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Design from the 1940s comes to roost in Truman’s Little White House

Posted on March 03 2017

By Carleton Varney - Special to the Palm Daily News

It’s the Chinese year of the rooster, and I’m happy to welcome the rooster — among the most outgoing and amusing birds, I think — into my heart and, as a decorative accessory, my home.

A word or two about the rooster, from a political viewpoint: He was at one time the symbol of the Democratic Party, long before the donkey ambled into view. (For readers who like a little old-fashioned information and in the interest of equal time, the eagle rather than the elephant was once the symbol for the Republican Party.)

If you visit President Harry Truman’s Little White House at Key West, you’ll find that Truman immortalized the rooster when he placed a pair of the white fowl with their bright red snoods on his living-room mantle. Truman — a Democrat, of course — certainly knew the history of the bird.

Truman’s Little White House is one of the stars of Florida history and tourism. Property recognized as a historical site and listed in the National Register of Historic Places, it is the state’s only presidential museum. If you are ready for a four- to five-hour drive from Palm Beach, you’ll enjoy a visit to the laid-back but always busy town of Key West, where you will find lots to see and do.

Visitors to the home of Ernest Hemingway are many, but not so many that you have to wait in long lines to enjoy the master writer’s wonderfully preserved home, with its pictures, historical papers and a book store that is tastefully stocked with classics by Hemingway. Oh, yes, there is a cap or two on sale as well.

At the Truman’s winter retreat, you’ll see rooms where decorating influences of the 1940s still reign. Against the living room’s celery-colored walls, a sofa is covered in a floral-patterned cotton chintz with a deep red background. The same fabric has been used for the room’s window curtains hung and the seat covers on the dining room chairs. Rattan furniture from the 1940s, meanwhile, fills the garden.

Harry Truman’s original round poker table sits in the sun room/bar room. Harry was known for having two breakfasts each day on his visits to Key West, which began in 1946. He awakened to a glass of orange juice punched up with a shot of bourbon. After a morning walk in the gardens and sometimes into town, the president would then return for the full deal — eggs, bacon, toast, and coffee — but it was the bourbon and orange juice that always started the day.

After touring the property, go about your walk in town and lunch at a beachside café such as Kelly’s, where they boast of serving the best key lime pie in town. But then, doesn’t just about restaurant boast about that favorite of favorites?

In these days when Florida is in the spotlight as a presidential destination, a visit to Key West reminds us that before Donald, there was a man named Harry. Visit Truman’s home in the Keys and you might be inspired to reach out the designs of the ’40s, still favorites among decorators today.

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