When Harry Met Elvis, Sorta

“Give me the Elvis.”

I hadn’t expected to encounter food fit for the king. Not here, within a wedge shot of so much history. But that’s what makes the journey so rewarding.

I finished my Elvis, a peanut butter sandwich slathered with marshmallow crème and bolstered with bacon and bananas, served on grilled whole wheat. It’s a big seller at Clinton’s Soda Fountain on the Independence town square, although young Harry never sold one in his first job at what was then called Clinton’s Drug Store, since Elvis didn’t put his first peanut butter in his diaper for decades after Harry worked there.

“Where’s the Harry Truman?” I asked my server across the counter. She pointed to the menu on the wall. “Right there:  The chocolate sundae with butterscotch.” I had one, in due course. Thus fortified with the favorites of the king and the leader of the free world, I set out to scratch the surface of this historic town.

Crisscrossing downtown, I must’ve run a dozen stop signs, smiling broadly as I crossed each intersection. “The mules are immune” to things like stop signs and traffic tickets, my guide told me as he held the covered wagon’s reins to Harry and Ed, named for two partners in a haberdashery.

Ralph Goldsmith was born for this job. He looks like he could be a member of the Cole Younger gang, whose ranks lived in this area, or maybe a wagon master among the millions of people who launched from here on the perilous journey to a new life on the western frontier. Ralph’s been guiding this tour long enough that the mules probably could haul the wagon along the tour without him, but it wouldn’t be the same. Ralph delivers his lines with conviction, having cut his acting teeth at Silver Dollar City.

The 30-minute wagon tour, a bargain at fifty cents a minute, sets the scene for digging deeper into the many layers of history preserved in Independence. As Ralph talked about the pioneers and the Mormons and Truman and Frank James and the origin of Bill Hickok’s wild nickname, we rode in the very ruts – swales, they’re called–formed by tens of thousands of wagons headed west. Deep swales, too, even tinhorns could see that.

“You know my favorite Truman quote?” he asked. I didn’t; It’s powerful: “There’s nothing new in this world, except the history that you don’t know.”

–from Souls Along The Road

(photo @ Truman Library)

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