(Kansas City, Missouri) - His approval rating low and his own party disenchanted, Harry Truman had the look of a one-term president - unlikely to win a return to office - in the summer of 1948.
With ingenuity born of desperation, his aides hit upon a plan: Take to the rails, crisscrossing the country. Put Truman in front of as many voters as possible.
Philip White recounts the remarkable journey in Whistle Stop: How 31,000 Miles of Train Travel, 352 Speeches, and a Little Midwest Gumption Saved the Presidency of Harry Truman. A historian and guest lecturer at MidAmerica Nazarene University, he discusses the new book on Wednesday, November 5, 2014, at 6:30 p.m. at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.
Whistle Stop is the first book of its kind, a micro-history of the summer and fall of 1948 and the determined Truman's conversion to road warrior. Clark Clifford, one of his closest advisors, suffered a breakout of boils from the stress of the relentless travel and had nightmares about being stuck on the train for years afterwards. Reporters traveling in the press car complained of being jammed in like sardines.
The President also felt the strain, his throat quickly growing raw from the near-constant talking to advisors, to officials back in Washington and, of course, to the millions of voters he sought to sway with his folksy, endearing addresses from the train's rear platform. Between stations, his physician sprayed his throat to reduce swelling and soreness as Truman continued to speak from 6 a.m. (sometimes in his pajamas) until 11 p.m. or later, sometimes addressing 16 audiences before retiring for a few hours of sleep.
The trek ended, of course, with the grinning and victorious incumbent holding aloft the Chicago Tribune's famous election-night headline "Dewey Defeats Truman."
White is a frequent contributor to The Huffington Post. He spoke previously at the Library in March 2012 on his book Our Supreme Task: How Winston Churchill's Iron Curtain Speech Defined the Cold War Alliance.
Admission the event is free. RSVP at kclibrary.org or call 816.701.3407. Free parking is available in the Library District parking garage at 10th & Baltimore.