers especially had a good time with it.
[laughter] >> they returned to independence on the 8th of july. the trip taught harry something and that is that you can't really go back to being a plain, private citizen after you've been president of the united states. friend, he said, i can't seem to get from under that awful glare that shines on the white house. and it's sad in a way because i think he felt like he had almost become a burden to his friends. that he had lost -- he had lost something that he could not -- you can't be casual when you're a former president. my brother and i went over to the truman home today and did the tour. i've done it before, of course, but you're reminded on the back porch when they came home, they returned to this -- the same house they'd been living in basically all their lives, all their married lives, anyway.
bess' mother had just died in 1952 and bess and harry bought out her two brothers and it was the first time harry truman ever owned a house. the guy didn't own a house until 1952. and they came back to this house. i think at first they really expected to settle into ordinary quiet retired life and they would go on the back porch and if the weather was nice maybe have breakfast and read the papers and people would be lined up on the fence, i guess -- i guess they call it truman road now just watching them eat breakfast and read the papers. i mean, it was not -- it wasn't what harry had quite expected. so that's why they let all the bushes grow up on that side of the porch so you could see the porch from the road anymore. in january, 1958, just going ahead a few years, harry sold off the family farm in grand view.
originally, they were going to build the truman library in grand view on the family farm. but harry sold that off in part for financial considerations. he had to sell it off to help make ends meet. and it was turned into a shopping center. truman corners? is that what it's called today? later that year, 1958, congress passed a bill granting ex-presidents pensions. these two events were not unrelated. harry having to sell the family farm i think finally spurred congress to give ex-presidents pensions. the pensions were $25,000 a year plus $50,000 for office expenses and unlimited francing privilege postage which was especially important to harry. he said all along just give me postage so they did and they gave him a little more. incidentally, by that time, truman and hoover had sort of kissed and made up and they were friends again. had become quite good friends,
in fact, mainly through the shared misery of having to raise money to build a presidential library. they commiserated on this. hoover didn't need a pension. he was a millionaire. in fact, hoover did not accept -- herbert hoover didn't take a salary as president, refused the salary so he didn't need the pension but he didn't want to make harry look bad so he actually did take the pension and i believe just donated it to his library. 25,000 a year that's what they got in 1958. today a president's pension is pegged to the salary of a cabinet-level officer in the cabinet so it's nearly $200,000. the office expenses are more or less unlimited. bill clinton, the rent on his office in harlem last year was more than $500,000. it gives you some idea of the expense of maintaining our
ex-presidents. not to mention the fact they now speak at $100,000 a pop. ex-presidents rarely drive themselves anywhere anymore. in 1953, the "new york times" said of harry and bess' trip, it is as it should be that an american ex-president accompanied only by his wife with no retinue and no ceremony can drive his own car around the country and no one think it unusual. it cheers one up somehow. and i think 56 years later it still does. i'd like to read a little excerpt from the book for you. that's particularly relevant to this part of the country. this is describing a little bit what harry's life was like right after he retired and came back to independence. back in independence, harry soon settled into a routine.
he awoke every morning at 5:30 dressed on the porch, picked a cane from a collection of 100 or so -- and took a walk. his route varied sometimes he would walk the town square passing the jackson county courthouse which had been built in 1934 back when he was the presiding judge. other times he would meander through the residential neighborhoods around his home. an old news reel shows truman enjoying one of his walks and a small boy suddenly jumps out of the bushes and shoots the former president with a toy gun. truman laughs and pats the irrepressible tyke on the head. today a secret service agent watching the film would likely suffer a heart attack. [laughter] >> and the unlucky youngster would perish in a hail of gunfire. back at the house he had breakfast at the kitchen table with bess who did not share his penchant for early rising. around 9:00 he went into his office, a three-room suite on the 11th floor of the federal reserve building in kansas city.
sometimes mike westwood, an independence cop who was his part-time bodyguard, sometimes he drove him but often he drove himself. harry s. truman was painted in black letters on the opaque glass door of the suite just like a detective agency in novel. he had two assistants. he paid their salaries out of his own pocket. much of his day was spent answering mail. he received more than 70,000 pieces in the first two weeks after he left the white house. and as many as 1,000 a day thereafter. notes from well wishers, invitations to church services
or asking for advice. budding politicians wrote him asking for advice or endorsements. the founder of a new cult tried to recruit him and when he mentioned he was looking for a silver dollar minted in 1924, the year of margaret's birth silver dollars poured in by the dozens. truman estimated that less than one-half of 1% of the letters came from crackpots. a statistic that surprised him. i expected more, he said. i had many chances to make people mad. truman maintained an open door policy and just about anybody who dropped by was likely to get an audience with the former president. many people, he said, feel that a president or an ex-president are partly theirs and they have a right to call upon him. his office telephone number was listed in the kansas city directory. baltimore 6150. his home number was unlisted. his home number was unlisted. probably in deference to bess. when he wasn't answering mail, entertaining mail visitors or taking telephone calls truman was busy raising money for the library. it would serve for a repository
for his papers which for the time being were stored in 400 four-drawer filing cabinets in a room in the fourth floor in the jackson county courthouse. he envisioned it for a research center for colleges in the midwest. he wasn't interested to an memorial. i'll be cussed and discussed for the next generation anyway he didn't think of memorials to the living. you may never tell what foolishness they may discuss before they get in a pine box and then the memorial will be torn down. he would go home and listen to the radio and he indulged his the radio and he indulged his passion for history. by 10:00 he was in bed. it was in many respects a perfectly ordinary life. well, that's all i have to say right now. i'd like to take -- if you have any questions, i'd like to take them and i'd even more like to sell you some books. [applause]
>> i think we're going to do the line-up method here. i think if we could -- if we could go to the -- if you have a question -- >> i think you indicated earlier that the trumans attended several plays in new york while they were there. did your research reveal what plays they saw? >> yes, they saw a play called "wonderful town." which won several tony awards that year. also a play "my three angels." it was an interesting play because it was a very complicated play. i guess there were a lot of key changes.
i don't know much about broadway musicals to be honest but i guess it was so complicated that it's very difficult for amateur production companies to take on. and so without that kind of renugenerating production it's been lost. it's about girls who go to the big city who find love and fortune. it's a pretty basic play and my three angels was the other play. i went to the theater -- it's the winter garden theater where "wonderful town" was performed. and i went to see the play that's there now, which is -- why am i forgetting. the abba -- the abba musicel, "mama mia" which is being performed at the winter garden theater where "wonderful town" was performed. and i'm not about to pass judgment on the quality of broadway musicals or the taste of the people who attend them but it seems there's been some noticeable decline between
"wonderful town" and "mama mia" but that's just me. but, you know, it was -- it was a deductible expense at least which is fortunate because broadway plays were not cheap. those were the plays they saw when they were in new york. >> my other question is, rarely, did we see pictures of bess truman without her hat on. >> yeah, bess liked her hats. >> was she wearing her hats riding shotgun to new york and back? >> does she have it on in the cover? yeah, she does. she does on the cover. and i guess -- i was a little curious when they said the 11 pieces of luggage that harry packed into the chrysler, whether they counted the hat boxes as a separate piece of luggage because that would tend to mitigate the overpacking thing if they count the hat boxes as a separate piece of luggage. bess, did like her hats.
it's funny just doing the research on this about bess truman -- and i was really -- i was struck by the difference between the public perception of bess and what -- how it seems how she was really was. she was a very gregarious, charming, outgoing kind of person. for some reason and maybe it's just because of her appearance which is completely unfair, but the public perception of her was sort of dour and dowdy. a kind of matronally woman. and her personality couldn't have been more different. more different than that public perception and it's a shame really but she was really private. she wasn't even crazy about the idea of harry being nominated for president. she already felt they were spending too much time away from independence and her mother, who was living with them at the time, of course, didn't like to spend time away from
independence at all. so she was very private and very reserved. it's very interesting on this trip, she gave an interview when she was in indianapolis on this trip, which was extremely rare. i remember when she was in the white house, you know, eleanor roosevelt had press conferences so when harry became president they said is mrs. truman going to have press conferences and i think his answer was, i need to get back to you, which is smart. he wasn't going to answer for bess. they had to run this by bess first. she didn't want to have press conferences. she finally submitted to written questions and all the answers were yes or no. [laughter] >> she just didn't -- she just didn't take -- just didn't take to the -- you know, being in public the way harry did. so, yeah, but she loved her hats. >> when president truman left office, he was not the most popular of presidents. my question is, on this trip did he run into any animosity or any
people shaking fists or anything of that nature? >> honestly, i did not find -- i can't believe it didn't happen but i didn't find a recorded incident of that. and you're absolutely right. his approval rating was about 22% when he left office in early 1953. which is just about where george w. bush's was when he left office in january of 2009. it's interesting that george w. bush has often compared himself to harry truman and he for obvious reasons hopes his reputation is vindicated in some people's eyes truman's reputation has been. he was very unpopular when he left of office and he was surprised for his outpouring of affection even as the ride home from the train crowds came back to the train to them and everywhere they went people were very affectionate toward him and he acted -- he was quite surprised by that.
you know, somebody said something interesting. i forget where i read this. but, you know, the gallup polls for presidential popularity a in the 1950s -- there was still such a reference and respect for the presidency there was probably a certain percentage of people who would ever say they disapproved of the president so 22 is probably a pretty generous figure in terms of what harry's popularity was is late '52 and early '53. it was the korean war which contributed to his unpopularity and in some ways i try to get it across in the book that the road trip in a way helped rehabilitate his personality -- or his reputation or at least his standing, his popular standing. i think in 1969, he was like the number seven most respected man in america according to the gallup poll.
nixon was number one. >> thank you. >> hi. a little closer, sorry. >> i know president truman read a lot. in his preparation for the trip, did he read certain books or did he make, you know -- did he sight-see, were there places he wanted to go? >> i do know he did this. he researched just about every town on the itinerary to find out what the local issues were. i mean, he was still a politician at heart. and so it's amazing. he shows up in wheeling, west virginia and a reporter tracks him down in the lobby of the mcclure hotel in wheeling. mcclure hotel -- i actually stayed there. mcclure hotel is also where mccarthy gave his famous "i have in my hands a list of the known
communist agents in the state department." but a reporter tracked him down in the hotel of the -- in the lobby of the hotel in wheeling, west virginia, and said how is your trip going. mr. president, he said, it's going very well but i was very sorry to hear that congress didn't pass funding for that flood wall here in wheeling. so he knew exactly what the issues were along the way and he clearly done a lot of preparation before he left to know the individual issues in the towns along the way. so he could -- he could be prepared to answer. the trip was really kind of a political coming-out party for him. the speech he gave in philadelphia was very political. and part of the purpose of the trip was for him to begin engaging in politics again and he really was the first -- i guess they call kennedy the first television president but harry truman was the first ex-president in the era of mass
media to really be involved politically. hoover by this time was a fairly old man and was not that active politically in his later years, so, yeah, that's what he did in preparation for this trip. >> was he interested in american history? >> deeply. >> battlefields? >> deeply. most of the sightseeing they did was in new york. but there are big gaps in the story, too. it's interesting, you know, we talk about how he got recognized. there are two long gaps where i have not been able to find any mention of what they did. they drove clear across ohio, the second night of the trip, and there's no mention where they stopped for dinner, what they did, nothing. so there are gaps in there and i wonder if they didn't do some -- either do some sight-seeing or at the very least finally got to enjoy a dinner in peace and quiet. >> after mr. truman sold the family farm, did your research
indicate how he acquired the present site of the library financially and how he -- how he picked that site? >> yeah, i believe the city of independence actually donated the land to the truman -- you know, the truman library incorporated after the farm was sold and that's how it came to be in independence. one more? don't run. don't run. >> yeah, i have a question. there is a building just near 39th and wyoming that has a sign on it that harry s. truman owned it or officed there. do you know anything about that? >> i don't know, i have to confess. does anybody here know 39th and wyoming? it's right near there -- >> i don't know that he owned property apart from the house.
>> he owned an apartment building just south of 39th. >> this gentleman says that he owned an apartment building a little fourplex there. i didn't know that. actually, i guess in their later years he may have invested in some property. i know in the period like the early period, '53, to '58, he did not. >> just a simple question about the car trip, what was the price of gasoline then? and did harry keep track of his gas mileage? >> gas was 27.1 a gallon. the day he left standard oil hiked the gas one penny a gallon and there was talk of collusion between the oil companies -- that they were simultaneously raising the price. the oil companies, of course, complained the price of crude had skyrocketed to $3 a barrel so what could they do except pass the cost onto consumers. and the house -- a house subcommittee actually investigated.
his mileage was 16 to 17 miles per gallon and he was very proud of that, which was pretty good mileage for a car that big at that time. >> on their trip, did they send any postcards of their journey? >> i have not been able to find any. i looked -- i looked pretty thoroughly and at least when they were in new york, that they didn't send some kind of communication back to family, but i guess they figured the trip was being pretty well covered by the media at that point so there was no need to say, hey, we're okay in new york. but i didn't -- i would have loved to have found a postcard from harry truman to his brother or something like that. but i didn't find any. >> next question, i noticed in your bibliography that you talked to e. clifton daniel? >> yes, yes. clifton truman daniel. >> that would have been grandson? >> yeah, clifton is the grandson. >> well, would they have sent maybe a postcardo
grandchildren of the trip? >> but in '53, this was two years before margaret married clifton. yeah, thank you. [applause] >> thank you very much. thank you. it was great. >> thank you, matthew. thank you for coming. matthew will be out this way signing books. we'll see you next time. [applause] >> matthew algeo is the author of "last team standing" how they saved profootball during world war ii. he's currently a public radio reporter for more information visit trumanroadtrip.com.