I journeyed to Kansas City in October. I have traveled there before to visit the World War I museum, which is an amazing piece of architecture and a spectacular museum. On this trip, I wanted to visit three museums, two I had not seen and one I wanted to revisit.
The TWA Museum entrance is unassuming as you enter the Signature Air Service at the Wheeler Downtown Airport in Kansas City. Volunteers and former employees of the airline run this museum. I had the pleasure of meeting Judy Gerling, a former flight attendant with 23 years in service, and John Coleman, a pilot who served from 1966-1992.
Engaging and knowledgeable, it was evident that Judy and John were the real deal. Judy explained her journey of becoming a hostess and flight attendant. She was delightful as she told the stories of the passengers she had served. John’s flight knowledge was extraordinary as he described the flight controls on the simulators and the details about the planes he flew. It is these types of individuals that make a visit memorable.
Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart were instrumental in the start of the airline. TWA was based in Kansas City beginning in 1931. The museum is housed in what was the original headquarters until 1972. Howard Hughes, passionate about aviation, controlled TWA from 1939-1960 and led the airline to many aviation firsts. including bringing the airline into the jet age. In December 2001, TWA was acquired by American Airlines.
TWA began its inflight services in 1935 with women who served as ‘hostesses’ but were also nurses. The airline believed this would encourage passengers to feel that TWA excelled in safety and hospitality. This would be TWA’s mainstay. By 1960, the airline was flying the Boeing 707 and competing with other airlines.
The early uniforms for the ‘hostesses’ were businesslike. In 1969, a lot of colors were added to the uniforms. In 1972, men became flight attendants and added another dimension to the ensemble, and in 1978 Ralph Lauren designed the uniforms and transitioned to a more uniform look. American Airlines and United Airlines were TWA’s chief competitors at that time. The museum presents an excellent history of how airline uniforms have changed.
The museum has a memorial room for those lost on TWA flights. Flight 800, a 747-crashed in the Atlantic on July 19, 1996, on its way to JFK airport. All 230 were lost. The cause was ruled to be a short circuit in the fuel tank. This led to changes in fueling procedures and the passing of the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act to coordinate victims’ family assistance after a fatal crash.
The museum has a Lockheed Electra in the hangar, the ‘Spirit of TWA,’ similar to the one flown by Amelia Earhart. The only difference is in the engines. It was a donation to the museum.
Employees have donated priceless artifacts to the museum that tell the airline’s story from their point of view. Visitors will also find items from the TWA Ambassador clubs, the flight room where pilots were trained, a cabin flight mock-up trainer for the flight attendants, and furniture from Howard Hughes’ office.
The TWA museum is a must-go for aviation enthusiasts and those interested in history. The museum is on track for expansion in the near future. They are open Wednesday-Saturday from 10-4.
The ARABIA STEAMSHIP MUSEUM
The story of the Arabia Steamship dates to the mid-1800s. The museum focuses on a local family story, the recovery of the steamship from a cornfield by the Hawley family found and recovered all the items from the Steamship Arabia from 1856 when it sank in the Missouri River. The museum stands as a lasting symbol of endurance and ingenuity in finding this wreck because much of the technology they used to find the Arabia didn’t exist when they started the search in 1986.
The Arabia sank on the Missouri River on September 5, 1856. It went down quickly, but the passengers and crew survived. The only casualty was a mule. The wreck wouldn’t be revealed until November 26, 1988, after 130 years by a team of five men who had decided to find a treasure. These five men heard the story of the Arabia from a local treasure hunter and decided to change their lives while sitting at a booth at the Hi Boy Restaurant in Independence. They were going to find the boat!
The cargo tells the story of an 1856 frontier town. The items needed in the new west. Anything you can imagine would be needed in a frontier town, from hammers and nails to glasses and shoes. will be found here.
While they could not preserve the entire ship, they managed to bring up all its cargo, the boilers, the paddlewheel, and the steering mechanism.
I spoke briefly with Matt Hawley, son of David Hawley, the museum director. Thanks to Matt’s video and promotion work, the Arabia story continues. The museum will be relocating in the next couple of years due to lease terms and the need for more space. What is on display is only about half of what was recovered from the ship.
On to the next one…
The next ship they want to recover is the Malta, buried some 90 miles east of Kansas City. They won’t stop there. There are many other boats to find.
This unique museum is well worth your time. Check out Matt’s Arabia YouTube channel, where you can learn about all things Arabia.
HARRY TRUMAN PRESIDENTIAL LIBARY AND MUSEUM
I first visited the Truman Library in 2017 and was so impressed with President Truman’s story. Since that visit, the library has undergone a multimillion-dollar renovation. You walk through Truman’s life, both personal and political.
Harry and Bess were avid letter writers. The library has a large display of their letters. Letter writing is undoubtedly a lost art today with our need for immediate information. Back then, we looked forward to a letter’s arrival.
Truman took office in a turbulent time. As Vice President to FDR, he was sworn in immediately when FDR died suddenly while at the Little White House in Warm Spring, GA, in 1945. The county was in the middle of a global conflict.
Truman would make the fateful decision on how to end World War II. Then with the devastation in Europe, those countries would need massive aid. Communism was on the rise around the world, and in 1950 he had another global conflict on his hands in Korea. As a veteran of World War I, Truman understood the soldier’s plight.
The videos engaged me immediately, and the thing that caught my eye and ear was the Truman grandchildren’s use to narrate the videos in the museum. Learning the story that his grandsons had been unaware that their grandfather had been president until they were told about it in school. That is a tribute to the humbleness of Harry Truman.
One story I did not know about was the attempted assassination of Truman in 1950. It wasn’t publicized, but you will find the story and weapon used here.
There are many more artifacts on display in the museum. You will leave about the restoration of the White House and Harry’s time spent at the Truman’s Little White House in Key West, Florida.
The library provides a deep dive into Truman’s good and bad decisions. Having visited all Thirteen Presidential Libraries, the Truman Library is in my top three. Truman’s life and presidential tenure was dedicated to the service of the country and his long-abiding humility of self.
The Truman residence is not far from the Truman Library, where Harry and Bess lived most of their lives in Independence. It is a large house on the corner lot. The National Park Service provides daily tours. Harry and Bess had returned there after Dwight Eisenhower defeated Harry for the presidency in 1954.
In 1954, there was no presidential pension, so they lived on Harry’s World War One pension of about hundred and fifteen dollars a month. Harry was offered positions that would pay him well, but he declined them all. In 1958, Congress passed the Former Presidents Act, which stated that former presidents would be paid $25,000 a year at that time. That amount has increased over the years.
Harry died in 1972, and the house remains as when Bess Truman died in October 1982.
In Independence, visitors can follow the “Truman Trail,” which includes many sites around the town. The courthouse where Harry served as a judge and the church where Harry and Bess were married. It makes for a fun afternoon of exploring downtown Independence. Be sure to see the courthouse and take the history tour. it’s a great history lesson on Truman.
Please see my posts on other Presidential Libraries here.