Harry Truman’s neighborhood–a great family getaway, Part 3

Harry Truman‘s sayings are as pertinent as ever, especially when you’re touring his town–Independence, Missouri. There’s never a shortage of things for tourists to do.

Females will especially enjoy touring the Vaile Victorian Mansion (1881), recognized as one of the finest examples of Victorian architecture in the United States. The mansion boasted a 48,000-gallon wine cellar. Be sure to look out for the infamous painting on the Vaile’s bedroom ceiling of a woman in a gauzy costume. This bold work of art so scandalized polite Independence society that poor Mrs. Vaile was ostracized. (Maybe she was driven to take refuge in that massive wine cellar.)

“When you’ve done the best you can, you can’t do any better.” There’s still plenty more to see and do in Independence, including the Truman Home (touring it is like walking into a time capsule of the 1950s)–but my favorite place in Independence is the Puppetry Arts Museum.

Puppets abound at the Puppetry Arts Institute in Independence, MO.

Puppets abound at the Puppetry Arts Institute in Independence, MO.

At first glance, there are puppets everywhere–more than 150 of them–mermaids, nuns, kings, clowns, parrots, and even a perfect replica of Harry Truman! There are marionettes, hand puppets, shadow puppets, rod puppets, finger puppets, and paper puppets (with their own toy theaters). A wide assortment of hand puppets lies invitingly on a table for visitors to select and paint.

Harry Truman is one of the puppets at the PAI.

Harry Truman is one of the puppets at the PAI.

The Puppetry Arts Institute (PAI) was founded to honor a very special woman, who left quite a legacy. During the depths of the Great Depression, a young woman in Kansas City named Hazelle Hedges attempted something that had never been accomplished by any American before her–to start a business that made marionettes. Soon after her graduation from the University of Kansas, Hazelle made a puppet for a neighbor boy and was so pleased with the success of her creation (and subsequent orders) that by 1935 she was doing an international business!

Hazelle married industrial engineer John Woodson Rollins in 1941, and let him take charge of sales and production machinery for the Kansas City-based factory, which became one of the largest puppet firms in the world. Some years it produced over 50,000 large puppets and nearly three times more finger puppets.

In all, Hazelle created over 500 different characters and animals, and produced over a million puppets in her factory. Some of her vast collection is preserved at the Smithsonian, but many of her marionettes are on display at the Puppetry Arts Institute.

Hazelle Rollins died in 1984, but her spirit lives on in the grinning faces, slack strings, and limber bodies of the marionettes at the PAI.

And don’t be shy about coming in to make a puppet if you’re over three feet high. The museum is not just for kids, but it helps if you’re a kid at heart.

And Harry was right again–Independence is doing its best as a family-friendly destination. It just doesn’t get much better.

Coming up: Find a place to stay in Independence in Harry Truman’s neighborhood makes a great family getaway, Part 4.

Be sure to read Harry Truman’s neighborhood makes a great family getaway, part 1, to find out about shopping on Independence Square, Harry Truman’s neighborhood makes a great family getaway, part 2 to check out the fabulous eateries in Independence, and Harry Truman’s neighborhood–a great family getaway, Part 4 to learn about a great place to stay in Independence.

Photos courtesy of Independence Department of Tourism.

 

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