Former President Harry S. Truman (left) talks with Henry Talge (second from left) at a luncheon in the Muehlebach Hotel celebrating Mr. Truman's 79th birthday on May 8, 1963.

A Piece of the White House in south KC

“You kind of have to hunt for it.”

By Max Goodwin

In the back of a closed high school in Brookside, next to the old football field, sits an unmarked genuine relic of presidential history.

As President’s Day approaches, you can easily touch a piece of the original White House built before 1812 here in south Kansas City just by venturing to Southwest High School on 65th and Wornall, closed in 2016. A large chunk from the White House remains there behind the old school building.

The actual piece of the White House donated to Southwest High School stands 50 feet from the commemorative plaque. Photo by Max Goodwin

It was placed there in memory of a beloved coach at Southwest High School, Louis A. House, who coached football, basketball, and track at Southwest High School from 1925 to 1955. His teams were perennial city champions. 

“Over 700 people went to his funeral,” said Anne Kniggendorg, author of Secret Kansas City.

A member of the Class of 1955 at Southwest High School, Steven Talge, had a grandfather named Henry Talge who knew President Harry S. Truman. As President, Truman led a renovation that completely gutted and rebuilt the inside of the White House. He authorized a souvenir program to distribute pieces of the original White House that couldn’t be reused.

The East Room during the final stages of the careful removal of decorative and other parts intended for reuse in 1950. Photo
National Park Service

Items of historical significance went to museums, but leftover items were given to people interested in having them. The Commission on the Renovation of the Executive Mansion gave away leftover pieces that had “no tangible value but which were desired by many people for preservation as mementos or souvenirs of the historic building.”

Henry Talge ended up with one of those pieces of unmarked stone, and anonymously donated it to be used for the memorial to coach House.

The plaque for the memorial was moved about 50 yards away and attached to the stone base of a flagpole. The stone from the White House is on the northeast side of the old Southwest football field and its plaque is on the northwest side. 

Today, the football field is mostly used by people walking their dogs along the dirt track there. If they do happen to notice the plaque on the stone base of the unused flagpole, it still remains unclear exactly where the stone itself is. 

The plaque describing the White House stone monument was moved to be more visible and is now attached to the base of a flagpole at the northwest corner of the football field at Southwest High School. The actual piece of the White House is closer to the school, about 50 yards away, in the northeast corner of the field. Photo by Max Goodwin

“You kind of have to hunt for it,” Kniggendorf said. “And so when I first went there that left me wondering if the piece of the White House was actually something that was part of a flagpole and I just couldn’t figure that out.”

Most alumni didn’t seem to recognize the importance of the monument while attending Southwest. Robert Swisher graduated from Southwest High School in 1975. He ran track while in high school and in recent years has started running at his old high school track again. 

To be honest, I don’t think anyone in our class even realized the monument was there or knew the significance of it,” Swisher said. “There were a few times during track meets that I waited by the flagpole for my event, but I couldn’t tell you if the plaque was there then or not.  My guess is that it was there.”

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