We thought we’d celebrate Independence Day by revisiting the very brief time in our history when a sitting president lived in Forest Hills. This piece originally published on May, 2012. Happy 4th!
It was Harry Truman who said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” Perhaps he got that idea from his neighbors at 4701 Connecticut Avenue.
A plaque at the Forest Hills apartment building commemorates President Truman’s time as a resident there while he was a senator from Missouri, and later, vice president under Franklin Delano Roosevelt. To this day, that building welcomes dogs. Truman did not have a dog, although he is known to have had friends (who were usually called “cronies” by the press).
On the afternoon of April 12, 1945, Vice President Truman was at the Senate playing poker with some of these men when he was summoned to the White House. He had been vice president since January 20, 1945, and was the typical vice president of that period. He didn’t have many duties. We would say today that he was “out of the loop.” He did, however, have a constitutional role presiding over the Senate and he spent a lot of time in his office there. When Truman arrived at the White House, he found a somber atmosphere. Eleanor Roosevelt was waiting for him. She told him that the president had died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Warm Springs, Georgia while sitting for a portrait. According to many historians, the shock Truman experienced and his lack of preparation for the highest office in the land was incredible.
White House staffers sent a car to pick up Bess and Margaret Truman at 4701 Connecticut Avenue while Harry called to alert them to the grim news. Within two hours of FDR’s death, Harry Truman was being sworn in as president of the United States by Chief Justice Harlan Stone in the presence of most Cabinet officers and his wife and daughter.
By 9 p.m., he returned to his apartment, exhausted and hungry. He ate dinner – a turkey sandwich and a glass of milk offered up by a neighbor – and went to bed. As David McCullough reports in his biography of Truman, there was no fanfare, no sirens, no crowds of people along the avenue, but “other residents, coming or going, some with dogs on leashes, were surprised to find reporters and Secret Service men standing about.”
To my knowledge, he is the only president who lived in Forest Hills while he held the office. How’s that for a famous neighbor?
Margery Elfin literally wrote the book on Forest Hills. The neighborhood history is available at Politics & Prose, and at P&P’s online bookstore.