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First Family Stories: Margaret and Jack | February 16, 2024

First Family Stories: Margaret and Jack

First Family Stories

By Clifton Truman Daniel

“Margaret and Jack”

MY MOTHER, Margaret Truman Daniel, wasn’t much impressed by politics and politicians.

This was almost certainly a case of familiarity breeding contempt. Titles and position meant little to her, even when she was sitting in the White House.

During the early 1950s, while she pursued a singing career in New York, Mom kept an apartment at the Carlyle Hotel at the corner of Madison and 76th. My grandparents stayed there a few times, as well.

When Mom married Dad in 1956, the newlyweds bought an apartment a whole block east, at 76th and Park. The living room windows faced 76th Street. If you put your face near the glass and looked west, you could easily see the front door of the hotel.

On a visit to New York early in his presidency, John F. Kennedy stayed at the Carlyle. According to Mom, she recommended it. Parked out front during his stay was the phalanx of large
motorcycles that accompanied the presidential motorcade.

One warm afternoon, Mom was sitting in the living room, reading, with the window open to the breeze. Down the block, President Kennedy prepared to leave for an appointment. He was notorious for running behind. Still, the Secret Service agents riding Kennedy’s motorcycles were duty bound to start their engines, lest they get caught flat-footed by the president’s eventual departure.

The roar carried up the block and into our living room. Mom got up, closed the window, and sat back down. The din continued. Five minutes. Ten. Fifteen. Mom got up again, went into
the den and picked up the phone.

“Good morning. Carlyle Hotel. How may I direct your call?”

“Good morning. This is Margaret Truman. I’d like to speak to President Kennedy, please.”

“Certainly. Please hold.”

(Insert hold music and muted expressions of incredulity here.)

“Good morning, Margaret,” President Kennedy said, coming on the line. “How are you?”

“Jack,” Mom said. “Leave already or tell them to turn off the damn motorcycles.”

She hung up and walked back to the living room. Before she sat down, the roar subsided.

Clifton Truman Daniel is the eldest grandson of President Harry S. Truman and his wife, Bess. He is the son of author Margaret Truman and former New York Times Managing Editor E. Clifton Daniel, Jr. Mr. Daniel is honorary chairman of the board of the Truman Library Institute, board secretary of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, and vice president of the Society of Presidential Descendants. He is the author of Growing Up with My Grandfather: Memories of Harry S. Truman and Dear Harry, Love Bess: Bess Truman’s Letters to Harry Truman, 1919-1943. In addition to portraying his famous grandfather on stage, Mr. Daniel gives a series of lectures on various aspects of the Truman presidency and U.S. and White House history. Learn more.

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