Independence, Missouri: Americana at its Best by Terry Zinn

Independence, Missouri is best known as the home of President Harry S. Truman and for his presidential library – but Independence has so much more to offer. I was pleasantly surprised at the expertise of exhibits at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library with its documentation of his Presidency, the man, and most curiously an interactive exhibit where the tourist is put in the seat of presidential policy making. It’s a thought provoking experience weighing a presidential decision between personal values, political expediency and perhaps the wishes of the majority of the American public. Very rarely do all of these coincide to create a presidential decision with which all can be happy. It gives one pause to reflect on today’s Presidential decisions.
His home is also a must see, but you should be aware that even after buying your ticket in advance, as only a few are let in at any one time, that only the first floor is available for viewing, and that on a limited basis. And while my National Park Ranger was more than amenable and informative, the standing tour was a little understated, perhaps like the man who once lived here.
A covered wagon ride through the town with wagon master Ralph Goldsmith and his mules, Harry and Ed, is a fun experience, as you hear tales of the James Boys, other outlaws and the way of the West, as you pass through downtown and over parts of the old and disappearing Santa Fe Trail. Several levels of trail rides are offered so you may want to check out the website, call for reservations, or meet up with him at the intersection of Truman and Main.
An unexpected curiosity was viewed at Leila’s Hair Museum, at 1333 S. Noland Road, where a plethora of hair memorabilia, art and historical preservation is on view. Leila started in 1956 collecting these artifacts, which range from as early as 1680 to present day celebrities. Also in her collection are religious reliquaries, where tradition says they relate back to biblical times. Upon closer viewing the hair pieces are not as objectionable as one might think, and the variety of applications, from rings, to pendants, to family genealogy, all have their place in this expansive museum. There are over 400 wreaths and over 2,000 pieces of jewelry containing or made of human hair dating before 1900. And it doesn’t hurt to have the founder, Leila Cohoon, an accomplished hair dresser herself, show you with pride her collection.
On a lighter side, the Puppetry Institute will immerse you back to childhood the moment you step in the door. Not only is this a repository for all types of puppets through the ages, but is also a great place to bond with your youngsters, as there are
puppet making opportunities as well as puppet and marionette shows. My time was all to brief here, as I recalled a simpler childhood time, a time when you made up your own stories and activities through your childhood imagination. When you leave here you will feel ~ almost ~ like a kid again. The Puppetry Institute is a real fountain of youth. Traveling back to 1881 you can visit the Vaile Mansion at 1500 Liberty and also the Bingham-Waggoner Estate at 313 W Pacific, which are two historic homes that give you an idea of Independence’s earlier opulent time. The Vaile is particularly proud of its several stone fireplaces and its authentic colorfully painted walls. The Vaile Victorian Society host several events including: the Strawberry Festival in June, a Christmas Open House and a Spring event called: Unveiling the Vaile. The Bingham-Waggoner Estate has its treasures as well, including: an intricate large music box, a rare Currier and Ives mantle clock and many European paintings.
A stop at Ophelia’s restaurant is a charming and welcome respite from the shopping and exploring you can do around the town square. My steak and Yellow Cake Martini is a delectable memory. Across from the Courthouse, fine food and beverages are their pride and our joy.

And if you really want a sign post to history, a stop at the National Frontier Trails Museum, at 318 W. Pacific, will inform you about Independence as the Queen City of the Trails. The Santa Fe, Oregon and California Trails began in Independence. As you can tell there is a lot to do, learn and enjoy in Independence, Missouri.