You should be standing in front of 601 West Maple Street, the Bundschu house. It was built in the 1890s. Anton Bundschu was the owner of Bundschu's Department Store about four blocks east up on the town square. Bundschu’s was the largest department store in the city at the time. The Trumans, Gates, and Wallace families would have been among the many Independence residents who patronized Bundschu's Department Store. Anton’s son, Henry Bundschu, owned the house after his parents died. Henry was a long-time friend of Harry Truman. Doris Miller, Bess Truman’s hairdresser, referred to Henry Bundschu as the “most staunch Republican we had on our street.” But Doris remembered Mr. Truman and Mr. Bundschu sitting in her husband George’s barbershop together, leaving “arm-in-arm, going down the street” towards their homes “just a’ chatting.”
So this is another example of how all these people were connected. They knew each other, they worked together, they patronized each other’s businesses, their families had know each other for years – in fact, a bunch of them were related; Bess Truman’s sister-in-law, Natalie Wallace, was Henry Bundschu’s cousin. There was a real sense of continuity here that gave life a feeling of stability.
So, this is something to think about: Harry Truman was the president of the United States for almost eight full years. He and Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill made the decision as to what to do with Europe after World War II, Truman launched the Truman Doctrine, which kept Greece and Turkey out of the Soviet Union. He was the first world leader to recognize the new nation of Israel, he established the CIA and the Department of Defense and the Air Force. He dropped the atomic bomb. He led us to war in Korea, he fired General Douglas MacArthur. And he did more for civil rights than any president since Abraham Lincoln.
Having a home like Independence and knowing that stability still existed in a world like that might have given him a faith that, regardless of how chaotic things might seem, no matter how out of control the world might appear, there still were places and people and situations that one could count on. There were safe places. And if it could happen here, maybe it could happen in other places. Maybe Independence gave Harry Truman the faith to keep trying to make the world a better place rather than just give up on it, because, maybe, he might be able to actually do it.
Whether he was right about that, I don’t know. And it didn’t mean he thought every place in the world ought to be just like Independence, Missouri, either. The world’s full of different kinds of people and the lifestyle one group prefers may not be anything like what another group would prefer. But the idea that everyone might eventually live in a world where they felt safe and secure, he really seemed to believe.
Harry Truman was a practical idealist. Knowing that is kind of important if you’re trying to understand the kind of president he was. He knew the world wasn’t perfect and he knew it probably never would be, but still, it didn’t hurt to try to make it better. The “staunch Republican” Henry Bundschu once made the comment, “I used to say that Harry Truman lived around the corner from me; now there isn’t a day goes by that I don’t tell myself ‘you live around the corner from Harry Truman and don’t you ever forget it.’
Buildings and people weren’t the only touchstones Harry Truman had in on this block, though. This sounds kind of weird, but there was a tree he seemed particularly fond of. On his morning walks he’d always pass by and stop and look at. Go on west to the next stop at Number 611 West Maple.