Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Night at the Elms

The Elms Hotel and Spa in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, is about sixteen miles from where June and I live. Many times we have driven by the Elms but have never stayed there. That will soon change: we are about to spend a night at the Elms as so many others have over the past 130 years.
The presidential election of 1948 was long ago, but it is still one that is widely known. Upon Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death in April 1945, Vice President Harry Truman suddenly became the 33rd POTUS. He was relatively unknown when elected as V.P. and was quite unpopular during his first term.
Even though the incumbent, he was the definite underdog in 1948. It widely thought he would lose that election to Thomas Dewey, the flashy New York Governor.
According to David McCullough in his massive book Truman (1992), on the evening of the 1948 election, Truman and two of his aides “drove to Excelsior Springs, the little resort town across the Missouri [River] in Clay County, and checked into the Elms Hotel.”
This was “the same place Truman had escaped to sixteen years earlier, crushed by disappointment the night he learned he was not to be Tom Pendergast’s choice for governor.”
McCullough goes on to say,
The sprawling three-story stone-and-timber hotel was the latest of several that had occupied the site since mineral springs were discovered there in the 1880s. Its chief attractions were seclusion, peace, and quiet. Franklin Roosevelt, John D. Rockefeller, and Al Capone were all known to have escaped from public view at the Elms (p. 705).
It was while at the Elms that Truman learned he had won the election. The next day he posed for the iconic picture of him smiling broadly while holding the Chicago Tribune paper boldly declaring “Dewey Defeats Truman.”
In the 1870s and 1880s there was a boom of resorts built to make it possible for people to “take the waters,” drinking and bathing in mineral water that supposedly had healing powers. Such resorts were built all over Missouri as well as in many other states.
Loring Bullard’s book Healing Waters: Missouri’s Historic Mineral Springs and Spas was published in 2004. “By all standards,” Bullard writes, “Excelsior Springs must be considered the state’s premier mineral water resort.” He goes on to say that “it is the only mineral water site still operating as a resort” (p. 133). And that is because of the Elms Hotel and Spa.
Excelsior Springs, now a town of some 11,500 people, has long billed itself as “American’s Haven of Health.” It became a town in 1881, a year following the discovery of natural spring water that was thought to have healing qualities.
The first Elms Hotel opened for business in 1888. After being destroyed by fire five years later, the second Elms Hotel was opened in 1909—only to be destroyed by fire the very next year. The current Elms hotel was built of native stone and opened in 1912—and has undergone many renovations since then.   
For June and me, tomorrow (May 26) is our 60th sixtieth wedding anniversary. We are going to have a bigger celebration with our children and grandchildren in July. Just the two of us, though, are going to celebrate the actual date by spending a night at the Elms.
I don’t know how much we will “take the waters” at the Elms, but perhaps we will be able to reap some benefit there as we shoot for our 75th anniversary. (Is that too much for us to hope for, an anniversary celebration in 2032?)


  1. ​Some of you newer readers might want to look back at my blog article posted three years ago today. It was titled "57 Years for a '57 Marriage" and was partly about what things were like in 1957. Here is the link to that article:

  2. Lots of interesting tales of the Elms. Enjoy the stay and the spa! While in Excelsior, I recommend Ray's Diner for a burger and fries, and Dari-B Drive-in for a cone.

    I probably would have voted for Gov Thurmond that year - a Dixiecrat who favored States rights (as found in the 10th Amendment), and social conservative values. Sadly the Democratic Party no longer has a conservative side in DC. Truman's connections to Boss Tom would have forced my vote the other way. (Gov Thurmond was also a retired Army Major General, and would have been a good choice going into Korea, possibly preventing the catastrophe we have today with the axis of the North Korea and Iran nuclear arms program - but hind-sight is always better.)

  3. Leroy, your blog didn't state this, but I know there are a lot of people who think that iconic "Dewey Defeats Truman" photo was taken at the Elms. I saw someone post it on Facebook just a couple of weeks ago. The photo was taken the next day, but at Union Station in St. Louis. Truman went back to Independence upon hearing the news of his victory and was soon on a train bound for Washington. When they stopped in St. Louis, he appeared on the back of the train and someone handed him the Chicago Tribune, so he held it up for everyone to see. Hope you have a wonderful time at the Elms...and that you win the farm vote while you're there!

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, David--and for the added information for the readers of my blog.

      I had assumed that the picture of Truman with the Chicago Tribune paper was taken after he got back to Kansas City. But in my (limited) research into the matter, I found that what you wrote is correct--but perhaps that ​is ​not widely known (or acknowledged), at least in the Kansas City area.

      Thanks for the good wishes.

  4. Congratulations, you two! Jean says, not only you two benefited from your marriage, but the whole world has benefited,

    1. Thanks, Anton, for your (and Jean's) kind words!

  5. Here are brief, and appreciated, comments from local Thinking Friend Joseph Ndifor (originally from Cameroon):

    "Thanks Prof. for this article on the 'Elms' and its association with Truman and the 1948 presidential elections. 2032 isn't too much for both you and your wife to hope for your 75th anniversary."

  6. What a heart-warming blog/story! Congratulations on your 60th Anniversary, Leroy and June! You've given me a new idea for a honeymoon spot! George M Melby

  7. Leroy, congrats to you and June on your 60th wedding anniversary. A testimony to a rich relationship with many adventures behind you.
    The Elms and town of Excelsior Springs certainly have the air of nostalgia hanging in the corners. In spite of many changes in ownership and as many renovations over its longer than 60 years, the Elms retains an air of simplicity and a quaint feeling of another age—maybe because of its exterior, its old-style restaurant and grand assembly areas.
    Leslie and I have used it for special occasions, especially in the early years of our marriage (now short of 50 by 3). We saw the installation of the lap swimming configuration replacing the old pool and the environmental spa rooms come and go. I don’t know if the small single court tennis area still exists. I know the nearby Excelsior Springs golf course still exists. It is a pleasant, hilly back and forth layout. I think it opened in the 20s or 30s.’ Learning about the early days of folks “taking to the waters”, visiting the ‘hall of waters”, was fascinating.
    I have an Excelsior Springs story for you. In the first years of our marriage, I had a job training VISTA VOLUNTEERS, preparing just out of college youth, with their scraggy beards or waist length hair, of the age of Aquarius, to work with community groups and local governments. At one point, in our two week training program, we had a “survival” exercise, placing several volunteers at 4:00 in the afternoon n Excelsior Springs (and Sugar Creek, ‘Dogpatch”, Raytown, K.C.Ks the Market and other places not fond of hippies) with $1 and no other support, and left them to see how they managed to survive until noon the next day. Within a week, most had cut their and changed their dress.
    Hope you and June are in for a lot more than “survival” in your spa town weekend. Enjoy.

  8. I add my congratulations and well wishes to the others. I don't see any reason why you shouldn't be making plans already for #75. Time does move faster these days. It is a bit sad when we consider how much history has been destroyed by fire. Then again some of the tallest pines grow where fire has touched their cones.

  9. Congratulations!!! 60th at a nice Onsen - just right like in Japan. i trust you will have a wonderful family celebration later. 75th is only 15 more years away and i hope you will make it. Blessings!

  10. Have a great anniversary! My wife and I just hit a big "0" too (last September) -- number 40. If we make it to 60, I'll see if she wants to visit the Elms!

  11. Happy Anniversary. Re: 75th. Not many make it to 60th. Very small % to 75th. Patricia's Uncle John and Aunt Lucy celebrated their 75th in Sept. 2015. So why not Leroy and June? Drink deeply of the healing waters! Patricia and I will celebrate 64 in August. Charles Kiker