President Truman's footprints back on proud display in Nashville

jshaffer@newsobserver.comOctober 22, 2013 

The restored version of former President Harry S Truman’s footprints were unveiled Monday.

JOSH SHAFFER — jshaffer@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

  • Trace Truman’s footsteps

    Harry S. Truman became president in 1945 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt died during his fourth term. He was re-elected president in 1948 and served until 1953. His footprints can be viewed at the Superior Court of Nash County, which stands at 234 W. Washington St. in Nashville, about 45 miles east of Raleigh.

— In October 1960, President Harry S. Truman swung through the farming town of Nashville as the star of its Harvest Day parade – his hair turned whiter and belly grown rounder since his days in the White House.

He mingled with Boy Scouts and Jaycees. He posed for pictures with Gov. Luther Hodges and soon-to-be Gov. Terry Sanford. He spoke from the courthouse steps on the eve of Election Day, giving the crowd a good helping of the give-’em-hell zingers that made his reputation – all of them aimed at Republicans.

Then, before he left, Truman stepped into a square of wet cement, giving Nashville a permanent memento. His presidential footprints lay in a corner of the courthouse lawn, where the decades passed and dirt accumulated. By the time anybody remembered Truman’s souvenir, it had faded, crumbled and almost disappeared.

But on Monday, the town unveiled a restored version of Truman’s tootsies, which appear to take roughly a size 9 shoe. They grace the entrance to the courthouse in a glass case, the white feet outlined by a new coat of liquid sand. Two living presidents, George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush, sent their regards.

“Do they look presidential?” asked Nash County Superior Court Clerk Rachel Joyner, who witnessed Truman’s visit. “I’m so overwhelmed today I can hardly speak.”

Nashville doesn’t draw many ex-presidents in modern times, when its population stands at roughly 5,300 people. But 53 years ago, the Nash County town would have chiseled a statue if Truman had stood still long enough. In calmer years, barbecue and Brunswick stew were otherwise the biggest draw.

He came largely thanks to Rep. Harold Cooley, a Nashville native who served in the U.S. House from 1934 to 1967, holding the chair of the Agriculture Committee longer than any other member in history.

“He and Truman worked together on a lot of things internationally, using agriculture as leverage,” said Harold Cooley II, the congressman’s grandson. “He used to say you can have all the money you want, but if you don’t have food it doesn’t make a difference.”

Stumping for Kennedy

While in North Carolina, Truman stumped hard for then-Sen. John F. Kennedy, advising the crowd to disregard his Catholic faith and vote the straight Democratic ticket that November. He addressed citizens of a far different political stripe.

“You are fortunate enough to have so few Republicans down here that perhaps you never find out altogether just how bad they are,” Truman said.

At the dedication ceremony Monday, Attorney General Roy Cooper recalled that his father served as president of the Nashville Jaycees who sponsored the parade, and that he held the arm during the footprint-making.

Reading from a Nashville newspaper of the time, Cooper laughed at the ex-president’s response: “I have to put my feet in that?”

Thus immortalized, Truman retired to Cooley’s farm for lunch, where he played piano and sat the congressman’s 6-year-old granddaughter, Madeline, on his lap. Soon, he flew off to Virginia, bound for another event and another speech.

But he left a trace of himself behind, a reminder to Nashville that presidents and governors put on their shoes in the morning just like everybody else. And if you press those in cement, be sure to put down a protective sheet of plastic – just like they did for Harry.

Shaffer: 919-829-4818

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