Category Archives: Missouri

Safety plug for Nagasaki’s “Fat Man” atomic bomb

Where: Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, Independence, Missouri.


Photo: Truman Library

Almost 25 years ago, Clay Bauske of the Truman Library received the type of phone call that gives a museum curator pause. The caller said he was the electronics test officer aboard the airplane that dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan, on Aug. 9, 1945. Better still, he had one of the safety plugs from the bomb and wanted to donate it to the museum.

“I was, to say the least, skeptical of his claim,” Bauske says. “Rarely do you get cold calls from people who have in their possession significant artifacts from historical events that shaped world history.”

The story checked out, though, and in 1988, electronics test officer Philip Barnes visited Independence and presented the safety plug to the library.

The bomb dropped on Nagasaki that day was called Fat Man and was a plutonium bomb, unlike the uranium bomb Little Boy that had been dropped from the Enola Gay on Hiroshima three days earlier. Maj. Charles Sweeney piloted the aircraft that dropped Fat Man, a B-29 bomber named Bockscar. The tag on the plug attests to its provenance and is signed by Barnes and Navy Cmdr. Frederick Ashworth, the weaponeer responsible for arming the bomb.

“This is one of those rare artifacts that immediately creates strong and wide-ranging emotional reactions in everyone who sees it,” Bauske says. “The enormity of the consequences of the only two atomic bombs to be used in war can’t help but draw out deep emotions.”

A version of this story originally appeared in The Kansas City Star by the same author.


Young Hank Aaron


Photo: Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, courtesy Ed Scott

Where: Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Kansas City, Missouri.

A young man – maybe 19 – stands in front of his local train depot in 1953.  He could be waiting for a favorite cousin to arrive, or he may be about to board the train that will deliver him to his destiny.

This photograph was taken of Henry “Hank” Aaron in Mobile, Alabama  just prior to his departure for the Negro Leagues.  Bunny Downs, team manager of the Indianapolis Clowns,  had just negotiated the deal with Aaron’s family that would allow the young recruit to leave home and join the team on the road.  It is presumed that Downs took this photo.

“This is not the largest or most well-known item we display, but it is by far one of my favorites,” says Dr. Raymond Doswell, vice president of curatorial services for the museum.  “This photograph denotes a moment in American history when greatness was discovered.”

Aaron played for the Clowns in 1953 and was then recruited by the Milwaukee Braves, who later moved to Atlanta.  The rest, they say, is history.  Aaron developed into one of the greatest baseball players of all time, breaking Babe Ruth’s long-standing career home run record of 715 before setting the new one at 755.

A version of this story originally appeared in The Kansas City Star on April 4, 2010.

“Reclining Connected Form” by Henry Moore

Where: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri.

Photo: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Nestled on the south side of the Bloch Building, Henry Moore’s “Reclining Connected Form” explores the protective relationship between mother and child in this monumental bronze sculpture in the museum’s sculpture garden.

“The siting is so apropos,” says Jan Schall, Sanders Sosland curator of modern and contemporary art.  They actually created a bowl in the ground to create a womb-like experience.  It is almost like Mother Earth.”

Landscape architects Daniel Kiley and Jaquelin Robertson designed the outdoor space.  Though out of frame in this photo, there is a small stone wall in the bowl for sitting and contemplation.

“Visitors feel a sense of solace and solitude in the space,” says Schall.  “They love the idea of maternity and the magic of creation.  It is a universal experience – being born.”

The Henry Moore Sculpture Garden opened at the Nelson in 1989 but the name was changed to the Kansas City Sculpture Park in 1996 after the addition of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s Shuttlecocks and other non-Moore sculptures.

There are 32 works in the Sculpture Park, including 13 bronze sculptures by Moore and the new, 56-foot, stainless steel, tree-like sculpture, Ferment, by Roxy Paine.

“Anne Geht Baden (Anne Goes Swimming)” by Susanne Kuhn

Photo: Kemper Museum

Where: Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri.  

An acquisition by the Kemper arrived just in time for summer.

Anne Goes Swimming by German painter Susanne Kuhn is large — more than 7 feet high and 5 feet wide – and hangs in the museum’s atrium.

The subject of the painting begins to undress in a pine forest in this surrealistic artwork.  A lake beckons behind her; stylized splashes of water sit on the painting’s surface.  Like many of Kuhn’s artworks, elements of Japanese art are also woven into the design —  a towel with a geisha motif and Japan’s “rising sun” emblem in the background.  As in this painting, most of Kuhn’s works combine elements of landscape, architecture, abstraction and reality.

Kuhn was born in 1969 in Leipzig in the former East Germany where she earned her MFA in Painting and Graphic Arts.  She came to the United States in 1995, completing postgraduate studies at the School for Visual Arts at Hunter College in New York.  She returned, ultimately, to Frieburg, Germany where she now lives and works.

Anne Goes Swimming was a gift of Dean Valentine and Amy Adelson in 2009.  It is the only publicly displayed Kuhn in a museum in the United States.

Learn more about the Kemper here.

Samurai Sword

Samurai Sword

Photo: Truman Library

Where:  The Truman Library, Independence, Missouri.  

Just a few months into his presidency, President Harry S. Truman was presented a gift so rare that only ten of them are known to exist in the world – a samurai sword made by Masamune, a legendary sword smith from the Sagami Province of Japan.  The swords are considered national treasures in Japan, according to Clay Bauske, curator at the Harry S. Truman Library.

“While most objects in the Truman Library museum collection date from mid-20th Century America, some have deep significance to other cultures and other times,” says Bauske.  “The Masamune sword is an example.  Although we deal specifically with a 20th Century president, through the gifts he received, we are exposed to a much wider world of historical traditions and cultural materials.”

Masamune worked nearly 750 years ago fabricating blades of high workmanship.  The tang of the blade on this sword has gold, inlaid characters that indicate the sword was authenticated by a representative of the Japanese emperor in the 16th Century.  The disks on the handle are bronze covered in gold; the black scabbard signifies formality.

The sword was presented to President Truman on March 4, 1946 in the Oval Office by General Walter Krueger, commander of the 6th Army occupation forces in Japan following the Second World War.  General Kreuger was given the sword by a Samurai family in Japan.

Find out more about the Truman Library here.