It was 60 years ago today that the University of Maryland was rocked by a rather remarkable rumor. The headline on the front page of the late evening edition of the Baltimore News-Post screamed “Truman Being Considered as MD. U Head, Hint.” The report claimed “Former President Harry S. Truman is being considered for appointment as the next president of the University of Maryland it was learned authoritatively late Tuesday.”
In the summer of 1953, University President Harry Clifton “Curley” Byrd had decided that he would run for governor the next year. He asked the Board of Regents to find a suitable replacement, with his intention being to stay on at College Park until a new president was named. Byrd had played such a role in developing the university, and was so deeply associated with it, that few could imagine who might replace him. It was out of this climate of rampant speculation that the Truman rumor seems to have arisen.
In the initial News-Post article, Judge William P. Cole, chair of the Board of Regents, is quoted as saying “The committee hasn’t considered any particular individual as yet- as a committee” and that while Truman’s name may have been floated for the position by another board member, no decision had been made. Former President Truman was asked about the rumor the next day and offered no comment. Regent Charles P. McCormick was less restrained, asking “What has he got that an educational man hasn’t got? I don’t remember that he picked his cabinet on merit. The university is liable to be a political institution if he goes in.”
The stories spread across the wire services, and President Byrd received letters on this topic from near and far, some of which survive in the University Archives. A gentleman from Baltimore wrote:
“After the magnificent institution you have built it would be little short of criminal to turn things over to that illiterate nin-com-poop Truman.”
And a UMD alum from Virginia declared that:
“My God Curly, do something to prevent this catastrophy… It will make MD. a resting place for every radical, rabble rousing fellow traveler.”
President Byrd took the whole thing in stride. He responded to one letter-writer:
“Frankly, but somewhat confidentially, there is no chance of Truman coming here as President than there is of a snowball going through the proverbial hotplace without getting melted.”
The Truman-University of Maryland rumor seems to have died out as quickly as it began. President Truman had already returned home to Missouri after leaving office and had no intention of leaving. President Byrd resigned on January 1, 1954, and became “President Emeritus,” losing in the race for governor in 1954 to incumbent Theodore McKeldin. Wilson Homer “Bull” Elkins became university president later that same year.
In the end, the News-Post’s headline seems to have been exactly as accurate as the one from the Chicago Daily Tribune that declared “Dewey Defeats Truman” in 1948.