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Florida's White House

The Little White House in Key West provided a respite for Truman and several other American presidents.
By Diana Lambdin Meyer

It’s a long way from his presidential library and museum in Independence, Mo., but the Little White House in Key West, Fla., reveals an unexpected side to the presidency of Harry S. Truman.

Harry Truman

Above: The first family enjoying the warm weather on the Little White House lawn in November 1948. U.S. Navy/Truman Library photo

Below: The Little White House, while open daily for tours, can also host official government functions and may close to the public with little notice. Bruce N. Meyer photo

building

Truman spent 175 days of his presidency here and often said that with the exception of his home in Independence, Key West and the Little White House were his favorite places in the world.

Running the nation and guiding the global recovery from World War II took its toll on Truman, and after 19 months in the Oval Office, he was sick and exhausted. His doctors suggested a warm weather destination for recovery and the Naval base on Key West was an ideal location.

The home that became the Little White House had been built in 1890 as Naval officer’s quarters. Inventor Thomas Edison and his family had an extended stay here, and before Truman arrived, President William Howard Taft had also vacationed here. Over the years, Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and William J. Clinton also have used the home for a vacation getaway. It is still considered a working facility for the government and the house must be ready for a presidential visit, or any other official function, at any moment. As a result, photos inside are not allowed.

But tours are offered every day, showing the original rattan furniture and a poker table where Truman, his staff, and visiting dignitaries spent many a late night. The staff and guests were also engaged in what Truman called “loud shirt contests,” basically an occasion for everyone to show off his most colorful tropical shirts. Some of those shirts are still on display.

In one of his many famous letters to Margaret, Truman wrote, “I have half a notion to move the Capitol to Key West and just stay.”

An interesting idea, to be sure, because at the Little White House, paradise and politics come together beautifully.

Diana Lambdin Meyer is a contributor from Parkville, Mo.

 

Nov/Dec 2012 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO

Discount tickets from $4.50–$15 are available online at www.trumanlittlewhitehouse.com

Because the Little White House is used for official government functions, it’s probably a good idea to call (305) 294-9911 ahead to be sure it’s open to the public on the day of your visit.

To visit Key West and the Little White House, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides. Click here for a list of offices to serve you. Visit AAA's Key West page for additional travel planning tools.


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