Kurt's Historic Sites

Truman 1

Harry S. Truman

Interment Location Visited Sequence in Graves I Have Visited
Independence, MO August 13, 2009 36th President visited; 16th Vice President visited

Photographed August 13, 2009.

It is typical in modern times for a late U.S. president to receive a lavish send-off that includes lying in state in the U.S. Capitol. There were plans to devote such pageantry to Harry S. Truman, but in the end he and former First Lady Bess Truman decided against a state funeral. Instead, far simpler services were held at Truman’s presidential library in his hometown of Independence, Missouri. The 33rd president was interred there on December 28, 1972, just two days after his death, “under overcast afternoon skies and in a cold Midwestern wind.”

The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum opened in July 1957, four years after the Democrat left the White House. While his health still allowed, the former president was a fixture at the facility. He greeted individual visitors and school groups, led tours, and reportedly was even known to answer the telephone. He had a work space in the building, and chose his burial site in the courtyard because of its proximity to it so, as he said, “I can get up and walk into my office if I want to.”

Photographed August 13, 2009.
Photographed August 13, 2009.

The love of Harry Truman’s life was Bess Wallace — there was never any one else. He first became enamored with her at Sunday School in 1890, when they were ages six and five, respectively. They became engaged in 1917, married in 1919, and were wed 53 years before they were parted by death. Bess Truman joined the former president in the courtyard in 1982, a decade after his own passing. She lived to be 97 years old, a record for a U.S. first lady. Her gravestone is on the left in the flowery plot, and Mr. Truman’s is on the right.

Harry Truman was an admirer of Andrew Jackson, his nineteenth century predecessor in the White House. “One thing I always liked about Jackson,” Truman wrote in his post-presidential memoirs, “was that he brought the basic issues into clear focus. People knew what he stood for and what he was against, and ‘the friends of General Jackson’ — as his supporters called themselves — always knew that he represented the interests of the common people of the United States.” Truman tried to emulate several of the attributes he saw in Jackson, but did not follow his lead on epitaphs. Whereas the first Democrat elected president has a minimalistic inscription on his grave, Harry’s is covered head-to-foot with his political and personal milestones.

Photographed August 13, 2009.
Photographed August 13, 2009.

My father and I perused the Truman Library on the morning of August 13, 2009. We spent the afternoon visiting other historic sites and graves in Missouri and then swung back to the museum in the evening. This nighttime return cemented the Truman gravesite as one of my all-time favorites. I am particularly fond of this image I took of a life-size sculpture of the 34th vice president presiding over the courtyard. The Eternal Flame of Freedom and its reflection were in a direct line between the statue and the Truman burial plot. The statue has since been relocated to the library lobby, but I will always treasure the serene scene as it was when my father and I visited in 2009.

Fast Facts

Born: May 8, 1884 in Lamar, Missouri

Spouse: Elizabeth Virginia Wallace Truman (m. 1919-1972)

Political Affiliation: Democratic Party

Vice Presidential Term: 1945 under Franklin D. Roosevelt

Presidential Term: 1945-1953

Vice President: Alben Barkley (1949-1953)

Died: December 26, 1972 in Kansas City, Missouri

Cause of Death: Lung Congestion; Organ Failure

Age: 88

Interment: Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, Independence, Missouri

"I have never been able to understand all the fuss some people make about government wanting to do something to improve and protect the health of the people. I usually find that those who are loudest in protesting against medical help by the federal government are those who do not need help. But the fact is that a large portion of our population cannot afford to pay for proper medical and hospital care."
- Harry S. Truman
in volume 2 of his post-presidential memoirs, published in 1956


Sources Consulted and Further Reading

Ayres, B. Drummond, Jr. “Truman Buried in Presidential Library Courtyard.” New York Times. December 29, 1972. https://www.nytimes.com/1972/12/29/archives/truman-buried-in-presidential-library-courtyard-truman-is-buried-in.html.

Engel, Jeffrey A. “Conclusion.” In Mourning the Presidents: Loss and Legacy in American Culture, edited by Lindsay M. Chervinsky and Matthew R. Costello, 293-304. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2023.

Harry S. Truman Library & Museum. “Use of the Period After the “S” in Harry S. Truman’s Name.” Accessed January 13, 2022. https://www.trumanlibrary.gov/education/trivia/use-of-period-after-s-truman-name.

Lamb, Brian and the staff of C-SPAN. Who’s Buried in Grant’s Tomb? A Tour of Presidential Gravesites. Rev. ed. New York: PublicAffairs, 2003.

Picone, Louis L. The President is Dead! The Extraordinary Stories of the Presidential Deaths, Final Days, Burials, and Beyond. Rev. ed. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2020.

Truman, Harry S. Years of Trial and Hope: 1946-1952. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1956.

“Updating Harry Truman’s Library: Interactive Features Enliven New Exhibits after Extensive Renovation.” Prologue 34, no. 1 (2002). Accessed January 13, 2022. https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2002/spring/truman-library-1.html.

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