History is told from the Little White House from the exact wallpaper, drapes and even desk of President Harry Truman. Within the walls of the building the president made some of the biggest decisions of any president in U.S. History.
“In 1946 Truman was basically running the country by himself with no Vice President because President Roosevelt had died,” said Harry S. Truman Little White House Museum Executive Director Robert Wolz.
A secluded paradise with no press or politicians was in the hunt for Truman so he could effectively do his duty with the least distractions. He tried the Bahamas but got too seasick. That’s when Admiral Chester Nimitz suggested the Commodores House at the Navy Base that was currently unoccupied. He stayed for a brief visit and came back again with a huge staff ready to do White House business in Key West.
Wolz started the foundation of preserving the history of the building seven years ago and has raised $1.5 million since founding it. The State is the homes landlord and they give no money to the foundation. Restoration is an ongoing project, painting and maintaining the structure. But the most labor-intensive part of the whole operation is finding the original décor from photos to put inside the building.
“Scientists came and did a paint analysis to find the exact paint on the walls when President Truman was here,” said Wolz. “They identified every layer back to 1870.”
Wolz and his staff piece together the historic furnishings like restoring an old car. Finding the exact everything. Some of the artifacts may never be found but more has been found than not, he believes because there is an angel looking after the building.
“We thought the original paintings in the home were stolen because the house was unoccupied from 1974-1986 … they were actually loaned and we found them in the Naval Academy in Annapolis,” he said. “They made exact replicas that are color balanced and life-sized.”
That is just one example. The same company did the frames for the paintings as well. When a tourist to the building noticed the “cheap” frames and apprehended Wolz she said her family manufactured the picture frames and had them manufactured. Wallpaper took a few years to make sure the copyright infringement issue was ok’d and a company made the exact print. Even the fabric for the drapes was tracked down and put in the house.
A few of the furnishings are original. The cushions on the outside porch or better known as “Mrs. Truman sitting area” are the same. President Truman’s desk, the beds and even the presidential piano are from when he stayed there.
“Bobby Nesbitt plays the presidential piano during events and we keep in tuned,” said Special Events Director Paul Hilson.
Presidents have the same draw to the building Truman did. President Jimmy Carter visited the house in 1996 and 1997 and Bill Clinton did most recently in 2005. During that time Hilary Clinton was campaigning and Wolz had an hour with Clinton, sharing some of the most intimate moments of Truman’s time in the building he found while doing research on the book he wrote about the president.
“Clinton asked about what exactly happened when Truman created Israel at the end of WWII,” said Wolz.
His book is called “Presidents in Paradise, The Legacy of the Harry S. Truman Little White House” and is for sale at the museum’s gift shop. There are always fundraisers and events going on. For a full list go to their website, www.trumanlittlewhitehouse.com.