Happy Birthday to Tru!

May 8, 2008 at 5:37 pm

In the world of biological impossibility, Harry S. Truman would be 124 years old today. He was also the first -- and remains the only -- president from the great state of Missouri. In celebration, some government offices, like the DMV, have shut down for the day.

Attababy, Harry, give 'em hell in Heaven!
Attababy, Harry, give 'em hell in Heaven!

Attababy, Harry, give 'em hell in Heaven!
It's true that Truman belongs more to the western half of the state -- he spent most of his life in and around Independence -- and if St. Louis were claiming a hometown president by proximity, we might do better to go with Abraham Lincoln; Springfield, Illinois is only 90 miles from here as the crow flies. But that Mississippi River makes all the difference. (Truman, incidentally, was the second president born west of the big river, and given that Herbert Hoover was the first, he's the first worth mentioning.)

Besides, Harry Truman was pretty damn cool.

For a complete catalogue of his coolness, read David McCullough's Truman, probably the definitive work on the man. (Imagine how much headway we could make if all Missourians had the day off.) Despite its 900 pages, it's a terrific read, but since it weighs in at about five pounds, those of you with weaker arms can check out the highlights here, at the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum.

Among them:

Truman's withering putdown of a U.S. Army officer who volunteered to procure him some female companionship during the Potsdam Conference in 1945: "Listen, son, I married my sweetheart. She doesn't run around on me and I don't run around on her and I want that understood. Don't ever mention that kind of stuff to me again."

Truman's claim that, had he persisted with his piano lessons, he would have ended up as a piano player in a whorehouse.

His threat to give a black eye to the Washington Post music critic who wrote an unfavorable review of a concert given by his daughter Margaret.

The guiding principle: "The buck stops here."

-Aimee Levitt