INDEPENDENCE, MO-Residents of Independence were still reeling yesterday after hearing news that the town's leading citizen, Harry S. Truman, will be "out of town-maybe somewhere in the East" during the middle of next week.
Experienced Truman-watchers here took the news as final proof that the 85-year-old ex-president will receive an honorary degree at Harvard's Commencement ceremonies on June 12.
Truman, who has been disappointed in several previous tries for a Harvard honorary, has maintained a stony silence about the latest rumors. He is reported to be angry at several members of his staff who revealed plans for the impending trip to officials of the mid-June Independence Hog Festival. Truman will not serve as Grand Marshal of the Hog Fest this year, they said.
Truman staffers have also firmly denied rumors that the old President actually left Independence more than four months ago on a Marathon walk to Cambridge.
Late last night, a sharp-eyed local youngster claimed that Truman was in Independence. The youth reported that he had seen Truman practicing short bows in front of his bedroom mirror, repeating "Thank you, Mr. Pusey, thank you. Give 'em hell."
Reports from Cambridge say that Harvard administrators-significantly-have refused to squelch the rumors of Truman's coming visit.
According to the Old Mole, one of the campus newspapers, President Pusey of Harvard has said, "We might as well give him one-after all, this may be our last chance."
Because this year's Harvard Commencement coincides with the 100th anniversary of Ulysses S. Grant's inauguration, speculation about potential honorary degree recipients has been especially keen.
Along with perennial front-runner Truman, other favorites for this year's awards are poetess Marianne Moore, former secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, and New York's Mayor John V. Lindsay.
Sources close to Massachusetts Hall say that the Corporation has been deeply split over the choice of Lindsay-a graduate of rival college Yale. However, the Harvard administrators reportedly feel that Lindsay's defeat of Norman Mailer '43 in the New York mayoral race may help Mailer lose his race for the Harvard Board of Overseers.
"Some measure of thanks for that seemed clearly in order," one member of the Corporation said of Lindsay.
The strict protocol for awarding honorary degrees dictates that a scientist, a musician, and a foreign diplomat all win degrees, along with occasional additions such as Harvard administrators, English politicians, and other dignitaries.
Erich Leinsdorf, retiring director of the Boston Symphony, is a strong favorite in the musician category, but the scientist race is still in doubt. Early talk of Charles DeGauelle as the honorary foreign diplomat has faded, with a member of the Peruvian government moving in as probable winner.
One of the honorary awards often goes to a black leader, like Ralph Bunche or last year's degree-winner, Whitney Young. Speculation on this year's pick is split between Massachusetts Senator Edward Brooke and Boston Celtic star Bill Russell. Russell is said to have the degree sewn up if he signs a contract to coach the basketball team