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Chapter Five Boom and Bust During the years from 1919 to 1922, Harry Truman ran a haberdashery in Kansas City with his army friend Eddie Jacobson. At the outset, everything seemed fine. He and Bess married, and that change in the organization of his life brought an end to the doubt that had plagued him for years. No longer would he have to keep persuading Bess of his love, or worry that something would happen and she would be unwilling to marry him. He had done everything he could to bring her to consent to marry, and her private consent had given way to a formal engagement, but he could not be certain until marriage itself, which now took place. And with the store in the center of Kansas City, he was back in the life of the metropolis he so enjoyed. He became a member of the Kansas City Club, paying $225 for the privilege. The club afforded a dining room where he could take friends for lunch. The haberdashery also was much more than a store; it became a headquarters to promote activities for the city, and indeed the entire country, as when the American Legion held its first annual convention in Kansas City in 1921Truman was a member of the decorations committee, which required him to solicit businessmen and organizations to put out as much bunting and as many flags as possible. The store, too, was a sort of club, to which his army buddies came to spend time. Prominently displayed was the Battery D loving cup. Whenever people entered the store they found several former comrades in attendance, talking about army experiences, reliving Camp Doniphan or France. But then another business failure befell him, and it was a bitter one, involving a much larger financial loss than anything he had experienced before. The nationwide economic recession of 1921-1922 drastically lowered prices of farm produce and manufactured goods. Farmers lost out badly. So did businessmen, whose inventories dropped in value while orders went down dramatically. The recession closed the haberdashery and plunged Truman into a financial morass that took him to the verge of bankruptcy-he 72 73 / Boom and Bust would be a dozen years getting out of. It was a tragic experience. He never forgot it; he could not forget it. 1 Marriage was, to be sure, the most important event of Harry Truman's life. He had courted Bess for eight and a half years, far beyond what he had expected. His letters had set out how keenly he looked forward to a life together. And to his great good fortune the venture proved extraordinarily successful. After his discharge from the army it was clear that marriage would come quickly. The captain had bought a wedding ring in Paris on the rue de la Paix.1 As for where the wedding might take place, his first suggestion did not work out-he had suggested that Bess meet him in New York and that they marry in the Little-Church-around-the-Corner near Broadway. An Episcopal church, it enjoyed a reputation among theatrical folk as a good place for marriages, and he may have liked its casual name. But Bess opted for another little church around the corner, a few blocks from Delaware Street, where relatives and friends might attend the ceremony. They thereupon chose the day, June 28, 1919-by chance the same day that another ceremony took place in faraway Versailles, with President Wilson and a galaxy of European statesmen signing the peace treaty with Germany that officially ended the state of war that still existed, after the armistice, with Germany. It was a typical small-town wedding. An observer might have described it as a bit prosaic, for tens of thousands of weddings in 1919 must have been almost the same. The day before, Harry and his sister picked daisies in a field near the farm, and the daisies became part of the church decorations. The day of the wedding Mary and her mother were terribly busy, for the threshers came for the wheat-"my mother and I cooked dinner for twelve threshers and then we had to clean up and hurry." She long remembered the excitement of her brother as she saw him come out of the vestry room.2 Bess did not wear a veil, and two bridesmaids, cousins, accompanied her. The Reverend John W. Plunkett read the service. An account appeared in the Independence Examiner, written by...


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