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Independence celebrates President Harry Truman's legacy with new statue, photo exhibit

Byron Constance
Harry Truman
Posted at 2:43 PM, May 05, 2024

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — The city of Independence, Missouri, celebrated President Harry S. Truman's 140th birthday on Saturday with a new statue, free photo exhibit and other events.

Truman is a hometown hero for Independence residents; he grew up just blocks from downtown Independence and retired there after his presidency.

He was known by fellow residents as not just a president but a friendly neighbor.

“Harry Truman loved the city he was from; he definitely claimed Independence. He liked to say that it was the center of the universe, for him," said Jeff Rogers, executive director of the Independence Square Association.

Truman loved Independence and the community loved him back.

Artist Byron Constance has contributed to the respect the city has shown for Truman by sculpting two public art displays of him — but with a twist. Neither of his sculptures are of Truman during his presidency.

The sculpture unveiled Saturday — which will most likely be officially installed outside Clinton's Soda Fountain in 2025 — captures Truman as a 14-year-old at his first job at what was Clinton's Pharmacy in 1898. It's titled "Boyhood Truman."

Rogers said Truman helped clean the pharmacy and left the job after only a few months because his father wanted him to pay more attention to school.

Harry truman statue
"Boyhood Truman" by Byron Constance sits outside Clinton's Soda Fountain in Independence, Missouri, on May 4, 2024.

“As far as I can tell, no one has ever created a statue of him at this age," Constance said. "In fact, we’re trying as much as possible to create other statues around the square which identify him at different times in his life, not just during the presidency.”

His other sculpture depicts Truman when he served as a captain in WWI.

Screenshot 2024-05-04 at 8.24.14 PM.png
A sculpture by Byron Constance of Harry S. Truman as a captain in WWI.

Constance said "Boyhood Truman" — which took nine months to complete — is unique because of how it will be installed.

“It’s at ground level so that children and other visitors can be close enough to identify with it. They can reach out and touch it, kids can look at it eye to eye," he said.

As an Independence resident, Constance said he met Truman on multiple occasions, both in formal and informal settings.

“I first met him just a few weeks after the Truman Library opened and was introduced to him in his new office there," he said while sitting outside Clinton's Soda Fountain in downtown Independence. "But when I was introduced to him, it almost felt like he had suddenly found his long-lost son. He was very personable, very affable, very outgoing.

“Over the years after that, we encountered each other when we attended the same barber shop, which was just a few blocks down the street from here, and it was a great privilege for a young lawyer to be able to exchange a few words with him in that kind of an informal setting."

Constance, a former lawyer who began practicing art later in life, said it never occurred to him that he would be making the art he is making now.

“Personally, it’s a great privilege to be able to honor a man who, in my opinion, was one of the greatest who ever lived, the man from Independence, and we’re proud of him and we want people to continue to remember him," he said.

In addition to the sculpture, the city celebrated Truman with a free photo exhibit that tells the stories of Independence Square's historic buildings.

Jeff Rogers
Jeff Rogers, executive director of the Independence Square Association.

"President Truman, being our favorite son from Independence, we link all of the interactions he had with our buildings with the people here and make sure that we preserve those stories, those interactions with those locations," Rogers said.

Truman was known to take walks around downtown Independence and interact with the community.

“There’s so many stories of the connection between the buildings that he would go into, the shops," Rogers said.

The exhibit will be housed inside Pharaoh Cinema until Aug. 31.