Grave Sightings: Harry Truman


Every time we so much as touch a toe out of state, I’ve put cemeteries on our travel itinerary. From garden-like expanses to overgrown boot hills, whether they’re the final resting places of the well-known but not that important or the important but not that well-known, I love them all. After realizing that there are a lot of taphophiles out there, I’m finally putting my archive of interesting tombstones to good use.

For a decade or so, if you wanted to meet Harry Truman, it wasn't hard to do. The 33rd president of the United States had his own working office on the premises of his presidential library in Independence, Missouri, and he used it nearly daily, including weekends, from the time it opened in 1957. He would often get to the building before his staff officially opened the doors for the day. Truman especially relished answering the phone, giving directions to tourists, and gleefully letting them know they had managed to get the "man himself." He also gave impromptu "press conferences" for visiting school groups. It's no surprise that Truman spent so much time there—he and his wife Bess lived just a mile down the road in the home her grandfather built, and the office there was basically just a desk in the second-floor hallway.

Mark Goebel, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Of course, Truman knew that his library would also someday be his final resting place—he walked by the courtyard location daily to get to his office, and personally chose it as his burial site. "I want to be out there so I can get up and walk to my office if I want to," he once said. In fact, he helped plan his own funeral, deemed "Operation Missouri," and quipped that he would be sorry to miss such a fine show. When he died on December 26, 1972, his family scaled back on the pomp and circumstance that had been planned, though his flag-draped coffin did lie in state in the lobby of the library.

Bess Truman's last official public appearance was at Harry's funeral, but she lived another 10 years, living in the same house until the day she died, even keeping her husband's coat hanging on the coat rack. (It's still there today.) She died of congestive heart failure in 1982 at the age of 97, which makes her, to this day, the longest-lived First Lady.

Also buried at the Truman library are Margaret Truman Daniel, the Trumans' only child, and her husband, Clifton Daniel. Margaret was famously close to her parents—when a critic wrote a scathing review of a concert Margaret gave, her father responded with a letter calling the reporter "an 'eight ulcer man on four ulcer pay,'" and threatened to give him a broken nose and a couple of black eyes should they ever meet.

Clifton Daniel was the managing editor of The New York Times and is known for helping to set a "writerly tone" for the newspaper.

By the way, the Missouri-in-March pictures make the grave sites look rather austere, but they're actually quite lovely when the flowers are in bloom.

Peruse all the entries in our Grave Sightings series here.

Photos by Stacy Conradt unless noted otherwise.