Dennis Giangreco says he doesn’t much care whether Washington’s Union Station is renamed after Harry S. Truman. “I personally don’t have any opinion in the matter,” he told me.
But he does think he knows what Truman himself would have thought.
“I can picture him grimacing at hearing such a proposal, just a really pronounced grimace,” Dennis said.
And Dennis should know. He’s a historian and author from Lee’s Summit, Mo., and the co-author, with his wife, Kathryn Moore, of “Dear Harry . . . Truman’s Mailroom 1945-1953: The Truman Administration Through Correspondence with ‘Everyday Americans.’ ” He has read thousands of letters to and from the 33rd president.
When he became president, the good people of Missouri were understandably proud of Truman, the local boy who made good. Truman had occupied the Oval Office for barely a year when some fellow Show-Me staters eagerly suggested that he be honored in some fashion.
In 1946, the Independence Examiner proposed that a road in that Missouri city be redubbed “Truman Road.” Of course, it already had a name — Van Horn Road — and when Truman learned of the idea, he tried to nip it in the bud.
In a letter to the Examiner’s editor-publisher, William Southern Jr., Truman noted that when he was the top bureaucrat in Jackson County, Mo., “people wanted to name every road in the County for me and I wouldn’t allow it. The only place my name appears is on the new Courthouse in Kansas City and the remodeled one in Independence, along with other members of the Court and the Architects, in very inconspicuous places.”
In his next sentence, Truman made his opinion crystal clear: “I have no desire to have roads, bridges or buildings named after me.”
Truman’s been dead for almost 42 years so it’s hard to ask him what he’d think of Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D-Mo.) bill to graft his name onto our innocent train station.
“From everything I have read by him and about him — and especially by him — I think he would try and nix it,” Dennis said. “And he would do it quickly. That was usually his way of going about something like that. He tried to get at it quick before an idea would become too set.”
Dennis said he thinks Truman would have made an exception for one sort of building: schools, hundreds of which are named after him.
As for that road in Independence, Truman was unable to keep it from being named after him. “There are still old-timers out here that refer to is as Van Horn Road,” Dennis said. “That was not something that was well liked, even in Independence, Missouri.”
I know the feeling.
Boosters of the Union Station bill — such as co-sponsor Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and the District’s own Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) — point out that Truman isn’t honored anywhere in Washington. They’re wrong, of course. The State Department’s main building is named after Truman. And other places keep popping up.
Did you know that there’s a two-lane bowling alley in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building? Its name: the Harry S. Truman Bowling Alley. At Truman’s behest, a pair of 10-pin lanes were built in the White House in 1947, then moved in 1955 to what was then called the Executive Office Building.
Many Washingtonians know it as the Old Executive Office Building. In 1999, it was renamed the Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
Politicians just can’t leave well enough alone, can they?
These area high schools are among those reuniting in coming months.
DuVal High Class of 1969 — July 11 and 12. Contact Robin McKiel, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eastern High (Washington) Class of 1964 — Oct. 11. Call Shirley Clayton, 301-808-7305; or Jerri Minor, 301-499-3343; or visit www.easternclassof64.net.
Richard Montgomery High Class of 1979 — July 18-19. E-mail Neil Levine at 301-983-2994.
Theodore Roosevelt High Class of 1974 — Aug. 28-31. E-mail email@example.com.
T.C. Williams High Class of 1974 — Aug. 15 and 16. Visit www.tcwilliams74.com.
Charles W. Woodward High Class of 1978 — June 28. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Charles W. Woodward Class of 1978 Facebook group page.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.