Key West was Harry Truman’s Camp David.
One of the local papers recently made mention that he visited here 175 times during his Presidency. Obviously he enjoyed the sun and fishing. And perhaps an occasional drink at Sloppy Joe’s. Truman was known to enjoy a drink and playing cards.
As mentioned a few days ago, Key West is the home to the Little White House. The Little White House is where Truman resided those 175 days he was here. It is now on the National Registry and serves as a tourist attraction. If you are a history buff of any sort, visit it. You can feel and taste the history of the place.
Paths cross in life. Three times mine briefly connected with Truman’s.
The first time was in 1948. I was in the seventh grade. Major politics in those days was from the back of a train. There was no television and no airlines per se.
Truman was running against New York’s Governor Tom Dewey. Rather, Dewey was running against Truman. Truman was already President as a result of FDR’s death.
Truman was coming to Utica, NY to campaign. From the back of a train.
My friends and I rode our bicycles down to Union Station. Mobs of people. The President was coming!
Somehow we maneuvered our bikes through the crowd till we were stationed right in front of the rear platform. And there was President Truman speaking! Less than 3 feet away!
I really did not understand what he said. But I could sense it was a big deal!
The next time Truman was briefly a part of my life was when I was a senior at Syracuse University College of Law. It was 1960. Truman had been long retired from the Presidency.
Syracuse University in those days was a Democratic bastion. Truman was visiting the campus for some lecture purpose. He was going to be on campus for a few days.
At the time, there were 35,000 students at Syracuse. A big place.
The administration decided that twelve outstanding students would meet with the former President at a private luncheon. I was selected to represent the College of Law. I did not consider myself that special. However for whatever reason, the law school faculty decided I should go.
We were in a small room. Two round tables. I was fortunate to have been seated right next to the President.
A warm personal man. You would never know he had been touched with greatness.
Following lunch, he gave an informal talk. The history of it all was overwhelming. Even then I loved history and politics.
In the Presidential campaign of 1948, Truman was not a popular man. He was considered an inept man. It was expected that Dewey would slaughter him.
So confident were the political pundits of that day, that one of the major US newspapers published its election night headline and sent out the paper for distribution stating in bold letters that Dewey had won!
H. V. Calteborn was the nation’s leading radio commentator. Remember, no TV back then.
Caltenborn had a deep resonating voice. The whole world listened nightly to him. He went on the radio election night and announced also that Dewey had won!
Well, Dewey had not won! When all the votes were counted, Truman had defeated Dewey resoundingly!
Truman told that story to us at the luncheon. He also brought with him a tape of Caltenborn’s radio talk that night. Funny! Truman laughed deeply as he played it. Good for him, I thought.
We twelve students had the privilege of 3 great hours with a great man!
The third and final time my life briefly touched Truman’s was in the early 1960s when I opened my first law office. I wanted to hang a colored print of Truman in my new office. Search as I might, I could not find one any where to purchase. So I wrote a short simple letter to Truman. He was living in Independence, Missouri.
My letter was to the point. I made no mention of Syracuse University. I merely said I was a young lawyer opening my first office and wanted a colored print of him to hang. Did he know where I could find one?
Within two weeks I had his response. He sent me a hand written letter on letterhead. He said I could find no colored print because there were none. However he went to an old magazine of his and found a colored photo. He cut it out, signed it with best wishes and mailed it to me. He hoped it would do!
Would it! I framed the photo and hung it behind my chair. I still have it to this day.
As to hand written letter, I am ashamed to admit I do not know what happened to it. I should have framed the note also. But who knew things in those days!
It feels good to still have Truman in my life. Every time I walk by the Little White House, it takes me back to the seventh grade, law school and being that young lawyer. Good times! Good memories!