Oral History Interview with
Seventeen year veteran with the Associated Press. Later news editor and acting managing editor of the Providence (Rhode Island) Journal-Bulletin, after which he served in the White House as liaison for the press-radio division of the Office of Inter-American Affairs. In January, 1945, he became part of the White House staff as a press officer until he retired at the end of the Truman administration.
Eben A. Ayers
May 16, 1967
Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Ayers Oral History Transcripts | List of Subjects Discussed]
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened August, 1972
Harry S. Truman Library
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Ayers Oral History Transcripts | List of Subjects Discussed | Top of the Page]
Oral History Interview with
May 16, 1967
Jerry N. Hess
HESS: For our first topic for today let's talk about Key West. Did you accompany the President on his trips to Key West?
AYERS: On some of the trips, not all of them. Occasionally I went down with Charlie Ross also. Both of us would be there. On some trips Charlie went alone and I stayed at the White House and on one or two trips I went and Charlie stayed.
HESS: How was the business of the press office carried on at Key West?
AYERS: Well, it was carried on in much the same way as in Washington except we didn't get the calls we would get in Washington. It was much, basically, the same routine. We usually had one press conference with the men that were down there during the day and possibly more than that. Usually we went over to the B.O.Q., the Bachelor Officers' Quarters, where the newspapermen stayed and had a press conference there. Usually there wasn't too much news, but if there was any, we had it to give out--they had their questions.
HESS: Now, the President usually held his weekly press conference on Thursday when he was at Key West, did he not?
AYERS: I think so. I would have to check back, I'm not sure of that. He had held some.
HESS: Whether he held them as regularly as he did in Washington, I'm not sure myself. I should look that up, but I know that they did hold press conferences in Key West. Did they also have a pre-press briefing before those conferences in Key West just like they did in the White House?
AYERS: Oh, it was far more informal. I don't think we ever did; I don't recall having any, and I know that on occasion the press conference was held out on the lawn of the Little White House. We usually would go over to the B.O.Q.--Charlie Ross or I--and held our press conferences there. I don't know whether the President ever went over to the B.O.Q. to hold one or not. It was only a few steps away from the Little White House.
HESS: I think he did.
AYERS: I think he went over there on occasion.
HESS: I've gone through Commander Rigdon's logs of Key West to see when you were down there, and he has it that you were there on the trip in February to March of 1948.
AYERS: That's right. That's the one where he went to the Caribbean isn't it?
HESS: Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Key West.
AYERS: I went on that one. Charlie Ross didn't go on that.
HESS: Did you make that full swing?
AYERS: I did. I made all of that.
HESS: Do you recall anything, is there anything that comes to mind about that particular trip?
AYERS: Well, nothing that isn't covered, I think, probably in Rigdon's logs, I don't recall anything special. There's nothing out of the ordinary I recall.
HESS: And Rigdon has it that you were along on the fifth trip which is November the 7th to the 21st of 1948, just after the election.
AYERS: Yes, I was there on that.
HESS: Do you recall anything in particular on that? What was the President's mood just after his big victory?
AYERS: Well, a happy one, I would say.
HESS: That's no great surprise is it?
AYERS: No, I don't think so. I think everybody was happy. That trip was a little bit different in that there were some people down there who weren't there at other times, men like Jonathan Daniels were there that time; he had worked in the campaign. Bill Bray, and Dawson I think was down there; he wasn't there usually. He was there, I think, the last one or two, maybe when the President
tried to get most of the staff down for a few days.
HESS: What part did William Bray play in the campaign, do you recall?
AYERS: No, I don't know, to tell the truth. I think he worked perhaps more with the committee, Democratic National Committee, than he did directly with the White House. He may have worked with Matt Connelly.
HESS: I think he had some functions dealing with the train, but I'm not sure.
AYERS: He might have had something to do with working out the schedules or something of that sort. I really don't know.
HESS: Who else was along that didn't normally make the trip? Wait just a minute before we go on here. You mentioned Jonathan Daniels, is that right?
HESS: I'm not sure if we've already covered this on our tape before. Why was he brought back to help in the 1948 campaign?
AYERS: I think we went into that.
HESS: So that's already back on there. I thought that I had asked the question, but I wasn't sure if I did or not.
AYERS: I think I did perhaps the last session we had. I think we went into that as much as I knew about it which
wasn't too much. I know that Jonathan was on some of the trips. I know that he was on that one big swing around the country.
HESS: The western trip?
AYERS: Yes, the one that went back down into Texas. But let's see, others who were down there at that time besides the regular staff--Mrs. Truman and Margaret came down and they were there part of the time. They didn't come down on a plane, they went down by train because Mrs. Truman didn't like flying. They went down to Miami by train and, I think, Admiral Dennison brought them back down. I'm trying to think who else did come down at that time. Oh, Barkley came down and Biffle came down, Les Biffle. Barkley stayed at the Little White House where the regular staff--where I stayed and most of the others stayed. Of course they had to rearrange things. I think the aides, the military people, Harry Vaughan's people, I think they stayed on the Williamsburg down there, and I think Biffle stayed--there was another house there that was used some of the time, I've forgotten what they called it, but it was right near the Little White House, and that was used some of the time. It was used on late trips in '51, I guess, anyway, when he brought down others of the staff.
HESS: On Barkley and Biffle, were they pretty close politically?
AYERS: Oh, yes.
HESS: Do you recall anything about that, anything that might not be known?
AYERS: I don't think so. I think that is pretty generally known. Barkley was a delightful guest, because he was always full of stories. He didn't participate in the card games; he usually watched the movies at night and some of us played cards. I don't think that Biffle was there very long. But Biffle had been close to the President. You know, it was a custom of Biffle's in political campaigns before the elections, to start out around the country and sound out sentiment. He was pretty good at that.
HESS: I understand before the '48 campaign he dressed up as a chicken farmer and took an old truck and went around.
AYERS: I had heard that.
HESS: Did you ever hear him say anything about that?
AYERS: No, I don't recall ever hearing him talk about it. I never talked to him about it.
HESS: Was the President's routine in Key West any different when Mrs. Truman would go than it was when she would
tay in Washington?
AYERS: No, I think it was just about the same.
HESS: He still played cards?
AYERS: Oh, yes. Now, Margaret, when we went--the routine was a pretty fixed routine; in the morning you came to breakfast whenever--I'm speaking of the people who lived in the Little White House--you came to breakfast when you wanted to and if you got up early enough, you'd find the President there, maybe he'd be there alone. More than once I'd come down and he'd be alone and we would have breakfast, and then somebody else would drift in, Admiral Leahy usually was there pretty early.
HESS: Was the President usually the first one there?
AYERS: I think so, I couldn't swear to it because I never was, I think.
HESS: You didn't always get up and check on him.
AYERS: He was always an early riser you know, and there'd be breakfast and there'd be a lot of, as the others trailed in, a lot of talk--light talk--joking and that sort of thing and then at 10 o'clock everybody would be ready and walk from the house to the beach and swim and sit around and talk. That would last, I guess, close to noon, and then usually we rode back. Some
of them had a net there and they would play volleyball and when Margaret was there, she joined them, the Secret Service boys and some others more active of the staff might get into the game. Then they'd go back to the house and about 1 o'clock they'd come down and there would be lunch. After lunch it was siesta. The President took a nap and those others who wanted to did whatever they wanted to--either took a nap or may