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Many people come to Independence to visit the Truman Library, which is a real jewel and a must-see, but there is a lot to see and do beyond the fascinating exhibits, displays, films, interactive stations and kid's activities at the library. Plan to spend at least a day, or better still, a weekend, if you really want to explore the history of the city.
The Truman Home is a national historic site operated by the Naitonal Park Service and they give a great tour of the main floor of the house, which is left just it was when Harry and Bess lived there. You can even see Harry's hat, cane and coat hung in the front entry for his daily walks. It's interesting to see what a humble home the Trumans came home and retired to after the elegance of living in the White House when he finished his term as President.
A few blocks away from the home and library is the Vaile Mansion, a three-story elegant Victorian home. It suffered through some neglect and had to be restored but today is chock full of lovely antiques of the era, crystal chandeliers, marble fireplaces and lots of handpainted ceilings and woodwork.
Another mansion, the Bingham-Waggoner Estate, was also saved from the wrecking ball and restored and is particularly unusual for a restored home in that most of its furnishings and artwork are original to the families who lived there, including artist George Caleb Bingham.
Across the street is the National Frontier Trails Museum, which really tells the biggest story Independence has to offer. Since Independence was the edge of civilization, thousands of emigrants, gold-seekers, missionaries, military and trading merchants all used Independence as a place to gather supplies and prepare their wagons to follow the Sante Fe, California and Oregon trails west. The film, covered wagons, artifacts and preserved words of travelers tells about all those who opened up the West and the way they do so really captures your imagination.
While you are in the parking lot of the Trails Museum, take a minute and peek into the Chicago and Alton Depot, a restored wooden two story depot with upstairs living quarters - days and hours of operation are limited so it's not always open.
If you have kids, don't miss the Puppetry Arts Institute, a five minute drive away, where there are hundreds of puppets and marionettes from around the world on display, and where you can take a professional made puppet head, paint it, attach a pre-made body and put on a little puppet show for your family on their stage.
Also a bonus: a free interactive kids museum, called the Children's Peace Pavilion at the Community of Christ Auditorium. Offers mazes, puzzles, a nature care kids can crawl into, computer games, dolls, puppets, art stations and much more.
You can also tour the other building of the world headquarters of Community of Christ across the street at the big silver-spired seashell shaped building you can't miss their Temple.
Also next door stop in at the Independence Mormon Visitors Center, totally redone with exhibits, interactive kiosks and flat panel screen telling the story of the Mormons in the 1830s and modern day beliefs. Also free.
And if you like things that are unique, don't pass up Leila's Hair Museum, which is supposedly the only one in the world. Thousands of hair wreaths, pieces of jewelry and artwork, all made with human hair, are on display, as well as hair of famous celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Elvis.
Walk around the historic Square and courthouse and you can find antique and specialty stores and mom and pop restaurants that are one of a kind - no chains to be found. Warm, charming, cozy.
By way of updates, those who want to find out about their family tree need to visit the Midwest Genealogy Center on the corner of Lee's Summit Road and Kiger Road, opened in June of 2008. It's the largest free public genealogy library in the nation. People who love the great outdoors should stop in at the massive Bass Pro Outdoor World Shops right along the freeway I70 and 291 Highway on the eastern side of Independence. With an indoor kayak pond, rock climbing wall, archery range, giant acquairium, old time mill with water wheel and wildlife displays, plus a stocked lake in back, paved walking trail and city park, you can easily spend a couple of hours being entertained for free. Less than a mile east, the Independence Events Center, opening in November 2009, will be the home venue for the Missouri Mavericks professional hockey team. Concerts and live entertainement will offer evening fun.