Honeymoon in Key West, Part 3: Truman’s Little White House

November 19, 2023

Truman’s Little White House

When we were planning our trip initially, this was one of those places that jumped right out at me. We made a reservation for one of the morning tours at Truman’s Little White House and made our way up to that side of the island.

Exterior view of the "Little White House" - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Exterior view of the “Little White House” – Photo by the author

Originally built as housing for officers on the Naval base in 1890, this house ended up being associated with President Truman because of a vacation ordered by his doctor. Truman had been feeling ill and was advised to go somewhere warm in November of 1946. FADM Chester Nimitz had recently visited Naval Station Key West and knew that this house was available. Truman felt so invigorated here, that he made it a regular part of his presidency – spending something like 10% of his time in office here.

One of the things that I found interesting about the house itself is that it was originally situated on waterfront property, but over the years the island has been expanded by depositing fill from dredging operations. The west side of the island changed a lot because of this.

Our tour guide, Chet, was awesome. He had a lot of really great stories, and made us feel welcome. Many of the furnishings in the house are original to the Trumans’ time here. The whole interior decorating scheme is very 1950s. Parts of it felt like it could have been my grandmother’s house.

I swear I have seen these very chairs at my grandparents' house! - <i>Photo by the author</i>
I swear I have seen these very chairs at my grandparents’ house! – Photo by the author

One of the highlights of the tour was this custom card table, built by some of the guys on the Naval Station for Truman to use. He apparently enjoyed playing cards with guests that would come down – in fact, it seemed like the whole atmosphere here was very relaxed – I can see why Truman loved it so much. The story is that it was seen as very uncouth for the President to be seen playing cards, so a top was made to be fitted over the card playing surface for when the press was around.

Chet talks about the card table. The top cover rests behind him. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Chet talks about the card table. The top cover rests behind him. – Photo by the author

The other thing that was interesting was that a company in Miami (I believe) had heard about Truman’s frequent vacations here and send him some Hawaiian shirts they made. Truman decided that this was to be the “Key West Uniform” and all the staffers were encouraged to participate. They even have one of the original shirts that Truman wore still in their collection.

The case on the right holds a shirt that Truman actually wore in Key West. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
The case on the right holds a shirt that Truman actually wore in Key West. – Photo by the author

Truman’s personal office and bedroom upstairs were pretty cool. His wife and daughter slept in the next room over – the idea being that if there was some emergency in the middle of the night, his family would not be disturbed. Mrs. Truman didn’t travel down here very often though, as she thought this was more of a hangout spot for the “boys.”

Truman's bed in Key West. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Truman’s bed in Key West. – Photo by the author

There were some notable historical events that took place here. In 1948, this is where the plan to consolidate the Department of the Navy and the Department of War into the Department of Defense was devised. Much later, in 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell chose to host peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan here. When asked why, he said that it was because of his tremendous respect for Truman, who had made a very personal impact on his life by desegregating the US military.

Once our tour was finished, I was able to get a photo of Emily out front with Truman’s grill. He was known to use the fine silver as a tray for hot dogs. Now I feel like I need to take her to visit Eisenhower’s house!

Emily with Truman's grill. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Emily with Truman’s grill. – Photo by the author

Lunch at DJ’s Clam Shack

My wife Emily is definitely a foodie, and the number of options for restaurants on Key West was nearly overwhelming. I think we need to make a return trip just to try out some other places.

One of the food stops that she really wanted to make on Duval Street was DJ’s Clam Shack. This place had been featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, so it had something of a famous reputation.

Emily inspects the menu at DJ's Clam Shack - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Emily inspects the menu at DJ’s Clam Shack – Photo by the author

In the end, Emily chose to go with their famous fried clams. I had some chicken fingers. We split an order of sweet potato fries. It was all delicious.

Dinner at Bo’s Fish Wagon

When we told people we were going to Key West, we got a ton of recommendations. One of the loudest was from my boss – herself a frequent visitor to the island – about a little joint that she thought Emily would really like. We had to check out Bo’s Fish Wagon.

Bo's Fish Wagon, on the northern side of the island. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Bo’s Fish Wagon, on the northern side of the island. – Photo by the author

I’ll be honest, the look of the place from the outside was…interesting. I ended up getting a hotdog (because I’m boring) and some really great black beans and rice on the side. Emily got fish tacos with crispy fries, and said that the fish was some of the freshest she had ever had.

We walked around the seaport district for a while and then headed back to the hotel. The big adventure of our honeymoon was planned for the next day, and we needed to be well-rested.

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