Archive

Kansas City’s Spirit: Accomplishing the Impossible

(KC 1900 Series #18) (Top images are just three of the sketches Norman Rockwell tried out for the painting, The Kansas City Spirit.) We’ve already demonstrated that the phrase “Kansas City Spirit,” did not originate with the Convention Hall of 1900, but besides dispelling that misconception, I’d hoped to find a fresher, more pertinent meaning…

Whatever Happened To…?

(KC 1900 Series: # 17) (Photos above: A view of each of the 1900 Convention Halls, before and after the fire, left and right respectively) More than a century has passed since the Convention Hall disaster and subsequent triumph. Such a time gap fairly begs for the chance to see what has happened to the…

Auld Lang Syne

(KC 1900 Series: #16) What with the string of events that had just transpired, the Democratic Convention had become the finish line for Kansas City. Keeping focus on the do-or-die task at hand made the successful completion of the 1900 Democratic Convention the big “ta-da” moment the city needed to pinch themselves into recognizing that…

The 1900 Convention: Kansas City in the Spotlight

(KC 1900 Series: # 15) And so the story finally reaches the day on which Kansas Citians had for so long pinned their hopes and dreams. Many had been convinced of its importance because they were assured that word would be sent far and wide about their wonderful city, how miraculous its resurrection had been,…

Causes and Effects

(KC 1900 Series: #14) (photo above: In the background, the gutted remains of the fire’s victims. From Left to right, Second Presbyterian Church (steeple & attached), unidentified residential or commercial building on Broadway, Lathrop School, Convention Hall (long row of arches), partial view of the Williamson block flats directly north of the hall. In the…

The Kansas City Convention Hall Fire, Moment by Moment

(KC 1900 Series: # 13) The Great Kansas City Convention Hall Fire is about to start. And those who were there will tell the fire’s story. The accidental witnesses, the denizens of the boarding houses and shops in the vicinity, the newspaper reporters, the civic leaders all have a view to share. There were so…

The Mayor & The Chief

(KC 1900 Series # 12) At the time of the Convention Hall Fire, Kansas City was home to two extraordinary men who were in a position to be influential in the story of the Convention Hall fire and resurrection. One was at the start of a long and brilliant political career that would put him…

Courting the Democrats

(KC 1900 Series: # 11) The Industrial Revolution. Reconstruction. The Gilded Age. The Progressive Era. At least four major periods of American history are packed into the last quarter of the 19th century, filled with significant and sometimes contradictory events, like the wave of European immigration and the Chinese Exclusion Act; like the 15th Amendment…

Photo Essay: Before the Fire

(KC 1900 Series #10) Rather than burden each post with all the terrific images I’ve found that are connected to those stories, I’m including “photo essays” of additional image material I found for the respective stories. The first essay, below, includes images related to the first nine stories that take us from the motives behind…

The Short Event-filled Life of the First Convention Hall

(KC 1900 Series: # 9) For those in the day-to-day trenches of it, the work on the convention hall had been a struggle to find time to breathe. The Convention Hall initiative had been announced in June 1897, but the fundraising work had begun some weeks before that. The site selection officially started that fall,…

Design and Construction

(KC 1900 Series: # 8) With the site selection completed, the Convention Hall Committee was ready to precede with design. In late December, 1897, the committee made public its invitation for any local architect to submit a design. The design process the committee would follow was somewhat unusual. The submittal was required to include floor…

Money and Real Estate

(KC 1900 Series: # 7) The last post ended the story of Nelson’s campaign for a convention hall with a reference to the headline on the day it was announced the project would go forward. “A Start On the Building,” was how it read. No need to say which building; by now, as all of…

Ink by the Barrel

(KC 1900 Series: # 6) By the 1890s, the influence of the Kansas City Star had risen to the position of the dominant newspaper in the city, particularly with regard to issues that effected the city’s prosperity on a political, economic and social level. What made The Star effective in its job of creating and…

The People’s Voice

(KC 1900 Series: # 5) The previous post looked at the role of the Commercial Club, one of the driving forces behind the Convention Hall project. Now we look at the man and the institution that brought the project to the people, and then pushed it forward every step of the way  – William Rockhill…

The Commercial Club

(KC 1900 Series: Post: # 4) As the 19th century moved toward its close, Kansas City had become the type of city of which its founders could have only dreamed. An increasingly important part of the national economic network, and the new gateway to the vast resources of the west. A city resilient in its…

The Spirit of Kansas City

(KC 1900 Series: # 3) I had always wondered about the phrase “Kansas City Spirit” – where it came from, and what it meant. I knew the former wouldn’t be too hard to find, but I figured the latter would be impossible to answer. Still, when I learned that it was commonly accepted that the…

Crossroads

Kansas City Builds an Economy (KC 1900 Series: # 2) Here where these rocky bluffs meet and turn aside the sweeping current of this mighty river; here where the Missouri, after pursuing her southern course for nearly two thousand miles, turns eastward to meet the Mississippi, a great manufacturing and commercial community will congregate and…

The “KC 1900 Series” Begins

KC Backstories Changes Its Approach To Loyal Readers, and friends Old and New KCBackstories has been pretty much idle since COVID hit. I think the pandemic gave us all pause on a lot of things in our lives – and for me it was my writing. Ready for something different than what I had focused…

Locked in a Forgotten Safe

(KC 1900 Series: # 1) TO THE MAYOR AND MEMBERS OF THE COUNCIL During a recent audit and survey of the Municipal Auditorium, there came to our attention an old safe in the control room. The combination was not available and no one appeared to be familiar with its contents. It was deemed advisable to…

Brookside’s Birthday Close-Out Special

(originally published 9/8/20) With something as auspicious as a 100th anniversary, one doesn’t want to limit celebrations to a single date. If any anniversary is worth spreading it out over a year, surely it is the centenary. A lot of us had high hopes for the types of celebrations and events that might come out…

Carrie Westlake Whitney: Mother of the Kansas City Library

(originally published 8/15/20) When I thought about a post to mark the centennial of the 19th amendment, codifying women’s’ voting rights, I saw the opening I’d been looking for to write about Carrie Westlake Whitney, the first director of Kansas City’s library system. In my admittedly limited research, I found no evidence that Whitney was…

Midwest Research Institute’s Early Technology – A Photo Essay

(originally published 7/16/20) Last week, I shared some of Midwest Research Institute’s early history. A hallmark of those early days was the struggle to stay current with, or even just acquire, the high-dollar, over-sized equipment that was necessary for “hard” science research. The whole field of instrumentation was evolving. The market for that equipment was…

The Early History of Midwest Research Institute:“…a lighthouse on the prairie”

(originally published 7/9/20) When I scheduled a post on the history of Midwest Research Institute for this year, I truly didn’t realize (or perhaps remember?) that the story of MRI begins where the previous three posts ended – ongoing opportunities presented by Kansas City’s WWII-era defense production plants. Serendipitous, yes, but that fact is just…

KC in WWII: The Fairfax, Pratt and Whitney and Lake City Defense Plants

Part 2 of 3 (originally published 6/18/20) Last week the first in a 3-part series of Kansas City’s WWII experience laid the background on why the Kansas City area was able to land so many important defense plant contracts, considering the long tradition of military production plants located predominantly on the coasts. For this week…

KC in WWII: Defense Plants Come to the Heartland

Part 1 of 3 (originally published 6/11/20) In July 1940, J.C. Nichols, Kansas City’s nationally renowned real estate developer, arrived in Washington D.C., with World War II still just beyond the horizon. At the request of his government, Nichols had agreed to join the ranks of the “dollar-a-year” men – notable corporate and institutional leaders…

Christo: Wrapped Walkways 1978

(originally published 6/4/20) The artist Christo passed away last weekend. Many of us 50+ers will remember Christo’s connection to Kansas City – two weeks in October 1978, when the pathways in Loose Park were wrapped in gold. An improbably amazing event by an artist who was then only about 20 years into his 62 year…

100 Years ago in Kansas City: A Photo Time Capsule

(originally published 5/21/20) It doesn’t seem possible that 1920 is one hundred years ago. My parents were born within a few years of either side of that date, and so growing up, when I remember them best in the 1960s and 70s, 1920 was only about 40 or 50 years earlier. Now, I hate to…

The Big Hat Stampede of 1895

(originally published 5/14/20) Kansas City has many claims to fame, but I unearthed a new one today – at least new to me. It wasn’t news to Dr. Felicia Londré, author of 2007’s The Enchanted Years of The Stage, Kansas City at the Crossroads of American Theater 1870-1930. I have her to thank for filling…

Dr. David Waldo – Part 2: The Later Years

(originally published 5/7/20) Last week introduced us to the colorful figure that is Dr. David Waldo, original owner of the property around 75th and Wornall, and the man whose name was adopted for the community in that area. Having established himself financially and professionally in the eastern part of Missouri in his twenties, he moved…

Dr. David Waldo – Part 1: The Early Years

(originally published 4/30/20) The one thousand acres that Dr. David Waldo purchased in 1841 might have been any one other thousand acres in the area. Had anyone else bought it, the area obviously would not be known today as “Waldo,” a unique corner of Kansas City’s urban landscape. But location was central to Waldo’s objectives.…

The Magazine for Kansas City’s Ice Age

(Originally published 4/16/20) “Every product – every industry – every modern industrial development – has its “story.” The pages may not have been turned back so that he who runs may read and be interested, but the story is there. Perhaps some of our greatest untold romances concern those taken-for-granted commodities which the public sees,…

Fairyland Park 1940

(originally published 4/9/20) I’ve written several pieces about amusement parks in Kansas City on both sides of the state line, but mostly turn-of-the-century parks, including one of the so-called Negro parks, Pastime Park. Kiddieland in Waldo is the only park I’ve written about that I imagine anyone who reads this might possibly remember. But the…

Photo Montage: The 1940s Tax Assessment Photos

(originally published 3/26/20) In my July 18, 2019 post, I wrote about the 1940s Tax Assessment Photos available online for Kansas City, Missouri. If you don’t want to go back and read the earlier post, here’s the short background. In 1940, Kansas City participated in a WPA program whereby all – yes, all – of…

BKS 100: Shaggy Dog Stories

(originally published 3/19/20) To my dear readers: As you may know, I write a post a week here. To do so, I create a calendar of topics, some coinciding with real events or dates, but most just slotted somewhat randomly. Two weeks ago, I moved up a piece planned for later in the year, the…

Photo Series: The Missouri Ruralist Magazine

(originally published 3/12/20) Sometimes history is something you go looking for, and sometimes it comes looking for you. Regular readers may recall that the State Historical Society of Missouri is a favorite resource for illustrating the stories covered in KC Backstories. This week’s offering would not have even appeared on my radar as a topic…

War and Pestilence: Kansas City, World War I and the 1918 Influenza

(originally published 3/5/20) (Note from Summer 2021: When I first ran this piece just over a year ago, the current pandemic was just kicking into super spreader mode. There was much confusion about what to do, who should do it, and how many weeks or (yikes!) months it might take for this to be over.…

Napoleon Dible’s Magnificent Homes

(originally published 2/27/20) While J.C. Nichols’ name is apparent all over town even seventy years after his death, the name of Napoleon Dible is generally only known in parts of town, particularly the Waldo area. Both men put their own stamp on the housing character of Kansas City during the first half of the 20th…

Harry Jacobs’ American Dream

(originally published 2/20/20) I first heard of Harry Jacobs while researching the old Brookside Theatre. That was Harry’s building, his “baby” as he called it, until 1978 when it burned to the ground and broke a piece of Harry’s heart. But Harry’s heart, his humor and his boot-strapping philosophy were all intact and in full…

Pastime Park: “For the Accomodation of Colored People”

(originally published 2/13/20) All of my books and most of my research have ties to the history of J.C. Nichols and the development of the Country Club District. But that single subject has sent me in a hundred directions of inquiry having little or nothing to do with Nichols. My interest in this week’s topic…

Silver Screens and Curtain Calls: The Waldo Theatre Building

(originally published 2/6/20) This is from my 2012 book The Waldo Story. It’s a segment on the many lives of one corner in Waldo that holds a lot of memories for a lot of folks. At the time of the book, that corner was still healing from a major fire five years earlier. Having lived…

The Landing Mall: A History of Redevelopment (Part II)

(originally published 1/30/20) Last week’s post told the history of The Landing, 1897 – 1950(ish). This week, we look at the property in the hands of the J.C. Nichols Company, which purchased it in 1946, but didn’t get around to developing it for quite some time. We concluded the last post with the official company…

The Landing Mall: A History of Redevelopment (Part I)

(originally published 1/23/20) This is the first of a two-part look at the The Landing Mall, beginning with its history before the center was built. The site spent 50 years supporting a business, taking advantage of a natural setting that has long since been covered in pavement. But its fate would change with the arrival…

From Farms to Families: The Story of Early Prairie Village

(originally published 1/16/20) A few years ago I discovered this wonderful book on the history of Prairie Village. “Wait,” you say. “Prairie Village has a history? Isn’t it just a shopping center surrounded by tract housing?” No, not at all. In fact, a lot of the communities that today blend together as one big swath…

Photo Series: The Construction of Union Station

(originally published 1/9/20) When I was a kid growing up in Lawrence, Sundays were often spent riding in the back seat of some Chrysler product looking at construction sites. My dad was in the building materials business, mostly concrete blocks, and he loved to see buildings going up, whether they had his product or not.…

1950: Kansas City’s Centennial Report

(originally published 1/2/20) I found a booklet some years ago in a flea market somewhere in town, the “City Manager’s Centennial Year Report.” It was published in 1950, the 100th anniversary of the city’s original charter, and throughout the year, the city celebrated at every turn, and dozens of books and stories were published about…

More than Lights: A Plaza Christmas

(originally published 12/19/19) It was inevitable. These past two weeks I managed to find some unusual views of Kansas City at Christmas, declaring we were more than the Plaza Lights. Still, Christmas in Kansas City will always be associated with those lights, so it was inevitable I had to end this three-week series there. But…

Of Witches, Elves, and Chivalry: Brookside’s Christmas Pageant of 1921

(originally published 12/12/19) Christmas came early for me, in the form of a flood of great Christmas-related photos and stories. I hadn’t planned to dedicate most of this month’s posts to the holiday, but this bounty of history changed my mind. I started last week with a photo montage about Christmas events in Kansas City…

Christmas in Kansas City – More than Plaza Lights

(originally published 12/5/19) Understandably, when Kansas City pictures itself at Christmas, those pictures are often of the Country Club Plaza lights. Celebrating its 90th year of official lighting (decorating actually began informally as early as 1923), it’s considered one of “the” lighting displays in America. While the Plaza lights are a tradition to embrace, Kansas…

The Train Out of Westport: Part 4 – The Trolley Track Trail

(originally published 11/28/19) Over the past three weeks, we’ve traced the history of the rail lines metaphorically buried beneath the Trolley Track Trail, that pedestrian and biking trail that connects the Plaza area to points south along Brookside Boulevard. In this, the final post of the series, we pick up the story in the aftermath…

The Train Out of Westport: Part 3 – The Country Club Freeway

(originally published 11/21/19) For the past two weeks, we’ve been looking at the history of the Trolley Track Trail, the pedestrian and bike trail that runs from Brookside Boulevard and Volker, all the way south to Dodson at 85th & Prospect. What began as a freight line connecting Westport to south Jackson County in the…

The Train Out of Westport: Part 2 – The Country Club Streetcar Line

(originally published 11/14/19) Last week’s post covered the first of four pieces on the origins of today’s Trolley Track Trail. The growth in Kansas City’s late 19th century gave rise to a small railroad that connected Westport to Waldo and beyond, a line that would continue to be influential for more than a century. By…

The Train Out of Westport: Part 1 – The Waldo “Dummy” Line

(originally published 11/7/19) Younger or newer Kansas Citians may only know it as the Trolley Track Trail. Long-time residents know it as the Country Club District street car line, south Kansas City’s connection to the early local rail system. And to those long gone, it was a reason to speculate on land, or build a…

Halloween, and other Lost Parties of the Country Club Plaza

(originally published 10/31/19) Holidays and history are close companions. Holidays have their own histories of course. Holidays are about tradition, and tradition is history made a part of culture. Culture at every level, from the community-wide to the personal levels, when holidays are the frameworks for memories. Christmas with family, fireworks with friends, Halloween in…

Kiddieland – Waldo’s Magical Corner

(originally published 10/24/19) Much of what I use for these posts results from research into other related topics. Last spring, I posted two separate pieces, one on amusement parks, the other on the racier side of Waldo’s history, Both of those were recycled research in service of today’s post, an excerpt from The Waldo Story.…

A Wrong Made Right: In Honor of Yvonne Wilson

(originally published 10/17/19) Tuesday, October 15, 2019 – This morning, I woke to the radio telling me Yvonne Wilson had passed away. Wilson was a long-time local community leader who served in the Missouri State House for ten years, and during that tenure surely everyone living in Kansas City central has benefited from her hard…

Kansas City’s First Flying Field(s): Part 2 – Raytown

(originally published 10/10/19) My trip to the Raytown Historical Society a couple of weeks ago opened my eyes to, as I said in Part 1, “the really important and unexpected role that Raytown has played in Kansas City’s early aviation history.” And I followed that with a quick – “Raytown, who knew, right?” Well, clearly…

Kansas City’s First Flying Field(s): Part 1 – Mission Hills

(originally published 10/3/19) It all started with this little notation on a map – a label for something that was no longer there and that had nothing to do with my current interest in the map. I was researching my book on the Country Club District in Kansas City, when I found this map, which…

KC’s Board Track: Part 2- The Price of Speed

(originally published 9/26/19) Last time, in Part 1, we looked to 1922, and the latest civic endeavor to put Kansas City on the map. The Kansas City Speedway, a racing complex to rival the best tracks in the country, was one of only a couple of dozen in the country where the racing surface itself…

KC’s Board Track: Part 1 – The Promise of Speed

(originally published 9/19/20 The tale of Kansas City’s first but long-forgotten experience with big-time racing was too big to cover in one post. This week is the story of the track – how it came to be, it’s incredible construction and the spectacle of the finished Kansas City Speedway. The next post tells the tale…

Faye Duncan Littleton, and the Magic of Keeping Everything

(originally published 9/12/19) I take my subtitle this week from a book that came out a couple of years ago called The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up. Sure, it sounds good – dusting, straightening the stack of magazines on the coffee table, putting pencils back in the drawer, etc. But in reality it’s a manifesto…

Kansas City Park Series – #5 (Final): Swope Park – A Park for the Whole City

(originally published 8/29/19) Kansas Citians started asking for city parks around the mid 1870s, which makes sense, considering that this was the beginning of Kansas City’s railroad, stockyard and industrial growth. The city’s population was growing, too, so much so that any sense of open space in Kansas City’s early footprint (today’s downtown and old…

Kansas City Parks Series – #4: A Valedictory for Belvidere Park

(originally published 8/22/19) This week’s park tribute subject popped up during research for another topic altogether. In a book on Kansas City’s racial history(*). I’m learning me a finer grained view of Kansas City between the 1880s and the 1920s, a key period in the city’s history. In one area of town the book discusses,…

Kansas City Parks Series – #3: Loose Park

(originally published 8/15/19) “I can’t think of another piece of landscape of similar size where so many things have happened that have been of significance in the story of America.” That quote, from Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough, referred to Jackson County, Missouri. But it’s a phrase that always comes to mind when I think…

Kansas City Park Series – #2: Waterway Park and Big Eleven Lake

(originally published 8/8/19) I was recently reintroduced to Waterway Park and Big Eleven Lake by my friend and long-time KCK’er, Patricia Lawson. Pat’s well known in local writing circles as an excellent poet and short story writer, but I didn’t know she had a journalist’s background until she shared with me some of her pieces…

Kansas City Parks Series – #1: Waldo’s Tower Park

(originally published 8/1/2019) Tower Park in Waldo has always held a special place in my heart. Through much of the 1980s and 1990s I lived just blocks from it. Sitting on the southwest corner of 75th Street and Holmes Road, the Tower Park tower was a landmark for giving directions to my house. It was…

Building Nature: Foot Paths, Bridle Trails, and Picnic Fires in the Country Club District

(originally published 7/25/19) Two posts ago, I wrote about the public art – statues, fountains, reflecting pools, etc. – that J.C. Nichols incorporated into the Country Club District’s residential and commercial development sites. Public art was one of the “community features” he thought important for the District to achieve the status of development he envisioned.…

From Trash to Treasure: Kansas City’s 1940 Tax Assessment Photos

(originally published 7/18/19) On the home front, we’re in the midst of a taxpayer revolt in Kansas City/Jackson County over what appears to be at a minimum a poorly administered property assessment. That event took my thoughts to the story of another tax assessment that almost 80 years after its completion has turned into a…

“An Outdoor Museum” – Public Art in the Country Club District

(originally published in 2015 in The Country Club District of Kansas City, and on 7/11/19 in KCBackstories.) Growing up in Lawrence, the drive into Kansas City was a regular event. The first thing I understood about where Kansas City was – as in “are we there yet?” – was that I was there when I…

Remembering Betty Tillotson

(originally published 7/4/19 In June 2019, I posted an excerpt from The Waldo Story, a piece on Betty Tillotson, a Waldo icon. In May 2020, passed away May 19, having reached her 97th year. That’s all I know, and all I need to know. The causes of death are never as interesting as the lives…

The Independence Day Popsicle Parade

(originally published 6/27/19) On the surface, history and tradition might seem opposites. History is the record of the past, static and fixed. Tradition continues and evolves. But the truth is, traditions are history as performance art. Tradition brings history into our lives, connecting who we once were to who we are today. In some cases,…

Finding Waldo’s Shadier Side

(originally published 6/20/19) A quick bit of backstory – The southern city limits of Kansas City moved from 47th to 77th Street in 1909, taking in the northern part of today’s Waldo. But Waldo as a community had been around since 1841, so there were already many businesses along Wornall Road, at least as far…

Un-Welcome to the Neighborhood: Brookside’s “Blue Goose”

(originally published in 2017 in the book, One Hundred Years’ Journey: The Greenway Fields Neighborhood,” and in KC Backstories 6/13/19) This version is adapted from the KCB post) I may be one of the few people in midtown that doesn’t have a strong opinion about the “Blue Goose.” To me, it’s just a part of…

Forest Park and the “Negro Fair”

(originally published 6/6/19) Though the 1950s and 60s were clearly two decades where significant efforts resulted in changes in civil rights, those efforts had been going on for decades before then. In researching the stories behind the amusement parks featured in the last post, I came across a series of newspaper accounts about one of…

The Golden Age of Kansas City’s Amusement Parks

(originally published 5/30/19) I was born the same year Disneyland opened, and the only kind of amusement park I’ve ever experienced is in the mold of what Disney created – the theme park. Theme parks don’t just have rides and attractions. Every aspect of the experience conforms to the fantasy that each theme suggests. Themes…

Another Refugee’s Story: Leon Goodhart and the Country Club Shoe Store

(originally published in 2010 in The Brookside Story: Shops of Every Necessary Character, and in the original KCBackstories FB page, 5/23/19. The following is adapted from the book version) The Country Club Shoe Store – A Family Enterprise This bit of history is not distant to me, though it grows more distant with each passing…

The Speculators: Waldo, Wornall, Ward and Armour

(originally published 5/9/19) Four men and their descendants played significant roles in the development of the land south of Brush Creek, as well as contributed greatly to the larger story of Kansas City and its part in the American West. They were speculators. They came to make their fortunes, or came with fortunes to invest,…

Wide Spots in the Road: Watt’s Mill, New Santa Fe and Dodson

(originally published 5/9/19) History can be fickle when it comes to what is remembered and what is forgotten. When I wrote the book on Waldo’s history, I realized what a quirk of fate it was that the name Waldo should have survived when there were plenty of other places like Waldo, that didn’t. They all…

Faith and Trust Part II: The Case of the Moving Houses

(originally published 5/2/19) Part I of this story, published last week and this, Part II, were originally a feature in a 2017 book I wrote on the history of the Greenway Fields neighborhood – the neighborhood just west of the Brookside Shops. It looked at the relationships of the neighborhood with two churches back in…

Faith and Trust Part I: The Case of the Missing Houses

(originally published 4/25/19) This week’s post is the first of two parts, but was originally a feature in my 2017 book on the history of the Greenway Fields neighborhood – the neighborhood just west of Wornall Road between 61st and 65th Streets. The piece looks at the often-times complicated relationships neighborhoods have with their institutional…

Paved With Good Intentions: The Jackson County Plan of 1932

(originally published 4/18/19) In my long professional life, I’ve created all sorts of plans for all sorts of groups. Plans are great – done well, they’re a roadmap. What I haven’t done often– or even seen often – is a report on what happened once the plan was done. The reason is simple – plans…

April 1968 – The Kansas City “Holy Week” Riots

(originally published 4/11/19) Across the country, it was labeled the “Holy Week Uprising.” Everything happened in those ten days leading up to Easter,. The Kansas City Star’s headline read “Holy Week Riots.” Whether you saw the events as an uprising – an act of resistance – or a riot – an act of violent disturbance,…

Art in Search of a Home – Park 2: “Man in Despair” UPDATE

(originally published 4/4/2019) Last week’s piece, in case you missed it, recounted the short, sad saga of a sculpture entitled “Man in Despair,” and its search for a permanent home during the mid-1980s. When last we left it, the statue had found a home in front of the Parks Department’s building at 39th & Gilham.…

Art in Search of a Home – “Man in Despair”: Part 1

(originally published 3/28/19) In Kansas City, it’s hard to tell what will spark a controversy, particularly around a subject like art with its landmines at the crossroads of individual tastes, cultural message, and societal norms. We loved it in 1979 when Cristo wrapped the Loose Park sidewalks in golden lengths of nylon, but when the…

Step into Spring: The Plaza Walking Tour

(originally published 3/21/19) A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of working on a project to create a “walking guide” for the Country Club Plaza. Historic Kansas City led the efforts of a group that included journalists, academics, architectural experts, HKC leadership… and me, and created a beautiful full-color booklet, with something for…

The Rogue Nuns of Operation Breakthrough

(originally published 3/14/19) This article was adapted from the book Angles with Angles: The Rogue Nuns behind Operation Breakthrough, by Loring Leifer, available at Amazon.com (see link at bottom.) The book follows the evolution of two nuns from pious convent dwellers to colorful crusaders who fearlessly, and sometimes foolishly, took on a bishop, the Catholic…

Brookside’s St. Patrick’s Day Warm-Up Parade: The Origins of a Tradition

(originally published 3/7/19) The 1980s were a precarious time in Brookside’s life, when securing Brookside’s future would require the tenants to take the lead, to come up with new ideas, to find the energy to get things done, and to refuse to give up or be told no. The merchants association needed more than someone…

The Gillis Home and Armour Oaks

(originally published 2/28/19) In 1869, the completion of the Hannibal Bridge connected Kansas City to the nation’s expanding rail system. The rail brought so much to Kansas City. In general, it brought much prosperity to the town, and for a select few, it brought untold wealth. For far too many, it brought privations of every…

Keeping the Past in the Present: The Brookside Shops

(originally published 2/21/19) With this post, KCBackstories began the celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the Brookside Shops. In 2010, the shops were the subject of my first KC history book, and there had been sufficient and significant changes in the subsequent decade for my publisher, Arcadia Publishing/History Press, to support a revised special anniversary…

Oral Histories from General Hospital #2

(originally published 2/14/19) In 2001, an organization with which I worked produced a fine piece of local history – Trial & Triumph: Historical Perspectives on Community Health Provision in Kansas City, funded by the Missouri Humanities Council. Its focus is Kansas City’s segregated General Hospital No. 2, and it was the brainchild of two former…

Corrigan House – A Kansas City Gem

(originally published 2/7/19) Kansas City is home to a number of beautiful homes. And by beautiful, I mean jaw-droppingly stunning. Out-of-town visitors are without exception surprised to find the large number of massive, imposing and architecturally breathtaking houses in town, many of which are, of course, in the oldest parts of the Country Club District…

“Bloody Lane” – The Civil War along Wornall Road

(originally published 1/31/19) Despite its sobriquet as “The Gettysburg of the West,” the story of the Battle of Westport remains largely unknown, even locally. Likely if you’ve heard of it you understandably assume it took place in Westport, which it didn’t. If you know a bit more, you know its signature battle took place around…

Brookside’s Big Fire: The Brookside Theatre Building

(originally published 1/24/19) Having a theatre in Brookside had been a big part of the dream of Harry Jacobs, the developer who, in 1937, built it on most of the east side of what is today Brookside Plaza, one block east of Brookside Boulevard. Jacobs called it the Brookside Theatre Building, because in addition to…

From Madness to Murder – The Uhls Sanitarium: Part II

(originally published 1/17/19) The last post recounted discovering a hidden history in Johnson County – the Uhls Sanitarium, now the site of the Kansas Christian College near 74th and Metcalf. I learned a little about the Uhls Sanitarium, its founder and how it operated. I could have stopped there, but researching newspapers of the period…

Lost in an “Insane” Asylum – The Uhls Sanitarium: Part I

(originally published 1/10/19) Research is a treacherous business. It’s so easy to get lost. Easy, because there are so many ways to get lost. The first part of this story is an example of one kind of getting off track, specifically getting “into the weeds.” When I get into the weeds, it means I’m now…

Brookside: Shop Beautiful’s Basement Secret

(originally published 1/3/19) I’m excited to be appearing on KCUR’s Up-to-Date with Steve Kraske tomorrow (1/3/19), during the 11:30 to noon half of the show. I will be supporting the story of Shop Beautiful in Brookside, a retail institution there since 1936 that will be closing at the end of January, (their Overland Park store…

Kansas City Newspapers – 1919

(originally published 12/27/2019) Last week’s look at the 1918 Kansas City Times Christmas edition showed how, despite the passing of a century, there is much that is the same in the events, themes, and poignant moments that are part of the holiday season here. This week looks at something that has changed dramatically, and permanently…

Kansas City Christmas – 1918

(originally published 12/20/2018) One hundred years is a long time, more than the average lifetime. And since most of us won’t live that long, it’s easy to think of 100 years ago as an abstraction, something difficult to imagine, and almost certainly different than today. One hundred years ago this time of year, throughout Kansas…

The Refugee’s Story

(originally published 12/12/18) When I first posted this on the original website, it was not coincidentally at a time when the world-wide refugee crisis was at a peak. The crisis is now no less critical, but I offer it in keeping with the current season of holidays around the globe, and Arsenio’s hopeful story. Included…

Camp Nichols on Ward Parkway

(originally published 12/6/18) With the 100th anniversary of the first Armistice Day still in our rearview mirror, I wanted to share once more this sketch of a local regiment and the small camp it occupied for a few critical months in 1917. The Third Missouri Infantry Regiment was first organized in 1888, and spent the…

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