Unlike the Truman Library, which has been closed for a year for renovations, the pandemic has kept visitors from Independence’s other significant presidential attraction, the Harry S Truman National Historic Site.
The house at 219 N. Delaware St. in Independence, the Visitors Center on the Square and the Farm Home in Grandview have been closed to visitors since mid-March, though the farm grounds are open.
But for Program Manager Doug Richardson, site Supervisor Carol Dage and the rest of the staff, that hasn’t meant months of downtime.
"We’re sort of right now in a stewardship mode," said Richardson, who’s been working from home since March. "Some things continue as normal, like administrative duties, and we help out with inventory of artifacts, curating them and taking care of them. That’s one of the most fun things we do."
He and other staff members have taken the time that otherwise would have gone to tourists and devoted it to research, in addition to staying active on social media. Richardson said the learning curve with education and interpretation the past few months exceeds anything he’s experienced in 27 years of work.
"In many ways it’s exhilarating," he said. "Having moved to the online experience, I’m just flabbergasted that we’ve had people watching from multiple states and even outside the United States. It’s created a new paradigm for us."
"We’ve had a number of important, solemn things planned for the 75th anniversary (of Truman’s first year as president), and we’re reaching people around the world."
For interpreters and park rangers, he said, it’s always exciting to have a new group of people outside the home.
"But if there’s a downside to it, we don’t get a whole lot of time to read and study and latest in Truman-ology, and the last few months we’ve had an opportunity to do that," Richardson said. "We’re looking at trends and what do visitors wish to see. That’s one of the things we’re chewing on."
It’s important to remember, he added, that the Truman Historic Site is reaching a different audience than when it opened in 1984.
Richardson said a couple infrastructure improvements are still planned regardless of the pandemic: restoring the driveway at the Delaware Street house, installing some ultraviolet light barriers in some areas of the home to avoid the sun bleaching them out more, and replacing the roof on the Farm Home in Grandview.
Hopefully, those projects will start by the end of the federal fiscal year in September. The Delaware Street driveway was first paved at the end of Truman’s presidency, Richardson said.
"That’s going to be a fun one," Richardson said. "Harry Truman, the old road overseer, had it converted from gravel, and I guess there was some issue (then) with the thickness of pavement."
The Park Service estimated the Truman Historic Site had about 28,000 visitors in 2019, Richardson said, and he says it would have hosted about as many this year. Working with the Jackson County Historical Society, the historic site had continued to promote itself as an attraction outside of the Truman Library’s renovation, and if nothing else, Richardson said, they possibly could have picked some visitors who were unaware the library has been closed.
He’s hoping that when the library renovation is complete in the fall, the Park Service will be able to capture some of the hoopla, even if some public health restrictions remain.
"I am still anticipating that when the library opens, there will be an excitement we haven’t seen here since the president’s centennial," Richardson said. "We’re hoping, fingers crossed, that COVID-19 is in the rear view mirror."