KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There is light at the end of the tunnel for Clay Bauske. He is the curator of the museum at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri. Construction crews have nearly finished a $30 million renovation of the library and museum.
“This is the most dramatic and largest and most extensive renovation of the library museum since it was first opened in 1957,” Bauske said.
41 Action News toured the facility with Bauske Friday. When the library reopens, visitors will notice a new entrance on the east side of the building.
The new lobby directs visitors toward the beginning of the exhibits which tell the story of Harry S. Truman, beginning with the moment he became president.
Renovations served several purposes: to make the exhibits more high-tech, improve guest amenities and the flow of foot traffic, add more historical context to Truman’s legacy, and incorporate new artifacts, like love letters Bess Truman wrote to her husband.
“We just hope to spark an interest in our new visitors once we open the museum,” Bauske said.
Also on the tour Friday was author AJ Baime, who just published a book titled “Dewey Defeats Truman,” a play on the well-known picture of Truman holding a newspaper with the same headline after he, in fact, defeated Tom Dewey in the 1948 presidential election.
“You can just see what’s going to happen here is magical. This is a place people come to feel and experience our nation’s history tangibly,” Baime said.
The author also wrote “The Accidental President” profiling Truman’s road to the presidency. He said much of what the United States is experiencing today, was the same in the 1948 election.
“The whole idea Moscow was going to interfere with the election. The idea there would be a surge in white supremacy, a surge in Black protests. None of that, while I was researching the book, could I have realized how relevant all of that would be right now,” Baime said.
He hopes visitors to the museum see the parallels and understand how history has a way of repeating itself.
The renovated museum features all sorts of videos, touch screens, and interactive items like a beam from the White House removed during a renovation while Truman was in office and a cannon from World War I (in which Truman served) have prominent places in the gallery.
While Bauske anticipates crews will need six more weeks to complete the renovations, there is no date yet on opening the museum to the public.
The National Archives and Records Administration is keeping all presidential libraries closed for now because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Truman Library Institute is raising money to pay for the renovations. A spokesperson said the nonprofit is just over $1 million short of its $30 million goal. To donate, click here.