Traveling with Truman


I like roads. I like to move.
~ Harry S. Truman

It’s one thing to write an interesting piece on a fascinating subject.  But a skilled raconteur can insert bits of flavor into a basic vanilla story and serve up a delicious treat. The subject of  Matthew Algeo’s Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure is a June 1953 road trip former president Harry Truman and his wife Bess made.  I love road trips with my husband—some of the best conversations of our marriage have occurred in the car—but the thought of spinning a tale out of a drive down the turnpike makes my eyes go to half-mast and my chin bob.

In David McCullough’s exhaustive biography, Truman, the 17 day vacation gets less than two pages of print. The most remarkable thing about their adventure is that the Trumans, in their late sixties, traveled without Secret Service protection. Harry drove and Bess made sure he didn’t break the 50-mile-per-hour speed limit. They wanted to go incognito, but it was a rare exception when they were not recognized and approached by the public.  

Fifty some years later, Algeo retraces their route, wherever possible eating at the same diners and staying at the same hotels. (His lack of success in getting the “book rate”—for well-deserving but penny-pinching authors—at the Waldorf prevented a duplication of Truman’s itinerary.)

Algeo inserts quirky sidebars into the narrative (e.g. the economy of Decatur, the history of seatbelts, how Richmond, Indiana, treated Martin Van Buren) and notes changes in the places visited.  What Algeo brings to this book is humor; it is a fun and interesting read about an obscure topic.

Walking back to the limosine after lunch, Truman was mobbed outside the Capitol by tourists who had come to see the sights, never expecting to see one in the flesh. They crowded close to him, jostling for position, begging for an autograph or a handshake or a snapshot. As was his policy, he patiently obliged every request. Once, when asked how he coped with such onslaughts, Truman laughed and said he tried to put himself in other people’s shoes and imagine how he would feel “if some supposed big shop high-hatted me.”

After visiting Matt Algeo’s blog—the tagline is “America’s leading source for Grover Cleveland news”— I discovered that he has written a new book, The President Is a Sick Man: Wherein the Supposedly Virtuous Grover Cleveland Survives a Secret Surgery at Sea and Vilifies the Courageous Newspaperman Who Dared Expose the Truth. Oh yes, I plan to read it.



2 thoughts on “Traveling with Truman

  1. This review reminds me that I should encourage my mother to write down her memories of a family road trip.  She references it often ~ obviously something she enjoyed much.

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