You can file this one in the mystery aisle.
A Waco High School librarian was weeding out old, little-read books from the stacks on Thursday when she paused at an autobiography of Harry S. Truman.
The librarian, Carri Nowak, opened to the title page of “Mr. Citizen” and saw the publication date: 1960. And under the title was an autograph that appeared to be from the former president himself.
She called the school district’s library specialist, Lisa Monthie, who at first thought she was saying a student had signed the book.
“My first thought was to weed it,” Monthie said. “I was starting to cut her off, but she said, ‘No, you don’t understand. I think it’s Truman’s autograph.’ I said, ‘What?’”
That discovery led to a bit of sleuthing by Waco Independent School District officials. Monthie called Waco ISD social studies content specialist Robert Glinski, who contacted the director of the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri. The museum confirmed the signature appeared to be written by hand, not mass-produced.
“We were just floored,” Monthie said.
Signed memoirs by Truman are not exceedingly rare, though they are not commonplace either. Copies start at about $200 at online booksellers.
What was baffling was that such a prize book ended up in a high school library, with the front card showing it was being checked out as early as 1962.
“It’s mindboggling how that ended up in our library,” Monthie said.
The front card shows it was part of the collection of Richfield High School, which opened in 1961 at the current Waco High School campus at 2020 N. 42nd St. The schools merged in 1986.
The last few checkout dates do not include the year, but it appears that the book has not been checked out in more than 30 years.
Glinski is trying to discover if Truman signed the book when he visited Waco in October 1960, soon after the book was published.
In town for a tour supporting presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, Truman delivered a barn-burning speech against religious bigotry.
After spending the night at the downtown Roosevelt Hotel and having a steak dinner at the Masonic Grand Lodge of Texas, Truman headed to the Heart O’ Texas Coliseum for a speech in front of 5,000, the Tribune-Herald reported at the time. Along the way, he reminisced fondly of his previous visit to Waco as a sitting president in 1947, when he received an honorary doctorate from Baylor University.
At the coliseum, Truman chided Protestant preachers for telling their flocks not to vote for a Catholic candidate. He said he would have “exploded” if a Catholic priest “had stood up in church and said I ought not to be elected because I was a Baptist.” He said “religious bigotry is a regular earmark of a dictatorship.”
Meanwhile, the Waco Baptist Association met to pass a resolution reprimanding Truman for “his conduct and his manner of speech as a Christian, a Baptist and a guest in our midst.” The association also resolved to “encourage our churches and people consider seriously the men nominated for the presidency as to their allegiances other than to the Constitution of the United States.”
State Rep. Murray Watson, D-Waco, and his wife, Greta, helped organize the event and escorted Truman during the trip, even eating breakfast with him at the Roosevelt.
Watson, who would go on to be state senator, got a photo of Truman signed during that trip. He recalled his week that the ex-president was unusually approachable, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he had signed some of his memoirs during the Waco trip.
“He reminded me of a typical grandfather,” he said. “He was very down-to-earth, plainspoken and straightforward. ... He was very amenable to signing stuff if people brought him programs or books.”
Glinski said would like to hear from anyone else who remembers the visit or knows anything about the origins of the library’s copy. He can be reached at Robert.email@example.com.
“The real mystery is how this edition ended up on the shelf two years later,” he said.
Glinski and Monthie said they would like to see the book displayed prominently in the library where it has been hiding in plain sight for decades.
Glinski said he has started reading the book and finds it interesting.
“It starts with the transfer of power as he stepped away from the office and turned it over to Eisenhower,” he said. “I like the plain-spokenness that Harry S. Truman was known for. It shows how this Missouri farm boy came into office following this great giant of the 20th century, then becomes one of the most consequential presidents in history, with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the creation of NATO, the Marshall Plan and the desegregation of the military.”
For Monthie, the lesson comes down to a practical one for librarians: Look before you weed.
“Now I’m going to be going through every book to see if like a Dr. Seuss is signed,” she said with a laugh. “It’s really going to slow down my process.”