It is January 20, inauguration day. The outgoing US President if flanked by Secret Service agents. He is escorted to Marine One, the presidential helicopter, and with tight security and a watching press, he returns home. He will receive a very large pension, support staff, office space, travel funds, mailing privileges and a security detail. It has not, however, always been this way.
Harry Truman left office in January 1953, without any of these perks. He returned to Independence, Missouri, and to what he hoped would be a private life. Many lucrative offers for speaking engagements and endorsements were made to Truman, but he rejected them, refusing to do what he felt would ‘commercialize’ the presidency.
Early that summer he bought a 1953 Chrysler and he and his wife Bess, along with millions of other Americans, took a road trip. They drove from Independence to Washington, DC, then on to New York, to visit their daughter Margaret. They believed that they could travel “incognito.” It only took a few hours for them to realize how impossible that was! Along the way they caused a sensation at almost every diner and filling station at which they stopped.
Public radio reporter Matthew Algeo has traced the Truman’s route as much as possible, and visited many of the same stops they made. He chronicles this unlikely excursion in delightful prose. In addition to a detailed itinerary, Algeo also provides many interesting side trips, both press and government reactions to the trip, and interviews with a variety of people who met the Trumans that summer. This includs a highway patrolman who stopped the former president for driving too slowly in the fast lane.
This is a wonderful tale of a few weeks in the life of a former president. It also provides an intimate peak at Harry and Bess Truman’s very private and devoted marriage.
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