Anecdotal KCMO

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Postcard courtesy of the Historic Kansas City Foundation
Postcard courtesy of the Historic Kansas City Foundation


1804:  Lewis and Clark and their expedition camped for two days at the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas Rivers near present-day River Market. On the bluffs in Case Park that overlook the West Bottoms and the Missouri River Valley, they noted that the site “offered a commanding situation for a fort.”  Hence, piquing interest in developing the area.


1826: After Gabriel Prudhomme was shot in a saloon brawl only 10 months after acquiring 257 acres of land near the present-day River Market neighborhood, the land was sold in a public auction for $4,220 to 14 men who formed The Town Company. The land was then platted as the Town of Kansas, setting the stage for a thriving river community with development potential. RIP, Gabe.  Thanks for llestking one for the team.


1838: Latter Day Saints were “exterminated” from Missouri.


1846: “Whisky, by the way, circulates more freely in Westport than is altogether safe in a place where every man carries a loaded pistol in his pocket.” Francis Parkman


1855: On the evening of December 24, 1855, the Missouri River froze over. For the following month, the river was used as a “highway” for teams of horses, mules, and oxen.


1865: Missouri Pacific Railroad came to town. Today, nearly 150 years later, Kansas City has emerged as America’s second-largest rail hub.


Before the Civil War, a gallon of whiskey cost roughly 25 cents in Kansas City. In 1865, it cost $35 a gallon.


1872: Eventual City Boss Tom Pendergast was born on July 22 in St. Joseph, Mo. In William Reddig’s notable Tom’s Town, adult Pendergast is described as follows: “a blue-eyed, light-haired heavyweight who stood five-feet-nine inches, weighed in around two hundred pounds and exuded energy from every pore. His head was planted on a short, thick neck, which had the rugged look of an oak tree trunk. The impression of hugeness about him was emphasized by his face. It was a massive face—great jaw, large mouth and nose. He looked both formidable and engaging, for there was a humorous glint in his eyes, a jaunty air in his bearing, and a sentimental quality in his expression along with the dominating impression of savage power. The total effect made him one of the most arresting figures ever observed in Kansas City. He drew attention wherever he went and men remembered him from one look.”


Excerpt from the Kansas City Public Library’s “150 Facts about Kansas City”: ‘In 1872, a smallpox epidemic struck Kansas City. A “pest house” was established on an island in the Missouri River, opposite the East Bottoms. When fire destroyed the quarantine buildings, the pest house was moved to another sandbar island in the river opposite Bluff Street, near the West Bottoms. That island washed away in 1877.’


1876: The first crude telephone was installed in a West Bottoms office for J.L. Barnes.  Barnes aimed to connect to his wife in their home on the hill above. It took over three years for Mrs. And Mr. Barnes to have anyone besides each other to call. The first Missouri and Kansas Telephone Company’s phone book consisted of a single page with 58 names and numbers.


1880s: When America started to lose its appetite for Texas Longhorn cattle because of its stringy meat texture, a new breed came from England to save the day. Hereford meat was considered  “mellow” and the cows were oversized (though their rear ends were skinny). Anxiety IV, a Hereford who arrived in Independence in 1880s, was unlike other Herefords.  His rear-end was full-sized and they bred a small herd of calves from him. All the bulls were auctioned off at the Kansas City Stockyards, resulting in many generations of Anxiety IV descendants. Nearly all American Herefords today are his descendants—proving that the Kansas City Strip Steak is indeed from Kansas City!


1881: According to a headline on the front page of The Evening Star (later named The Kansas City Star,) “A New Light Shines on K.C.” On the evening of March 23rd, 1881, almost every inch of Main Street from 6th to 9th was covered by a “jostling, crowding, pushing, hurrying mass of people” who gawked at the “new and marvelous invention:” the electric light.


Even though our town of 50,000 already had 200 saloons, a penniless Jim Pendergast placed a bet on a horse and won enough money to open a saloon on St. Louis Avenue in the West Bottoms. He lovingly named his new watering hole “Climax,” after the horse that won him the money.


Electric lights made their debut in Kansas City.


1882: Jesse James shot to deathAccording to a front-page editorial in The Evening Star in 1882 (later named The Kansas City Star), “The killing of Jesse James is one of the most important events that has ever happened in the state of Missouri.” According to the writer of the editorial, James had brought more damage to the name of Missouri “than any and all other agent combined, since the extinction of slavery.”


On a 12-month lecture tour across the United States, Oscar Wilde made his way to the Coates Opera House on April 17, 1882.  Kansas Citians were not impressed and the Evening Star called his lecture “sentimental nonsense.”  Wilde’s physical appearance was described as follows:  “Latter in the evening, he held in his hand a handkerchief and toyed with it as does a bashful maiden. When not holding either his watch charm or handkerchief his hand played with his coat rail. This he bobbed up and down like a frisky lamb does its caudal appendage when running in a field.”


American House, two-story saloon and hosterly owned by Jim Pendergast in West Bottoms on St. Louis Avenue.


 1884: Cyclorama, which stood at 8th and Broadway, consisted of a 360-degree pictorial view of Civil War scenes. Owned by Abraham Judah, who got his start with the 10-cent freak show “Wild Man of Borneo.”


1885: William Smith and Robert Gillham introduced the cable cars systems to Kansas City. It is said that the first cable cars gave passengers “death-defying thrills.” The Ninth street incline descended into the traffic where Main and Delaware Streets converge, required a man stationed cautioned pedestrians against oncoming cable cars by yelling “Wide Awake! Wide wake!”  Eventually the system was ran by Henry Electric Motor Co.


1886: May 5th, 1886, a terrifying storm hit Kansas City. According to the front cover of the May 11th, 1886, Kansas City Star, “bursting clouds seemed to empty their contents on the storm-beaten city in rapid succession… Streets and alleys were converted into mad rivers and cellars and first floors inundated. Horses and vehicles without drivers could absolutely be seen drifting down main streets without drivers…In some ill-fated streets the torrent of water was liberally mixed with blood and the howl of the wind drowned the cries of the injured and dying.”  The “monster black cloud” blew part of the Hannibal Bridge down, but luckily no one was on it. Kansas City’s first courthouse, located at 2nd and Main in the River Market, suffered major damage from the tornado


1887: “Don’t drink Kaw water!” a July 11, 1887 Kansas City Star editorial warned.


1888: Edwin Booth, a revered actor with the misfortune of being remembered solely as John Wilkes Booth’s brother, opens Warder Grand Opera House in Kansas City.  Ironically, Edwin Booth saved the life of Abraham Lincoln’s son, Robert, on a train platform in Jersey City shortly before Booth’s brother, John, assassinated Abraham Lincoln.


Also in 1888, Lamon Vernon Harkness erected a brownstone mansion at 3125 Troost Ave. Known as Miillionaire’s  Row during this time, housing Kansas City’s  most affluent citizens, the Troost-dwelling Harkness was crowned by the Kansas City Star as the “richest man ever to live in Kansas City.”


1889:  Missouri gets its nickname “Show Me State” from a comment made by Congressman Willard Duncan during a debate in Philadelphia.  “Frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me,” he says. “I am from Missouri.  You have got to show me.”


1890: April 7th, 1890, the new Union Depot opens to the public, located then in what is now referred to as the West Bottoms.


1891: The first automatic telephone exchange was patented by Almon Strowger of Kansas City in 1891 and installed in 1892, but manual switchboards remained in common use until the middle of the twentieth century.


1892: Phillip D. Armour, one of five Armour brothers, came to town and established a beef and pork packaging plant, which lead to a massive transfer of business from Chicago to Kansas City, and employment for thousands of men in the area.  By the late 1800s, Armour Packing Company, located in present-day West Bottoms, employed thousands of workers whose specialized skills included mallet stunning, carcass-knife wielding, sausage-casing stuffing and lard-cauldron tending, resulting in 12,000 pigs, 4,000 cows, and 5,000 sheep processed every day. Our million-dollar meat packing industry was second only to Chicago, the nation’s largest meat processor.


Jim Pendergast elected Alderman of the First Ward. His ward was considered the “Bloody Ward” because of its use of machine politics or “Bossism.”  Bossism was the “unofficial system that controlled many American cities,” writes Frank R. Hayde, “…complex organizations of party men worked at the grass-roots level to nominate candidates, deliver notes, and share in the spoils of victory—some of it legal, some not.”


1894: The Kansas City Star finds a new home at 11th and Grand Streets. The new building was designed specifically to house a newspaper plant—one of only two in the nation built for that purpose.


1895:  As early as 1791, carpenters in Philadelphia began protesting long workday hours. After several labor movements and failed ill-effective labor laws came and went, the widely shared practice of an eight-hour workday went into effect.  In 1895, it made its debut in Kansas City, accompanied by hourly, overtime and double-time wages for work conducted on Sundays. Despite most companies allowing workers to utilize the eight-hour workday, it wasn’t realized until 1937, when the Fair Labor Standard Act was proposed under Roosevelt’s New Deal.


The rough and tumble neighborhood lying just behind the West Bottoms was home to thugs called Toad-a-loops—sometimes, you could find them hiding out in the Livestock Exchange Building, which straddled the Missouri and Kansas borders.  They would avoid arrest on the Missouri side by running through the Livestock Exchange building and emerging into Kansas, out of jurisdiction for Missouri policemen.


1896:  The South Prospect Park association announces that a boulevard 100-feet-wide will connect Kansas City to Swope Park, generously gifted by Mr. Thomas Swope.


1897:  In order to build the Baltimore Hotel, a luxurious hall that seated 15,000, the Kansas City Convention Hall Committee purchased the land at 13th and Baltimore for $57,500.


1898:  Alderman Jim Pendergast rises to power.  “Alderman James is the new boss,” states an editorial writer in The Kansas City Star on June 28th, 1898. “He has gathered about him some of the shrewdest and most powerful politicians…”


1899:  Missouri gets its nickname “Show Me State” from a comment made by Congressman Willard Duncan during a debate in Philadelphia.  “Frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me,” he says. “I am from Missouri.  You have got to show me.”


Kansas City’s first Convention Hall opens at 13th and Central streets. The original dedication featured John Phillip Sousa’s band.  After it burned less than a year later, it was rebuilt and spent 36 years on the block that is now the Barney Allis Plaza.


Joseph Heim and his brothers built the first Electric Park in the East Bottoms, which was considered one of the world’s first full-time amusement park. This park featured the “Mystic Chute,” a plummeting water ride.  Upon moving to a larger space in 1906, the land where the first Electric Park stood was donated as a public park to Kansas City.  Here, events such as “Pet Night, where children were awarded prizes based the largest, smallest or most deformed dogs.


1900: “The Great Hall in Ruins” read a 1900 Kansas City Star editorial headline, referring to a fire that demolished Kansas City’s great Convention Hall at 13th and Central streets. It caught fire in the early afternoon and settled in ruins after only 15 minutes. Miraculously, citizens of Kansas City rallied together and donated enough funds and labor to rebuild the great hall in time for the July 4th Democratic National Convention, previously scheduled at the Convention Hall. Because of this fast rebuild and overall resilience in the face of calamity, “The Kansas City Spirit” was born.


1901: January 31, the prized Coates Opera House met its fate when a fire reduced it to rubble. The final performance on the stage that had offered prestige to Kansas City for 30 years prior, was Heart and Sword. According to the Kansas City Public Library web site, “In hopes that the Coates family or the city would rebuild the theater, no one touched the rubble for 10 years after the building burned to the ground. It would never be rebuilt, however, because by 1901 several other opera houses stood in Kansas City, and the Coates Opera House was less central to the civic welfare of the city. Finally, in 1910 the Rothenburg and Schloss tobacco firm cleared the rubble and built a warehouse where the Coates Opera House had been.”


In May of 1901, the only two automobiles in the city crashed into each other near the intersection of 11th and Grand.


1902: Willis Wood Theater opens on August 25, 1902 at with a performance by Amelia Bingham and her New York-based company. Willis Wood sought to bring the most opulent and ornate theater to Kansas City after the Coates Opera House burned, and spared no expense in its construction at the northwest corner of 11th and Baltimore streets. The exterior was said to resemble that of a colorful wedding cake made from yellows, reds and greens.


From October 1902 through February 1903, the Kansas City Fire Department spent $1,876.00 on the shoeing of department horses


1903:  On May 20, 1903, the Missouri River measured 12 feet deep.  On May 31, it measured 35 feet deep.  A terrible flood then swept through Kansas City, Mo.  After months of rain, the Kansas and Missouri rivers became an inland sea throughout the streets of Kansas City. A wall of water seven feet high flowed into the Union Depot, then located in the West Bottoms, where stockyards, packinghouses, factories, saloons, restaurants, mills and warehouses were inundated by water and the families who worked these establishments were stranded on roofs or estranged from their homes or worse, dead.  The livestock population of the stockyards was all but decimated.  Some animals drowned, some were swept away with current.


1903: Carrie Nation changed her name to “Carry” saying it meant to “Carry A Nation for Prohibition.” Upon completion of her autobiography, she had enough money to buy a house in Kansas City, Kans., where she sheltered wives of drunkards.


1904: An annual public clambake was held and served 2,500 people the following: 18 fat hens, 2 dozen calves heads and feet, 400 pounds of soup bones, 200 mutton necks and shoulders, 40 pounds salt pork, 28 hams, 10 bushels potatoes, 8 bushels onions, 2 bushels carrots, 2 bushels parsley, 100 heads cauliflower, 3 cases sweet corn, 3 cases tomatoes, 3 cases peas, 20 pounds navy beans, 20 pounds split peas, 10 pounds lentils, 2 dozen cans mushrooms, 8 gallons tomato catsup, 30 quarts worcestshire sauce, plus celery butters, tobasco sauce, sage, thyme, sweet marjoram, celery seed, mace, allspice and other herbs.


1905: Officials forced the closure of all city saloons on Sundays.  This meant that the saloon owners had to stop serving by 11:59 p.m. on Saturday evenings or they could lose their licenses. In some instances, patrons would threaten the barkeep if he refused them another drop.


1906: Shubert Theater opens at 10th and Baltimore streets, present-day parking garage for Kansas City’s Central Library. After a series of fires that brought several prominent theaters in Kansas City to an end, the Shubert Theater claimed to be the safest theater in the world and totally fire proof. With an interior coated in hues of red, ivory and gold, the Shubert Theater was designed to be intimate and warm, thus garnering the nickname “The House Cozy.” It stood at 10th and Baltimore until 1936.


1907: Harry Wood of The Star developed one of the nations first and most popular cartoon strips, “The Intellectual Pup.”


Joseph Heim and his brothers built the second Electric Park on the Southside of Kansas City. Walt Disney sites this park as his primary inspiration for the design of Disneyland.  As a nine-year-old, Disney frequented the Electric Park


1908: The Star stopped advertising liquor for fear it was “encouraging readers to endanger their health and happiness.” Its last advertisement for 40 years was for Good Ole Guckenheimer Rye, whose flavor is “surpassingly fine; its purity is never questioned.”


1909: Kansas City Fire department took horse drawn wagons to fires during these days.  On Dec. 22, 1909, a fire wagon headed for a restaurant in the market wrecked in a ditch throwing 3 fireman through the air and the horses took off and hit a trolley pole, which resulted in one having to be put down.


1910: R.A. Long, famed Kansas Citian responsible for the creation of the Liberty Memorial, built Kansas City’s first million-dollar home, located on Gladstone Boulevard and currently housing the Kansas City Museum.


Also in 1910, Joyce Hall (of later Hallmark Greeting Card fame) began selling postcards out of a shoebox in Kansas City.


1911: Kansas City Star moves into its new (and current) home between 17th and 18th Streets on Grand Boulevard.


1912: The Year of Winter. Kansas City matched Maine in annual snowfall.


1913: Swope Park had its official opening, where 15,000 Kansas Citians frolicked over the hills, in the zoo, and around the golf course.


Kansas Citians admittedly spent 1.5 million on 554 “public prostitutes.”


1914: Union Station was built to better serve rail travellers.


 1915: William Rockhill Nelson, civic leader and founder of the Kansas City Star, dies at the age of 74, which helped pave the way for the development of the Nelson-Atkins Gallery of Art. He willed his estate and its 20 acres to be used to purchase fine art, “which will contribute to the delectation and enjoyment of the public generally…”


1916: Kansas City-native Bennie Moten develops “swing music,” a style of music that stressed all four beats of the bar instead of the traditional two. Upon his death in 1935, his band was taken over by his number one disciple, Count Basie.


1917: Women’s Bar Association of Kansas City was formed after Mary Tiera Farrow and 20 other female lawyers were denied rights by the all-male Bar Association.


Also in 1917, a young Ernest Hemingway worked as a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star from 1917 to 1918.


1918: Spanish Influenza spreads across the metro, which effects a quarantine and the following rules: All theaters, schools, churches and public gathering spots must close; Stores with over 25 employees must not open until 9 a.m. and close at 4 p.m.; no more than 20 people can ride street car at a time; music in hotels, restaurants and cabarets must cease; all windows must be left open; elevators sterilized daily; and public telephone booths left open. 2,300 died in Kansas City.  And in Missouri in 1918, 476.6, and in 1919, 206.1. According to a report in the Kansas City Times, First reports of Spanish influenza were caused by rampart kissing between female civilians and soldiers in the army schools. “There is a great deal of kissing going on in this city every 24 hours,” writes the reporter, “and if a ban should be placed on it there would be considerable less influenza in a few days.” The first case escalated to 800 cases by the following week. During the last four months of 1918, a total of 1,865 Kansas Citians died from influenza and pneumonia.


1919: Prohibition legislation passes and KC-area saloons attempt to transition to soft-drink emporiums. A golf club official who didn’t seem alarmed that his 19th-hole profits might be affected, stated that they would simply install soda fountains and serve things such as lemonades, orangeades, black cows and ginger ales.


1920: City Council approves to build the Liberty Memorial.


1921: Harry S. Truman was in attendance for the original dedication of the Liberty Memorial in 1921, and then again as master of the ceremony in 1961. At the base of the Liberty Memorial are two sphinxes named Memory and Future. The “guardian spirits” that adorn the top four corners of the tower are named Honor, Sacrifice, Patriotism and Courage.


1922: A Columbus Park grocery store at 520 Gillis Street gets ransacked by pick and axe and a Police task force on hunt for booze until finally they find a cellar full of mash twenty feet below ground level.


1922: Hostelry was in full swing in the ‘20s.  Kansas City boasted 86 hotels with 12 more to be under construction in the next several years.


1923: A $5 million plaza sees the light of day.  J.C. Nichols Development Company builds the County Club Plaza, designed by Edward Buehler Delk, who brought his love of old market places of Spain to Kansas City.


1924: Dorothy Pollyana Dunkle burned to death on her Priest of Pallas float when a sparkler caught her on fire.  This was the last year for the pageant. The Priest of Pallas was a week-long festival aimed to promote Kansas City as the “Athens of the West.”


1925: War on Booze continues.  Police discover a boxcar in the East Bottoms yards of the Missouri Pacific railroads full of 500 cases of bootlegged liquor.  Estimated “Kansas City retail” costs were up to $75,000.


1926: Dedication of the Liberty Memorial drew in a crowd of 150,000 people. According to the text from a November 11, 1926 Kansas City Star front page, the crowd was the largest any president in history had ever addressed:


“The ceremony was amid the singing of wind, of voices; amid the drench of emotion the restraint of which is its power; amid the prayer of hearts made sober with memory, sincere in the common bond of human love, human frailty. An event such as today was one of the Liberty Memorial’s, even more than it was Calvin Coolidge’s or Kansas City’s. It was the crown, which the core of the earth—stone piled upon stone in a story—it claims for itself when shaped by a master for a godly purpose.


1927: Pla-More Ballroom opens to a crowd of 1,400 at 3142 Main Street. The 14,000 sq. ft. dance floor contained up to 7,000 springs, to give the dancers a lift. At that time, ti was the largest indoor entertainment complex in the United States. It contained billiards and a bowling alley on the bottom floor.  An ice-skating rink adjoined next door and in 1931, the Pla-Mor added the largest swimming pool west of the Mississippi River.


The same year Charles Lindbergh completed the first solo transatlantic flight, he dedicated Kansas City’s brand new Municipal Airport. Interestingly enough, the name followed the dedication; for the first few months it was informally known as “New Richards Field” or “Peninsula Field” — in 2002, it was renamed the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport.


1928: Kansas City Journal merged with Kansas City Post to become the Kansas City Journal-Post.


1930s: Omaha World Herald journalist Edward Morrow said the following of his time in Kansas City in the ‘30s: If you want to see sin, forget about Paris and go to Kansas City. With the possible exception of such renowned centers as Singapore and Port Said, Kansas City has the greatest sin industry in the world.” The Red Light district spanned 13th and 14th Streets downtown.


“Businessman’s Lunch” at Chesterfield Club 320 E 9th St. included waitresses in high-heeled shoes and dainty see-though cellophane aprons revealing pubic hair shaved into hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades.


The club was closed down in 1939 as a “common nuisance”.


1932: Russell Stover Candies opened this year in Kansas City. Today, they are the largest maker of boxed chocolates in the world, hand-dipping more than 25 million pieces of chocolate each year.


1933:  Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow stayed at the Red Crown Tavern on the outskirts f Kansas City. “This is where we stay the rest of the night,” Clyde said, “even if we all get killed before morning.”


Also in 1933, the infamous Union Station Massacre traumatized Kansas City. The shoot-out, though, only lasted for 30 seconds.


1935: Upon swing-music inventor Bennie Moten’s death, his band was taken over by his number one disciple, Count Basie.


1942: On February 17, 1942, Paul Robeson performed at the Municipal Auditorium and shocked the audience when he stopped singing to give a speech about racial segregation in the audience. According to a local publication, “…[His speech] was greeted with applause from all sections of the hall.  At the end of the group of songs that followed the speech, however, a few white persons sitting on the front rows of the first floor, left the hall. Mr. Robeson responded to their leaving by singing as an encore, a little song called ‘Jim Crow,’ the words of which played significantly upon the situation in the concert hall.”


1943:  Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! All about Kansas City

The song includes the lyrics:

Everything’s up to date in Kansas City

They gone about as fer as they can go

They went an’ built a skyscraper seven stories high

About as high as a buildin’ orta grow.

(To give some context: The tallest buildings in Kansas City, Missouri in 1906–the era when the musical is set–were the 12-story New York Life Insurance Building (Kansas City) building and the newly built 17-story Commerce Trust Tower. A major seven-story building at the time was The Jones Store at 12th and Main, which took up an entire block and was 500,000 square feet (46,000 m2).


1945: Baseball legend Jackie Robinson signed with the Negro League Kansas City Monarchs.


1949: In this year, 86 factories were manufacturing garments in Kansas City. It was said that one in seven American women wore clothing made here.


1957: Ruskin Heights Tornado, May 20,1957, The human toll was significant, 44 people lost their lives, 7 in Kansas and 37 in Missouri, and 531 people were injured.  Damage from the tornado was estimated at $2.5 million dollars.  The tornado was a half mile wide and was on the ground for one hour and 38 minutes.


1963: The scoreboard at Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Kansas City Chiefs, was the first to transmit instant replay.


1964: Former mayor H. Roe Bartle was named “Cigar Smoker of the Year” by the Missouri Association of Tobacco Distributors. Thomas Hart Benton was named “Pipe Smoker of the Year” for the same year by the same association. Bartle received a humidor filled with his choice of cigars; Benton received a year’s supply of tobacco and a set of pipes, including a Missouri corncob pipe.


1977: Elvis Presley played five concerts in Kansas City, the last of which was on June 18, 1977—two months before he died.


1981: Hyatt Skywalks Fall, 114 died in this building disaster. The Hyatt Regency hotel walkway collapse occurred on Friday July 17, 1981 at the Hyatt Regency Kansas City in Kansas City, Missouri, United States where two connected walkways collapsed and plunged into the lobby holding a tea dance, killing 114 people and injuring 216 others. At the time, it was the deadliest structural collapse in U.S. history, not to be surpassed until the collapse of the World Trade Center in 2001.