Kansas City's Presidential Pit Stops

Motorcades and parades down Paseo. Election-night stays in Excelsior Springs and national political conventions in the West Bottoms. There’s something alluring about Kansas City’s Midwestern charm, about its authenticity that draws the attention of politicians. With limited time and overbooked schedules, presidents both past and present have made time to visit KC, leading to a number of White House favorites in the City of Fountains.  

Here are some of KC’s most historic and popular presidential pit stops:

A Night at The Elms

It’s one of the most iconic photos in American history. “Dewey Defeats Truman,” the headline incorrectly proclaims, as president and Independence native Harry S. Truman holds the newspaper aloft with an exultant grin. Two days earlier, he was posted up at The Elms Hotel & Spa in Excelsior Springs to escape the political hubbub surrounding the 1948 presidential election, only to awake in the morning and learn of his unexpected victory.

Truman’s stay boosted publicity for the hotel and is still one of the most popular pieces of trivia in Excelsior. 

Honoring the Fallen

President Coolidge at the 1926 Liberty Memorial Dedication

Less than a decade after the end of the World War I, Kansas City built Liberty Memorial to commemorate the men and women who gave their lives in the conflict. Upon completion in 1926, President Calvin Coolidge dedicated the structure, stating that the Liberty Memorial was not “raised to commemorate war and victory, but rather the results of war and victory, which are embodied in peace and liberty.”

More than 80 years later, Barack Obama gave his second campaign speech on the grounds, and would go on as president to officially designate the tower as a national memorial and the National WWI Museum and Memorial as a national museum.  

A Crazy Convention

In 1976, the most recent “open” Republican National Convention swept through Kansas City in a torrent of party politics and no-holds-barred rhetoric (not to mention a 55-foot inflatable elephant flying through Downtown KC). The entire four-day affair was held at Kemper Arena—now Hy-Vee Arena—and was headlined by a showdown between sitting president Gerald R. Ford and runner up Ronald Reagan.

Despite losing to Ford by just 117 votes, Reagan’s stirring concession speech marked a turning point in his political career, offering Kansas Citians and Americans a glimpse of his eventual administration.

Photo courtesy of the Gerald R. Ford Foundation

The Parade Down Paseo

With a straightforward style and honest demeanor, it’s no wonder Teddy Roosevelt drew crowds wherever he travelled. His 1903 “Tour of the West” trip stopped in Kansas City and practically shut the city down, however, as tens of thousands lined the streets during his procession down Paseo Boulevard.

Schoolchildren and businesspeople alike gathered to greet the president as he made his way to the old Convention Hall in Downtown KC. Roosevelt then spoke for longer than an hour to a crowd of more than 15,000, making for one of the most memorable presidential visits in KC history.

Photo courtesy of Missouri Valley Special Collections.

White House West

Now operating as part of the Kansas City Marriot Downtown, Muehlebach Hotel was once a veritable KC Camp David for a long list of former presidents. The hotel hosted Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge. Herbert Hoover frequented the Muehlebach during the 1928 Republican National Convention, which was held across the street at Convention Hall.

Harry S. Truman spent so much time at the hotel that it became known as “White House West.” The Independence native even conducted business there, signing the Truman Doctrine in the Muehlebach’s presidential suite in 1947.  

Photo courtesy of Missouri Valley Special Collections

Barbecue Pit Stop

Framed photos of famous visitors adorn the walls at the original Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque like awards in a trophy case. Among these celebrity sightings, visitors will find candid shots of some of the most recent commanders-in-chief, including Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, former president Harry S. Truman was a regular at the barbecue joint. Known for its burnt ends, the celebrated barbecue institution is practically a must-try for any sitting president (or Oval Office hopeful) who pays a visit to Kansas City. 

Home Sweet Hometown

Only a short drive from Downtown KC, Independence is the boyhood home of Harry S. Truman. The 33rd president of the United States spent his adolescence on the family farm and working at Clinton’s Soda Fountain—a still-open and ever-popular shop known for its milkshakes, malts and fountain sodas—where he made a whopping $3 per week.

Later in life, Truman and his wife, Bess, bought a home in Independence that the two lived in before, during and after his presidency. A National Historic Site, the Truman Home stands to this day and, along with the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, sees visitors from all over the country. 

More KC History

1827 Log Courthouse

Jackson County's first government building, constructed with slave labor, was the only courthouse between St. Louis and the Pacific at the time the Santa Fe Trail trade began. Two-room log structure was home to roots of Jackson County where controversial slave state, land disputes and westward expansion issues were dealt with. Once a Mormon mercantile store, this structure has a great significance to members of the LDS church. Harry Truman held court here in the 1930s.

American Historical Truck Society

Preserving the history of trucks, the trucking industry, and its pioneers, through research, communication, and outreach; including the world’s largest antique truck convention & show.

American Jazz Museum

The sights and sounds of a uniquely American art form come alive at the American Jazz Museum.

Bingham-Waggoner Estate

The Bingham-Waggoner Estate is recognized today as one of the most significant historical sites in western Missouri because of its role in the history of the area and the people that lived there. Plotted in 1827 on that super highway west called the Santa Fe Trail, the Estate played an important part in our region's history. Of the many colorful owners, characters and residents of this now legendary home, the most famous is the artist and politician George Caleb Bingham.

Buffalo Soldier Monument

Fort Leavenworth, KS, initiated and dedicated in 1992 by Gen. Colin Powell to the memory of the 9th & 10th Cavalry Regiments made up of black soldiers. These troopers proved their bravery & valor throughout the Indian Wars, winning the respect of the Cheyenne warriors who named them "Buffalo Soldiers," a badge of honor.

Chicago and Alton Depot

The Depot was built in 1879. It was moved to its current location and restored during the decade from 1992 to 2002. The two-story depot contains three rooms on the first floor which are the waiting room, stationmaster's room, and baggage room. On the second floor, four rooms, which were formerly the stationmaster's residence, are the kitchen, dining room, bedroom, and the parlor. Each of these rooms is furnished in the period circa 1879. A separate display room contains C & A artifacts. There are hundreds of C & A collectables found throughout the depot.

City of Grandview, MO

Suburb south of KCMO along I-49. Nationally-recognized parks, revitalized Main Street and renovated shopping center are fueling a thriving Grandview where we are Building Tomorrow's Community.

Community Christian Church

Frank Lloyd Wright designed this "church of the future." With a Steeple of Light, four spires projecting 60,000 watts of light into space. This technology didn't exist until 1993 when the church completed construction according to his design. Visitors Welcome.

Elmwood Cemetery

Visit the gravesites of KC's first black police officer, William Davis, old-time baseball players from Philadelphia and Cincinnati, classical musicians, the most Civil War veterans in Kansas City with over 700, Armour hot dog family, John Muir's father, Daniel Muir. Free self-guided tour available. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places Elmwood is rich in history through the stories of the lives of many of Kansas City’s early founders. A large number of them helped shaped what Kansas City has become today. Many had great impact nationally.

First Land Office

The First Land Office was built in 1854 and contained the land patent office of H.B. Smith and his brother, who were the first land patent agents in Kansas Territory. The Trail of Death plaque, a memorial to the Pottawatomie Indians, who were forced to leave their ancestral lands in Indiana and settle in the Osawatomie area in 1838, is on this site. The Osawatomie Historical Society operates a tourist information center during the summer in the land office.