109. Around the Corner: William Chrisman High School

This is the old Chrisman High School. This building was opened back in 1918; that’s when the old Independence Central High became Palmer Junior High. In the late 1950s, the current William Chrisman High School, where the kids go now, was built and this one was no longer used. But Margaret Truman graduated from here in 1942. It was a short walk from home. This intimacy of church, school, home, business, community – all these parts of a person’s life – being within walking distance is not something we see so much anymore. Most folks have to drive to get to their church or their school or the store now. The people who lived in Independence at the time we’re talking about would have had many of the benefits of a small town, a very narrowly focused geographic space, a true sense of “being somewhere.” But the proximity of a large metropolitan area like Kansas City only about 10 miles west meant Independence was spared the limitations of small town isolation. Independence was a good place to grow up, and the Trumans didn’t want Margaret to miss that. Despite their efforts, however, it might have been inevitable that Margaret would move on. At age 10, she was the daughter of a US Senator. By 21, she was the daughter of the President of the United States. She was not yet thirty when her folks came back from the White House. Rather than return to Independence with them, Margaret moved on to New York City. She represented a new generation that did not seem to feel the deep roots of her parents, or at least not in exactly the same way. But even though Margaret might have wanted to live a faster life in New York, her parents, Harry and Bess, couldn’t wait to get back to their old life in Independence. They moved back to what was by then finally was know as the Truman home. A reporter asked Mr. Truman what the first thing he did after he got home was, and Harry replied, “I carried the grips [the suitcases] up to the attic.” He wouldn’t be needing those suitcases again any time soon. Retirement turned out not to be exactly what the Trumans hoped it would be, though, because, obviouly, Harry was now a former president of the United States and his house had become a tourist attraction. The best eye wittnesses to this change were the folks that lived right across the street from the Trumans. Walk on north along Delaware Street to 216 on the west side of the street.