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Two Years And $29 Million Later, The Truman Presidential Library Reopens Its Doors

On either side of the passage to a post-World War II exhibit are displays about Japan's surrender. A globe washed in blue light sits in the middle of the exhibit. On the globe play films about the challenges facing Truman after the war.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Coming out of a World War II exhibit at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, visitors view an interactive exhibit titled "The Hard Problem of Peace." The fractured globe symbolizes Truman's challenges in helping to remake the world after the war.

After nearly two years and $29 million in renovations, the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum is back open for business.

The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum just got a major $29 million dollar facelift and, after two years, is finally reopening for business. As of today, visitors will be able to revisit an iconic Kansas City-area institution, now dressed up with modern exhibits, new artifacts and interactive displays.

Truman Library director Kurt Graham was giddy with excitement as he spoke about the facelift on KCUR’s Up to Date.

“The Kansas City community came through big time, and we're just so thrilled with the results,” Graham said.

The 65-year old presidential library is unrecognizable from what stood there before. Except for a model of Truman’s Oval Office and the old Thomas Hart Benton mural that graced the entrance, the old museum has been completely demolished.

Exhibits now direct traffic through a more coherent chronology of Truman’s life and presidency than was the case before.

For one of the exhibits — a column of Truman’s correspondence — curators pulled thousands of letters Truman wrote to his wife, Bess, that illuminate their relationship. Another exhibit features pictures of Truman with African American soldiers, along with pictures of troops, newly integrated under Truman’s presidency, serving in Korea.

Library staff say they worked hard to bring the exhibit to a 21st-century audience and represent every demographic. Tammy Williams, an archivist at the library, told Up to Date they curated the museum so people can see themselves in the exhibits.

Williams said her favorite artifact is the uniform of a nurse who served in Korea.

“Women served in Korea too,” she said.

Notably, the exhibits steer clear of hagiography. Mark Adams, the library’s education director and webmaster, said the library was frank about Truman’s more controversial decisions.

“We were praised before for having a more balanced approach. And I think we’ve done that again," Adams said.

In one World War II exhibit, a flock of origami cranes is displayed against the safety plug pulled from the “Fat Man,” the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945 on Truman’s order. One of the cranes was folded by a 12-year-old victim of the bomb’s radiation who later developed cancer. The others were folded by Kansas City-area students in her honor.

“When you come here and you stand at that case, you will never be closer to the birth of nuclear warfare than standing in front of that plug,” Graham said.

In the Korean War exhibit, a purple heart medal is displayed next to a heartfelt letter criticizing Truman. Adams said Truman kept the letter for the rest of his life.

“The reason we're the best library in the system is because we have the best legacy," Graham said. "It's because of Harry Truman."

Jamie Jiang is a news intern for KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @jambojiang
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