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Harry Randall Truman

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Harry Randall Truman
Harry Randall Truman near his lodge on Spirit Lake, April 1980
Born (1896-10-30)October 30, 1896
Ivydale, Clay County, West Virginia, US[1]
Died May 18, 1980(1980-05-18) (aged 83)
Mount St. Helens, Washington, US
Cause of death Killed by volcano eruption Pyroclastic flow
Occupation Caretaker of Mount St. Helens Lodge
Spouse(s) Helen Irene Hughes (divorced)
Marjorie Bennett (divorced)
Edna O. Henrickson[1]

Harry Randall Truman (October 30, 1896 – May 18, 1980) was a resident of the U.S. state of Washington who lived on Mount St. Helens. He came to brief fame in the months preceding the volcano's 1980 eruption after he stubbornly refused to leave his home despite evacuation orders, and he is presumed to have been killed in the eruption. He was the owner and caretaker of Mount St. Helens Lodge at Spirit Lake, located at the south end of Spirit Lake at the foot of the mountain in the danger zone at the time of the eruption.

After Truman's death, his family and friends reflected on his love for the mountain. He was commemorated in a book by his niece and a song by Headgear. In 1981, Art Carney portrayed Truman in the docu-drama film St. Helens.


Truman was born in Ivydale, Clay County, West Virginia,[1] to Newberry Truman and Rosa Belle Hardman. His family settled in Chehalis, Washington, several years later. He had one sister, Geraldine.[1]

Truman enlisted in the 100th Aero Squadron – 7th Squad of United States Army as a private on August 4, 1917. Several months later, he survived the torpedoing of the Tuscania on February 5, 1918, off the coast of Ireland. After the incident, Truman was honorably discharged from military service on June 12, 1919. He lived in Riffe, Washington, until 1926, when he became caretaker of the Mount St. Helens Lodge at the foot of Mount St. Helens beside Spirit Lake. At the time of his death, Truman had operated the lodge for 52 years.[2] He was also a member of the Tuscania Survivors Association from 1938 until his death.[1]

Truman was married three times: to Helen Irene (née Hughes), Marjorie (née Bennett), and Edna O. (née Henrickson). It is not clear when he married or separated from Hughes, but he married Bennett in 1935 and Henrickson in 1947.[1]


He became a minor celebrity during the two months of volcanic activity preceding the eruption, giving interviews to reporters and expressing his opinion that the danger from the volcano was exaggerated, saying, "I don't have any idea whether it will blow[...] But I don't believe it to the point that I'm going to pack up."[3] Truman discarded all of his concerns about the volcano and his situation, stating "If the mountain goes, I'm going with it. This area is heavily timbered, Spirit Lake is in between me and the mountain, and the mountain is a mile away, the mountain ain't gonna hurt me... boy." [4] According to The Bulletin, he responded to being knocked from his bed by precursor earthquakes by moving his mattress to his basement.[2] At one point, Truman "scoffed"[2] at the public's concern for his safety.[2] He became somewhat of a "folk hero"[2] and from March until May, was the subject of many songs and poems by children.[5] One group of children from Salem, Oregon, sent him banners inscribed "Harry - We Love You", while Truman received fan letters[6] including several marriage proposals.[7]


Truman was alone at his lodge when he is presumed to have died in the eruption on May 18.[6] A pyroclastic flow engulfed the Spirit Lake area, destroying the lake and burying the site of his lodge under 150 feet (46 m) of volcanic landslide debris.[8] A new lake eventually formed on a much higher elevation.

His sister Geraldine expressed that she found it hard to accept the reality of his death, commenting, "I don't think he made it. But I thought if they would let me fly over and see for myself that Harry's lodge is gone, then maybe I'd believe it for sure."[2]

The 1980 event was the deadliest and most destructive volcanic eruption in the recorded history of the continental United States of America. A total of 57 people are known to have died, and more were left homeless when the ash falls and pyroclastic flows destroyed or buried 200 houses. In addition to Truman, photojournalist Reid Blackburn and volcanologist David A. Johnston were killed.[9]


File:Mount St. Helens eruption memorial, Johnston Ridge.jpg
Truman's name on a plaque with names of the victims of the final eruption.

Truman had already emerged as a "folk hero" for his resistance to the evacuation efforts prior to his death.[2] After his death, his friends and family, including his sister, Geraldine (Geri), reflected on his death. Geri commented, "He was a very opinionated person." Friend John Garrity added, "The mountain and the lake were his life. If he'd left and then saw what the mountain did to his lake, it would have killed him anyway. He always said he wanted to die at Spirit Lake. He went the way he wanted to go." Another friend, John Andersen, said, "Harry's name and Harry's presence will always be a part of that (Spirit Lake). There can be no finer memorial." Truman's cousin Richard Ice commented that Truman "was not only a fast talker but loud. He had an opinion on all subjects and a definite one." Ice also added that Truman's short period of life as a celebrity was "the peak of his life."[5]

Truman was the subject of the book Truman of St. Helens: The Man and His Mountain written by his niece Shirley Rosen[10] and was portrayed by Art Carney in the 1981 docu-drama film St. Helens. He is the subject of the song "Harry Truman" written and recorded by Irish band Headgear, which features the refrain, "You can move the mountain but I'm never coming down".[1] Another song about Harry was written by Lula Belle Garland called "The Legend of Harry And The Mountain." It was recorded in 1980 by Ron Shaw & The Desert Wind Band.

Truman Trail and Harry's Ridge in the Mount St. Helens region are named after him. He was also famous for owning 16 cats, which he considered family, and mentioned in almost all public statements he made. The cats are presumed to have died with Truman on the day of the eruption.[8]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Schwartz, Steve (March 4, 2012). "Harry R. Truman". Retrieved June 26, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 "Mud, ash inundate old Truman's lodge". The Bulletin. Western Communications. May 21, 1980.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "83-year old Man Isn't Shaken by Mount St. Helens Earthquakes". Lawrence Journal-World. The World Company. March 25, 1980. Retrieved June 26, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Green, Michael K.; Carlson, Laurie M.; Myers, Susan Allen (2002). Washington in the Pacific Northwest. Gibbs Smith. p. 29. ISBN 978-0-87905-988-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 Associated Press / United Press International (June 16, 1980). "Family, friends say goodbye to Harry". The Deseret News. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 Associated Press (May 20, 1980). "Sister, friend say Harry probably dead". Spokane Daily Chronicle. Cowles Publishing Company.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Harry Truman feared lost on mountain". The Madison Courier. May 24, 1980. p. B5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Harry Truman and His 16 Cats". Center for Educational Technologies. Wheeling Jesuit University. January 27, 2011. Retrieved June 26, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Topinka, Lyn (December 27, 2006). "Report: Eruptions of Mount St. Helens: Past, Present, and Future". United States Geological Survey. Retrieved April 3, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Rosen, Shirley (1981). Truman of St. Helens: The Man & His Mountain. Seattle: Madrona Publishers; Longview: Longview Pub. Co. p. 163. ISBN 0-914842-57-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>