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Whiz kid, 5, reveals his presidential knowledge at the Truman Library

Updated: 2013-09-07T04:27:37Z

By BRIAN BURNES

The Kansas City Star

Being Arden Hayes these days means getting questions — especially on presidents.

Such was the case Friday when 5-year-old Arden, a sensation on social media, arrived at the Truman Library trailing an entourage that included photographers from a television station and The Kansas City Star.

The first question came from library director Michael Devine.

“Who was Truman’s vice president?” he asked.

“Alben W. Barkley,” Arden said.

Hey, don’t insult him.

Over the past several months, thousands of online surfers have watched Arden answer questions about presidents. Videos on YouTube, produced by the Los Angeles Times and “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” have attracted more than 3,500 and 300,000 views.

Accordingly, throughout his Truman Library visit, Arden correctly identified various presidents, including Andrew Jackson; the county he was visiting (“Jackson,” Arden said, almost bored); and Harry Truman’s iconic “The Buck Stops Here” desk ornament (“Hey,” Arden told his mother, Lynn, “There’s that sign!”). And he recited the Gettysburg Address.

This began in May when a Los Angeles Times video journalist noticed Arden when his parents, who live in South Pasadena, Calif., devoted a weekend to taking him to the Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan presidential libraries.

A video and accompanying article soon appeared.

But then, as the family lives in the Los Angeles area, something else happened. Talk show host Jimmy Kimmel saw the Times story and video and asked his staff to find Arden.

Arden appeared on Kimmel’s show in July.

Folks watching Arden on television included Jerry Plantz, a veteran Kansas City area public relations consultant and Arden’s great-uncle.

As Arden had identified Truman as one of his three favorite presidents, Platz planned a visit for his family to the Truman sites in Independence, including the gravesite at the library of Harry and Bess Truman.

“Did Harry and Bess Truman have any children?” asked Devine.

“Margaret,” Arden said.

When he’s not being trailed by photographers, Arden is a typical 5-year-old boy who plays with Legos and requests the occasional snack.

His parents are determined not to let Arden or his younger sister, Miranda, almost 2, spend too much unstructured time in front of the television. Instead, they have maintained a regular home schooling schedule, augmented with visits to historical sites.

His parents consider Arden an especially bright child who has a shown a knack for taking educational materials, absorbing them and then mentally arranging the information for immediate, on-demand retrieval.

His presidential knowledge began with a set of flash cards.

“He just went off with them,” said his father, Casey.

Arden has demonstrated similar abilities with the periodic table of elements, landmarks of ancient Egypt, and the states and their capitals.

He is not enrolled in traditional kindergarten in the local school district, his parents say, because his reading skills probably would be more advanced than those of his classmates, leaving Arden bored or isolated. But his score on a recent IQ test was high enough that they believe he can test into a gifted program offered by the school district in nearby Los Angeles.

That means moving to Los Angeles.

His father, who works as a clerk at a Los Angeles law firm but also earns income as a commercial actor, has an agent. He doesn’t want his son to have one.

“All this is already starting to peter out,” Casey said.

Why, Arden was asked, is Truman a favorite president?

“He was a dark-horse candidate,” said Arden. “He won when he wasn’t expected to.”

To reach Brian Burnes, call 816-234-4120 or send email to bburnes@kcstar.com.

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