Facial Hair Friday: A Letter from Hairy Harry

The future President sports a rare mustache at Army Reserve camp. From the Harry Truman Presidential Library.

Today’s guest post comes from Tammy Kelly at the Truman Presidential Library.

This week’s Facial Hair Friday photo is a most unexpected person: Harry S. Truman, before he became President! At the Truman Library, we know of only two photographs of Truman wearing any kind of facial hair, so this is a rare photo, indeed.

What prompted this mustache? Truman was away from home.

Truman served as a captain of Battery D of the 129th Field Artillery during World War I. After his discharge, he joined the Army Reserves and participated in yearly training camps, usually held during the summer. Truman had always fancied himself a soldier, and by and large, he had enjoyed his time in the Army. Participating in the Reserves allowed him to continue to fulfill his dreams—and provided a convenient means to get together with “the guys” for a little politicking, poker playing, and tale-telling, as well as for the fresh air and exercise.

But while Truman enjoyed getting away from the stresses of his job, he also desperately missed his family. Whenever he was away from his wife, Bess, for more than a day or two, he wrote her a letter. The Truman Library has over 1,300 letters that Harry wrote to Bess over the course of their life together. There are several written in July of 1927, when Truman was away at Reserve Camp at Fort Riley, Kansas.

When Truman arrived at Fort Riley on Sunday, July 10, he promptly sat down and wrote to Bess, telling her about the nail that punctured his tire on the way from Independence to Fort Riley, about 140 miles away. Fortunately, it happened in a town with a garage, otherwise, they could have been stuck out in the proverbial middle of Kansas and had to walk to a garage in the summer heat. The rest of Truman’s letters describe the activities of the camp: horseback riding, swimming, and working on firing artillery “problems.” One letter describes how one of the men cut off the end of his finger by sticking it into the breech mechanism of a howitzer.

Another letter describes all the men from the Kansas City area trying to talk to Truman about government business in Jackson County (Truman was Presiding Judge, or administrator, at the time and controlled a great deal of work and money for the county). His love for his wife is evident in each letter: he almost always closes his letters with some variation of “kiss Margie [his daughter] and tell Margie to kiss her mamma for her daddy.” He also wrote a letter to his three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Margaret, the earliest one from him to her in our collection.

Harry wrote about his mustache as he was nearing the end of his training session at Fort Riley. In the letter, he writes about some of his friends from Kansas City who mailed him a letter written on an entire roll of toilet paper as a joke. As Truman writes, “It was the hit of the camp.” At the end of the letter, he writes: “I am all sun burned and have a right hefty mustioche, haven’t lost any money or spent any expect for the dinner. [Spencer] Salisbury owes me $9.00 and [Eddie] McKim $15.00, so you see I’m doing very well. Kiss my baby and write to your Harry.”

As usual, Truman can’t spell and doesn’t take the time to look up the proper spelling of mustache, but we know what he’s talking about, as we have the picture to prove it!

So now we have two modern Presidents with “secret” mustaches: Hoover and Truman. Who knows who else might be out there with unexpected facial hair?

Page one of the "mustache letter," from the Truman Library


Page two of the "mustache letter" from the Truman Library

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