Re-enactor honors Trumans memory with his accurate portrayal
By Deborah Reinhardt
Johnson, an Independence resident, worked for 15 years at the museum as an archivist and oral historian. His knowledge of our 33rd president reaches as wide as one of Trumans grins. Soon after retirement in 1992, Johnson said he slipped into the impersonators role. He taught an evening history course in 1993 at Park University and dressed up as Truman for that. The same year, the Truman home in Independence hosted a book signing for author David McCollough (Truman) and Johnson made an appearance.
There I stood at the end of the driveway, he said. Mr. McCollough comes out of the limo and couldnt believe Harry Truman was there to greet him.
From this, appearances at the museum and library naturally flowed together, and gradually increased to several times a week during the summer, although hes not there each day. Johnson estimated that he has made 70-80 appearances in 2000 as Truman.
To prepare for these appearances, Johnson has read dozens of biographies and thousands of documents, much of the material from his days as an archivist. He fine tunes the stories and events that cover most of Trumans important moments for a 45-minute monologue.
Qualities of Trumans that Johnson said he admires were his honesty and integrity.
He had a sense of humor and wit, also, Johnson said. He had high ideals and a serious side.
I dont portray him as a cocky, cursing man you get out of the show, Give Em Hell, Harry. He actually was a modest man.
Johnson said he gets a lot of enthusiastic remarks about his performances, and sometimes, people will ask if he is related to Truman.
I say were related in spirit, Johnson said.
He hopes visitors to the museum might take some of Trumans wisdom back to their homes. The messages from the president to young people were especially important, Johnson said.
Study your history and find out how we got this republic, Johnson said. Then learn what it takes to keep it.
Also see: The buck stops in Independence