Harry S. Truman, the 33rd President of the United States, visited the State of Washington several times. Those occasions resulted in good stories and the enrichment of the Truman legend.
Truman was not your everyday type of President. Truman had been a U.S. Senator from Missouri, and a graduate of the powerful Kansas City political machine. He was placed on Franklin Roosevelt’s fourth-term ticket as Vice President precisely because he seemed innocuous and therefore wouldn’t rock the political boat.
FDR’s death suddenly raised Truman to international prominence. He took firm control of the national government and successfully carried out the European and Pacific World War II efforts, including the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan. The feisty personality of Harry Truman would later emerge on the public stage.
While staying at Seattle’s Olympic Hotel in the late 1940s, Truman told a small group of fellow bourbon-sippers that he had a recent operation resulting in the removal of some of his intestines. Savoring the attention, Truman then told listeners that his doctor declared: “You’ve got too much guts anyway.”
During the turbulent 1948 presidential election, his first run as the Democrats’ standard-bearer, he played to a full house at the old Metropolitan Theatre — now the University Street entrance to the Four Seasons Olympic Hotel. While laying out his program in free-swinging Missouri fashion, an excited member of the audience suddenly hollered: “Give ’em hell, Harry.” Truman stopped, looked at the audience and said that he didn’t give anyone hell, he just told the truth and his opponents thought it was hell. The statement “Give ’em hell, Harry” was reported on the wire services, later becoming the title of a Truman biography.
And here’s a local Truman fish story: A Puget Sound fishing guide who had a reputation for both drinking and verbal exaggeration was hired to take Truman salmon fishing. Also aboard the boat was U.S. Sen. Warren G. Magnuson and Washington Gov. Mon C. Wallgren. The day wore into evening and when the hard-working guide got home his wife immediately accused him of stopping off for a round or two. Vehemently denying her claim, the tired fellow explained that, indeed, he had worked very hard for paying customers: the state’s Governor, U.S. Senator, and the President of the United States. “That settles it,” his wife declared. “You’ve been drinking,” and she left the room.
In the mid-1950s retired Harry S. Truman came west to raise money for his presidential library in Independence, Missouri. After the usual speeches, the gala affair at the Washington Athletic Club included local Native dances provided by members of the Swinomish Tribe near La Conner, Washington. At the dance’s end, a chief of the tribe welcomed Truman and noted that the former president’s middle initial “S” didn’t stand for anything (which was true). The chief then proclaimed that henceforth and forever, Mr. Truman would be known as Harry Swinomish Truman. With a wide grin, Truman acknowledged the gift and said he was delighted to accept the new name.
Another Truman legend.