Famous & Infamous visitors at the old Union Depot

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Fainting Bertha, Carrie Nation, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, West Bottoms



Photo courtesy of the Historic Kansas City Foundation
Photo courtesy of the Historic Kansas City Foundation


At the Union Depot in Kansas City, Mo.’s West Bottoms neighborhood, there was… never a dull moment. A constant bustle of people, trains rushing in and out, the sooty air thick with voices and train whistles, maybe a fight or a mugging or a shooting, maybe just some drunk guy stumbling around after a few too many at one of the many nearby saloons. Maybe even a midget – that is a legitimate news bulletin from Union Depot oh-so-many years ago. She caused quite a stir.

Amongst the constant stir at the Union Depot, nothing brought as much excitement as a glimpse of a famous – or infamous – visitor to Kansas City. Here are some of Union Depot’s most sensational travelers.


Carrie Nation



Carrie Nation, who changed her name to Carry Nation (to "carry" a "nation" toward Prohibition.)
Carrie Nation, who changed her name to Carry Nation (to “carry” a “nation” toward Prohibition.)


It wasn’t all too odd to spot Carrie the-hatchet-wielding-saloon-destroyer at the railway despite the fact she’d been banned from Kansas City eight years prior. She had a mile-long rap sheet and a notorious history of scoffing at the law. But in 1909, Nation’s mission was not to rally supporters for the temperance cause (or to destroy anything), but to inform the people that she had designed and built an airplane. She claimed the plane was docked somewhere in southeast Kansas.
I’ve found no such evidence of this plane’s existence.


Grover Cleveland



Photo courtesy of the Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library
Photo courtesy of the Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library


Cleveland was the first United States President to visit Kansas City, and he arrived at Union Depot in 1887. Accompanied by his brand-new, quite young and beautiful bride Frances Folsom, the two attended the city’s Agricultural Exposition. They also dedicated the YMCA at 9th and Locust Streets. Later in the evening, the Priests of Pallas staged a parade in honor of the couple. Fun fact: People were far more interested in Cleveland’s lovely wife than the president himself.


Mr. George M. Cohan

Mr. Cohan was a renowned American actor, composer, playwright, dancer, and all-around, jack-of-all-trades entertainer. On a tour, Cohan (also nicknamed the “Man Who Owned Broadway”) came through Union Depot in Kansas City with quite the entourage – occupying no less than seven entire rail cars. His famed “You’re a Grand Old Flag” , “Yankee Doodle Boy,” and “Give My Regards to Broadway” are still popular today.


Fainting Bertha

Her real name was Bertha Lebecke, and she was a wanted woman. All over the country, men had fallen into her trap as she had fallen into their arms. She was an infamous slippery pickpocket who pretended to faint. When her target caught or helped her, she snatched his wallet and any other valuables he may have had on his person. The thief was spotted performing her usual routine a few times at Union Depot in Kansas City.


William Jennings Bryan

The democratic presidential nominee and former U.S. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan came through Union Depot in 1900, to attend the Democratic National Convention held in Kansas City that year at the Convention Hall.


Ferdinand Cohen and the heiress Roberta de Janon

In 1910, 16-year old heiress Roberta de Janon made scandalous headlines when she eloped with an older, married waiter named Ferdinand Cohen. An ongoing search for the pair by law enforcement led to the arrest of a man at Union Depot matching Cohen’s description exactly. The man and his female companion were questioned, and ultimately released. Though they were not the famous wayward couple, they certainly caused some excitement at the station that day.


Theodore Roosevelt



Photo courtesy of the Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library


On a 1910 tour through the Midwest, former president Theo Roosevelt arrived in Kansas City through Union Depot – along with nine full rail cars. He spoke at the Portsmouth Auditorium in Kansas City, Kan., then at Kansas City, Mo.’s Convention Hall, and finally Westport high school. Despite torrential rains, thousands of people eagerly awaited his train at Union Depot and attended his speeches.


Lord Charles Beresford


Born to a marquess, Lord Beresford served in both the British Royal Navy and British Parliament. He was a well-respected admiral, having earned the Knight Grand Cross for the Royal Victorian Order and for the Order of the Bath. He came to Kansas City on business in 1909, collecting a check for cattle sales in the city. The Lord also owned livestock in Texas.