With the number of presidential graves in my collection increasing, there was a
limited number of places for my father and me to visit in 2009. Figuring that we
might as well get the most out of our money, we opted to go to the Kansas-
Missouri area to get two presidents, Eisenhower and Truman. Funds for our trip
were low, so my paternal grandparents graciously gave us a monetary gift that
we used wisely and gratefully. My father and I flew into Kansas City International
Airport on the 10th, and upon retrieving our bags and the rental car, we were
off and on our way to Topeka. We were racing against time, as the Sun was
beginning to set and we were attempting to get to Vice President Curtis' grave
before the cemetery's gate closed. Twenty minutes before the Sun completely
vanished, we reached Topeka Cemetery and found the vice president's grave,
situated in the rear of the graveyard. Once we took our pictures, we headed
toward the center of the city, where the state capitol is located. Tours at the
building were finished for the day, though we were able to take a few decent
outdoor pictures, despite the dwindling light.
After grabbing a quick bite to eat, we drove to our motel in Abilene over
ninety miles away. Despite sporting the name America's "Best Value" Inn, it
most certainly wasn't. In all honesty the place looked like a deathtrap,
especially since there was an inch and a half space between the door and its
frame. Upon asking my father if he wanted the bed closer to or farther away
from the door, he replied that it depended if I wanted to die in silence or to his
death scream. I guess I chose silence, since I slept closer to the door. After
awaking in the morning and grabbing a quick breakfast, we drove to Ike's
presidential center, which was little over two miles away from our motel. Within
three hours, we had finished touring the president's childhood home, museum,
and library, leaving us with only the grave to visit.
When he passed away in 1969, President Eisenhower was interred at his
walked inside the chapel-like structure, we came upon a fence that separated
us from the deceased general, which we had anticipated. What we had not
anticipated, however, was the security camera aimed right at the fence, meant
to ward off wrongdoers. With the risk of being caught a reality, I was willing to
settle with pictures next to Eisenhower's wooden slab. However, my father set
his mind on persuading me to hop the barrier. He stated that no one was
around to see me do it, it was unlikely the security monitor was actually being
watched, and that I had no ill intent in going over the fence. In complete
disbelief that I was actually going through with it, I climbed over the metal
fence and crouched next to President Eisenhower's grave marker. Quickly
posing for two photographs, I climbed back over the fence, exited the Place of
Meditation, made some vital giftshop purchases, and left before we found out if
anyone saw us.
Following a return visit to Kansas' state capitol and a quick stop at the grave of
Satchel Paige, my father and I settled into our hotel in Independence, MO,
which was ten times better than our previous one. It was around 8 p.m. and
there was nothing else to do, so we chose to drive by the Harry S. Truman
Presidential Library and Museum. The building was impressive, perched on a hill
with a lovely view that contained none of the gas stations and chain restaurants
that were hidden behind several rows of trees. To our surprise, we were not the
only people walking around the closed building at night. Others, accompanied by
either their dogs or their skateboards, had found the grounds useful as well.
Before we knew it, we found ourselves traveling along the streets where Truman
himself walked, doing so until we reached his house at 219 North Delaware St.
Once we had our fill of fresh air for the night, we returned to the hotel and
prepared for the following day.
The next day, we arose and drove back to the library. Truman's museum was
more elaborate and interactive than the Eisenhower museum, as it was filled
with rooms that brought you back to war-ravaged Europe and put you on trial
for communism, several things that were dealt with during the Truman
administration. Exiting an exhibit about the Korean War, we walked into a room
called the Legacy Gallery, which contains plates of glass inscribed with messages
pertaining to the president's life. Passing by a statue of the former president, we
strode out a glass door and into the beautiful courtyard, where Mr. and Mrs.
Truman rest eternally. Luckily, there was no fence to climb this time, and I was
able to get right up next to President Truman's grave marker. We took our
pictures, viewed some more exhibits inside, and went on to visit some more
historic sites. While we departed the complex, we noticed that the museum was
open late that night, and we could get back in without having to pay admission
again. Hence, we decided to return that evening and view the courtyard in all its
splendor. Luckily, we did not run into the crazed teenager who was running
around with a rifle a few miles away. Thankfully, he was caught with the help of
some nuns, who newscasters said rode after him on a three-wheeled tractor.
Could this trip get any stranger?
We spent the duration of the afternoon visiting the graves of such notables as
the James' family home. Later, the two of us grabbed some ice cream at a drug
store where Truman once worked and headed back toward the museum.
Arriving twenty minutes before closing time, we were able to re-enter the
courtyard and visit the former president once more. Our return was well worth
it, as the American Legion Flame of Freedom appeared ten times as amazing as
it was during the day. In addition, we viewed President Truman's personal
office, which we had not had time to do earlier. When we had to be retrieved by
a museum guard we knew that it was time to go.
As we walked back to our rental car, it really hit me how close we were to
finishing off this quest. With two presidential burial sites left to visit, I realized
that its completion was within our grasp.