Some Missouri politicians want to rename Union Station after Harry Truman. Bad idea.


Some members of Congress are proposing that Union Station be renamed after the president from Missouri, saying that he isn’t honored anywhere in Washington, but that’s untrue. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
John Kelly
Columnist May 20

I still call Reagan National Airport “National Airport.” And why wouldn’t I?

The original name bespoke the fact that the airport served the capital of the nation. It seemed odd to me to rename National after a man who, for the eight years he lived in Washington, didn’t even use the airport. (Air Force One lands at Andrews, remember?)

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

Then there’s the irony of naming an airport after the guy who broke the air traffic controller’s union. It’s like renaming Atlanta “Shermanville.”

And so we arrive at Union Station, which some people in Congress want to rename after another president. The entire text of S. 2308, introduced by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), reads:

(a) Designation — Union Station, located at 40 Massachusetts Ave. NE, Washington, DC, shall be known and designated as “Harry S. Truman Union Station.”

(b) References — Any reference in a law, map, regulation, document, paper, or other record of the United States to the facility referred to in subsection (a) shall be deemed to be a reference to the “Harry S. Truman Union Station.”

Well that’s just great. Let’s lengthen the perfectly good, 106-year-old name of a train station by 12 letters, two spaces and a period. (And don’t write to say that Truman didn’t use the period. He did. I closed the case on that in a column last year.)

This is another example of national politicians treating our city as a personal Erector set they can play with as they like.

As D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) put it: “Any name change should be made in collaboration and consultation with the residents and government of the District of Columbia.”

Supporters of the name change — including, sadly, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) — say that the 33rd president isn’t honored anywhere in Washington. That’s untrue. The State Department building is named after Truman.

They say Truman had a connection to Union Station. Um, sure, but so did plenty of other train-riding presidents. The famous “Dewey Defeats Truman” photo may have been snapped on the back of a train, but it was a train parked at Union Station in St. Louis, not Washington.

And when Truman did take the train from Washington, he often was driven by car out to the station in Silver Spring to wait for it in a less-crowded setting.

“I just don’ t see the fit,” said Jim Lilly, of the National Railway Historical Society’s Washington chapter. “I like the man. I don’t see the historical tie.”

I’d always assumed the name Union Station referred to the Union, that once-fragile bond among U.S. states that was strengthened by the Civil War. In fact, Jim said, it’s a bit of railroad company housekeeping.

In the days before Amtrak, multiple train lines would serve large cities, each one typically building its own station. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad had a station at New Jersey Avenue and C Street NW. The Baltimore & Potomac Railroad had one at what is now Sixth and Constitution NW. Union Station united those train lines under one barrel-vaulted roof.

Jim said Union Station has been the scene of many famous arrivals over the years. “It might be as appropriate to name it JohnPaulRingoGeorge Washington Union Station as to name it Harry S. Truman Washington Union Station,” he said.

If it’s going to have any link to the president from Missouri, Jim thinks it would be more appropriate to restore the station’s Presidential Waiting Area — until recently the location for a B. Smith’s restaurant — and name that after Truman.

Here’s my suggestion: Congress should keep its mitts off Union Station. If it wants to honor Truman, change the name of Blair House to Truman House. Blair House is the official guest house for foreign dignitaries. It has a real connection to Truman: He lived there from 1948 to 1952 while the White House underwent a massive renovation.

That would make sense. Of course, when has Congress ever cared about doing that?

Reunions

These area schools are reuniting in coming months:

Bethesda-Chevy Chase High Class of 1964 — Sept. 19-21. www.bcc64.com.

Bowie High Class of 1979 — July 25-27. Visit www.bowie1979.com or e-mail bowiebulldogs1979@yahoo.com.

Walter Johnson High Class of 1974 — July 19. Contact Leslie Broderson Williamowsky, 240-888-1274, or write P.O. Box #10304, Gaithersburg, MD 20898.

Langley High Class of 1974 — June 6-8. Contact Carol Kramer, 540-454-4750, or Remarkc4@gmail.com; or Betsy Heyward O’Reilly, 540-514-5331, or search “Langley High School Class of 1974” on Facebook.

Langley High Class of 1984 — Oct. 18. www.greatreunions.com.

James Madison High Class of 1969 — Sept. 27. www.facebook.com/jmhs69.

James Madison High Class of 1984 — Oct. 25. www.fivestarreunions.com.

Richard Montgomery High Class of 1979 — July 18 and 19. Contact Neil Levine at kateandneil@verizon.net.

Oxon Hill High Class of 1959 — July 18 and 19. Call Sandy Fletcher-Hanbury, 202-741-1691.

J.E.B. Stuart High Class of 1984 — Oct. 18. www.fivestarreunions.com.

Walt Whitman High Class of 1974 — July 3. E-mail Waltwhitman1974@yahoo.com.

T.C. Williams High Class of 1984 — Oct. 18. www.greatreunions.com.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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