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Murder or Self Defense?

Last Hand at Park Manor: The Trial of Myrtle Bennett By Ralph Monaco II


n the late evening hours on Sunday, Sept. 29, 1929, socialites Mr. and Mrs. John G. Bennett and their swanky neighbors and closest friends Mr. and Mrs. Charles F. Hofman were engaged in a “friendly” game of partnership contract bridge in the Bennett’s posh Park Manor apartment on Ward Parkway in the classy Country Club District of Kansas City. Kansas City was home to the internationally known puppet manufacturer— Hazelle, Inc. At its peak, Hazelle made 250,000 puppets annually. Its most popular marionette was the white-faced clown Teto. See story on page 20.

Table of Contents The trial of Myrtle Bennett ..... 1 Arthur Grissom: A poet in a frontier town ............................ 8 The preservation fight in the Truman neighborhood .......... 11 Hazelle Rollins: KC’s industrious puppeteer ............ 20 Finding historic records: A documentary filmmaker tale .. 24 Traveling by train through KC: Nellie Perry’s diaries ..... 26 Family stories ........................ 29 Last chapters.......................... 30

Soon the world of these two couples would irreparably crash, as would the stock market within the next 30 days on “Black Tuesday.” The Bennetts were ahead on points and assured of victory until Mr. Bennett misread the game and played the wrong hand — a bid of four spades, doubled — and lost by two tricks. His wife, an expert bridge player, promptly decreed that her husband was nothing more than a “bum bridge player.” With those words, John Bennett erupted into rage, slapping his wife several times. The end was climactic — four gunshots rang out, two striking John, who mortally collapsed while clasping the hand of his slayer — his wife Myrtle.

Photographic portrait of Myrtle Bennett, Courtesy of Missouri Valley Room, Kansas City Public Library.

Was his homicide murder or self defense? Myrtle Bennett, 34 years old, was immediately arrested and taken to the Kansas City Police Country Club Station before being transported to (Continued on page 3)

2 Jackson County Historical Society OFFICERS Sharon Williams, President Brent Schondelmeyer, President-Elect Benjamin Mann, Treasurer J. Bradley Pace, Vice President DIRECTORS A. Scott Cauger Kent Dicus Mark Eubank Angie Felarca Karen Graves Gary Jenkins George B. Lopez Michael Manners Ralph A. Monaco II Barbara Potts Diane Reuter Charlotte Ronan David Ross Gloria J. Smith Shirley Wurth STAFF Steve Noll, Executive Director Clint Shrout, Technology Director All surface-mail correspondence must be delivered to PO Box 4241, Independence, Mo. 64051-4241. JCHS History Center and Archives 112 W. Lexington, Room 249 Independence, Mo. 64050 1859 Jail Museum 217 N. Main St. Independence, Mo. 64050 Vol. 53, No. 1, Summer 2015. The Jackson County Historical Society Journal (ISSN 0888-4978) is published semiannually by the Jackson County (Mo.) Historical Society, a non-profit Missouri educational corporation. Back issues are available on the JCHS website All rights reserved. Contents, when fully credited, may be used with written permission.

JCHS Journal — Summer 2015

Discovering History That Is Both Near and Dear This issue of the Jackson County Historical Society Journal lands solidly in the 20th century. It happened to work out that way, but equally it seems quite appropriate. This issue is an unusual mix about writers, puppeteers, finding historical records and the Kansas City mob, an infamous bridge-game murder, and a historic preservation battle. Writing about “near history” — things that are close in time to the present, but not yesterday’s news — can be challenging. Many of the individuals involved may still be among us, and, particularly for controversial topics, their versions of history may strongly differ. And because it happened in our lifetime — our life expectancy now tops 75 years — we may wonder why this should be interesting or historically important. History has too often been about people we did not know and events of another era. But the real opportunity for “near history” is that it can engage our understanding in new ways with who we are and where we live. And in doing so we can become the stewards for telling stories that deserve to be shared. The internet is becoming a vast historical repository which can be effectively used to research and illustrate articles we have published. The amount of readily available material is extraordinary. With so much material, there still is the need to develop a narrative and make sense of things. The Jackson County Historical Society has been invigorated by our renewed publishing efforts — a semi-annual journal, book projects and expanded content on our website. The Jackson County Historical Society has now transitioned to a searchable database of our extensive collections. We hope to provide remote access. We ourselves are working hard to get into the 21st century. We are doing a better job of sharing — stories, facts, dreams, significant historic events and under-appreciated individuals. We care about politics, architecture, arts, literature, and social history. And we want to do more. We have an extensive collection but few finding aids and limited public hours for researchers. Getting online resources — the indexes, if not actual documents, images and audio files — is essential. And as this “greatest generation” leaves us, more recent history risks being lost — not to the dustbins of history, but landfills. We still have a chance learn what they did, knew and experienced — something that should be near and dear to all of us who remain.

JCHS Journal — Summer 2015 (Continued from page 1)

police headquarters in downtown Kansas City. There she was held in the same jail cell with 29-year-old Mrs. Evelyn Helms of Raytown, Mo., who was awaiting trial for the first -degree murder of her husband, Frank. The two widows shared similar pedigrees. Both were young wives, without children, financially dependent upon their late spouses. Both admitted shooting and killing their husbands in their family homes. They also shared a common defense theme: victims of abuse and cruelty inflicted upon them by their now-dead husbands, who they thought were leaving them forever. Both would also be prosecuted by the elected Jackson County Prosecutor, James R. Page.


owever, unlike Myrtle Bennett, Evelyn Helms was impoverished and unable to retain the most prominent defense attorney in the city. Myrtle was financially secure and socially elite, and she stood to inherit over $30,000 in life insurance if acquitted of murdering her husband.

Within 30 days of John Bennett’s death, Myrtle suffered a collapse and was taken to a sanitarium for what Dr. G. Wilse Robinson described as a nervous and mental disease. Her breakdown could very well have been spurred on by the news of the tragic misfortune of her former cellmate Evelyn. A 12-man jury had found Evelyn Helms guilty of the murder of her husband and sentenced her to 10 years in prison. Mrs. Myrtle Bennett would certainly have to secure different legal counsel. And she had the means to do so. The murder trial of Mrs. Myrtle Bennett did not commence until nearly 17 months after the death of her husband. By then the story of her killing of John Bennett had evolved into a frenzied media story that covered the columns of local, national and international newspapers. Locally, the interest and frenzy about the case was comparable to a trial that had taken place 20 years earlier in the same courtroom, before the same judge, and involved one of the same attorneys — the murder trial of Dr. C. Bennett Hyde for the alleged murder of Kansas City philanthropist

3 Thomas Hutton Swope (for whom Swope Park is named). National and international excitement about the pending Bennett trial was heightened by the popularity of the game of partnership contract bridge. By 1929, the game of bridge had developed into one of the most popular games of its time. Newspapers around the world provided weekly if not daily accounts on how to properly play certain bridge hands. Socialites such as the Vanderbilts of New York, vaudeville and Hollywood stars such as Buster Keaton, George Burns and Chico Marx, and baseball icons, including Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, played bridge. Gentlemen in elite clubs and housewives over kitchen tables spent hours turning bridge hands and studying the eyes of their partners and foes. Ely Culbertson (born of an American father and Russian mother) and his wife Josephine (“Jo”) toured the world promoting and playing the game. Culbertson had authored books which helped the game’s popularity to reach its zenith.

Justice for Evelyn Helms

She was paroled by the Missouri governor after serving three years of a 10-year sentence.

Helms was convicted of manslaughter and was sentenced in November 1929 to the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, Mo.

She was a 28-year-old theatrical worker at the time of her conviction.

Portion of the entry in the official Register of Inmates Received kept by Missouri State Penitentiary, where Helms was incarcerated in 1930. Helms was paroled by Gov. Henry Caulfield in 1933. Source: Missouri State Archives, Missouri Digital Heritage.


JCHS Journal — Summer 2015

As Myrtle Bennett was awaiting trial, the Culbertson’s bridge skills were challenged. In 1931, the Culbertsons had agreed to a bridge match of 150 rubbers, i.e., the best of a three-game set. The match was named the “Bridge Battle of the Century” and took place in New York City.

Ironically, it was the same courtroom and judge before which Reed had argued and pounded the counsel table until he had secured the conviction of Dr. Hyde for the murder of Col. Swope. Reed, now 68, was determined to demonstrate he had the stamina and passion to mount a vigorous defense.

The bridge partners Ely and Jo tantalized an adoring and emotionally charged audience. Bridge had become an international phenomenon, and Myrtle’s killing of her husband after a night of bridge only heightened the intense interest and craze in the game. While the bridge murder theme certainly tantalized newspaper readers, the selection of her defense attorney only heightened interest. His legal prowess was legendary and well-established through several high-profile cases — James A. Reed. The attorney had a storied career. He was elected Jackson County Prosecutor in 1898, and in 1899 unsuccessfully prosecuted Jesse James, Jr., son of the bandit Jesse James. The case was one of his few defeats during a 40-year legal career.


n 1900, he was elected mayor of Kansas City. Ten years later he successfully prosecuted Dr. Hyde for the murder of Col. Swope and was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served for nearly 30 years. He single-handedly ensured the defeat of President Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations following World War I. In 1928 and 1932, Reed sought the Democratic presidential nomination losing out to two New

Photographic portrait of James A. Reed, Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress, LC-H25- 133483-H.

York governors — Al Smith and Franklin Roosevelt. Myrtle Bennett undoubtedly had retained the best defense possible — the most famous attorney in the city, if not the entire country. Despite the frigid air on Monday, Feb. 23, 1931, a large crowd assembled outside Jackson County Courthouse — a massive building which occupied the entire block bounded by 5th St., Oak St., Locust St., and Missouri Ave. They waited impatiently for the doors of Judge Ralph S. Latshaw’s courtroom to open, hoping for a seat at the city’s most -awaited criminal trial in years. Myrtle Bennett, dressed entirely in black, ambled into the courtroom well-briefed by her attorneys on the importance of doing everything Reed directed her to do, down to her wardrobe and facial appearance — no make-up.

It took three grueling days to select the 12-man jury. The selection process was as intriguing as a stage show. Reed frequently challenged and argued questions asked of potential jurors by the Jackson County Prosecutor James R. Page. Reed paced, gnawing on a cigar, and whirled at Page whenever the opportunity arose. Because of Reed’s involvement, a number of Kansas City School of Law students abandoned their studies to attend the hearing to watch the jury selection — the most important part of Reed’s defense strategy. He was determined to have only jurors sympathetic to his widowed client. Reed was not known for his sentimentality. He was persuasive and determined. He had been a gladiator in the courtroom and on the floor of the U.S. Senate. He seldom lost a trial and never backed down in debate. Yet his strategy in defending Mrs. Bennett also personified his acting skills. He often became tearful and emotional. At one point during the trial, he faltered in tears, turned to the Jackson County Prosecutor, and proclaimed, “I can’t help it, Jim.”


eed knew he needed to instill emotions in the minds and hearts of the 12 men who would

JCHS Journal — Summer 2015

5 29, 1929, until they reached the fatal moments. Myrtle broke into hysterics when she recalled firing the Bennett household firearm — a .32-caliber Colt automatic pistol that shot smokeless cartridges. She cried uncontrollably and was joined by other women in the gallery who wept with her. At times, Myrtle buried her face in her hands, wiping her eyes with her white handkerchief. Reed patiently waited for the tears to stop before he continued.

This is a 1925 photograph of the second Jackson County courthouse, which was designed by Asa Beebe Cross, regarded as Kansas City’s first professional architect. He was prolific, designing over 1,000 buildings, few of which remain. Courtesy of Missouri Valley Room, Kansas City Public Library.

decide the guilt or innocence of Myrtle Bennett. The drama and emotional upheaval of Myrtle Bennett’s trial played out in Judge Latshaw’s courtroom for nine grueling days. Myrtle always wore her same black garb. And if Reed wasn’t showing emotions, Myrtle did. She cried so often the press noted the “dark circles under her eyes” and general facial appearance. “As she stood up to be sworn in the lines of worry in her face and the dark rings under her eyes were apparent,” the Kansas City Journal-Post reported. “She was without makeup and her paleness was ascertained by her black outfit.” At one point, when the bloodstained, white polo shirt her hus-

band had been wearing at the time he was shot was displayed in the courtroom, Myrtle Bennett became so hysterical that the judge was compelled to order a recess until she was able to regain her composure.


he poignant ordeal affected almost everyone who testified or witnessed the trial. Even Myrtle’s widowed mother Alice Adkins, who had testified on her behalf, collapsed following her trial testimony and required emergency medical care and treatment. On Wednesday, March 4, 1931, at 9:40 a.m., Myrtle Bennett took the witness stand, remaining there into the afternoon. Reed gradually and artfully began by walking his client through the events of Sept.

She knew nothing about guns and categorically denied intentionally shooting her husband. She explained how gravely frightened she was when her husband had grabbed her forcibly and “very hard” in an attempt to take away the pistol — her dress had been torn in the struggle. She told how her husband had struck her many times during their marriage and how that evening she feared for her life. She had begged and pleaded with him to be careful, but somehow the weapon discharged. It was not her fault; it was a terrible accident; she would have preferred to have been dead, not her Jack. On cross-examination, Myrtle’s responses to the persistent interrogation by the prosecutor were consistent. She could not recall what happened. It was an accident; she had been in a fog; it was a frightening ordeal; she wished she had died. The prosecutor often became argumentative with her, which prompted frequent objections by Reed.


JCHS Journal — Summer 2015 The three made a perfect picture for the press. To 30-year-old George Cauthen, reporter and photographer for the Kansas City Journal-Post, the city and the world needed to see the image, and he promptly snapped a picture. Hearing the camera flashbulb, Reed whirled on Cauthen, enraged and incensed over being photographed without permission. Reed told the photographer, “I want you to understand that if this picture is published I’ll knock your head off,” and then hit Cauthen in the face. The following day, the JournalPost retaliated by publishing the photograph with this caption:

A crowd gathers outside the courthouse hoping to get a courtroom seat. Photo courtesy of Missouri Valley Room, Kansas City Public Library.

The only thing Myrtle Bennett knew was that four shots had been fired, but how or where, she did not know. It was a tragedy, but not of her doing.

Here it is, Jim — the picture you forbade George Cauthen, JournalPost photographer, to publish under penalty of knocking his head off. The photograph was taken by

Cauthen last night in the criminal court room before he was slapped by former Senator Reed. This time Reed failed to have the last word. His outburst and fisticuffs had backfired — the First Amendment right of freedom of the press was no trifling matter. Cauthen and the Journal-Post would not be intimidated or compromise their constitutional rights. The jury deliberation, to the dismay of Reed, lasted well into Thursday night and Friday afternoon. Finally, at 2:30 p.m., the jury foreman Leslie R. Choate announced the verdict of “not guilty.” From the totality of the evidence, the jury could not conclude that Myrtle Bennett had intentionally shot her husband. There was no dispute that the automatic pistol had been discharged


he insisted she had not killed her husband — it had been an accident and he was fatally shot in a struggle. Of the many twists and turns during the murder trial perhaps the most sensational occurred following the close of all evidence on the evening of March 4. As the courtroom began to empty late that afternoon, Myrtle Bennett and her two lawyers, Reed and J. Francis O’Sullivan, stood huddled towards the back of the courtroom engaged in a quiet, private conversation. Preparing to leave, each had donned their hat.

Defense attorney James A. Reed speaks to the jury during the March 1931 Myrtle Bennett murder trial. Photo courtesy Missouri Valley Room, Kansas City Public Library.

JCHS Journal — Summer 2015


four times, but reasonable doubt Country Club District could never existed on whether the shots had again be home to Myrtle. been fired by the defendant with the She and her mother did disappear. intent to kill her husband. fter World War II, Myrtle beReed’s intensity and passionate incame executive head of sistence that the weapon had been housekeeping at New York City’s fired accidentally had been persua- famous Carlyle Hotel, where she sive in the minds of the jurors. lived on the third floor in apartment It was not a case in which the de3B. She was highly regarded and fense had proven their client inno- frequently played bridge with cent. Rather, it was a decision ren- friends and special hotel guests. dered because the state had failed to Other than making vague, obscure prove Myrtle Bennett guilty beyond and ambiguous remarks, she was a reasonable doubt. very guarded about disclosing any-

Myrtle also battled with herself over the disposition of her estate. In a period of five years, she re-wrote her will three times, with the last instrument being executed on Dec. 3, 1991.

After the acquittal, Myrtle realized that she and her mother needed to forever fold their hands and escape anonymously to another city — anywhere where the world would forget her. She also knew that she needed to be dealt a better hand — the cards would always be stacked against her anywhere in the world where her past identity would ever be disclosed. Park Manor and the

She also died with the stain of Jack’s blood on her conscience and soul.


thing about her past. When Myrtle retired from the Carlyle, she relocated to Florida. Over the years, she amassed a fortune and maintained a determined independence.

Two months later, she died in North Miami Beach, Dade County, Fla. She was 96. Her estate was worth more than a million dollars. She died still angry and incensed with her family heirs. They were left a pittance — less than $4,000 in assets.

In her final will — the last hand she played, and a last act of contrition — Myrtle left two-thirds of her esIn the twilight hours of her life, she tate — well over $600,000 — to warred with family members in Ar- Mary Jacobs and Helen Fugina. kansas and Oklahoma over various The beneficiaries were nieces of a issues, especially her independent perfume salesman — her longliving and finances. deceased husband, John G. Bennett.

Last Hand at Park Manor Myrtle Bennett’s trial was reenacted in May 2015 as part of Jackson County Historical Society’s living history program. Several prominent Kansas City jurists participated in the trial, which was researched and written by Ralph Monaco II, the author of this article. Monaco did extensive research into contemporary newspaper accounts of the trial and related developments. His research is published in a new 148-page book published by Monaco and the Jackson County Historical Society. Copies are available through the JCHS bookstore or online through the JCHS website. Retail price is $15. All profits benefit JCHS.


JCHS Journal — Summer 2015

Arthur Grisson: A Poet in a Frontier Town Grissom and C. M. Harger organized the Western Authors’ and Artists’ Club, which was intended to be a salon of Western literature.

By Gloria Haralson Smith “Arthur Grissom used to fascinate me when he came to our house to call… I adored him because I thought he looked just like a poet ought to look.”


The effort attracted notice. The Newark, Ohio, Daily Advocate reported that “Arthur Grissom, a clever young western writer, whose work has appeared in The Youth’s Companion, Detroit Free Press and other journals is only 20 years old and is president of the Western Authors’ and Artists’ Club.”

Mary (Paxton) Keeley Back in Independence

any of the young ladies of Independence appreciated his poems and often quoted them, but the young men of Independence thought he was a “sissy.” But in a short life, the young man grew into a major literary figure. In his youth he wrote pulp Western stories and founded a Kansas City society magazine before becoming the founding editor of a New York magazine for the “smart set.” Possibly Independence was too much of a frontier town to appreciate his poetry. Paxton’s parents thought Grissom “promising” and Prof. George Bryant of Woodland College — a short-lived college in Independence — considered him “the most gifted pupil he had ever taught.” Grissom had other interests in addition to poetry. He was a close friend of the Missouri botanist Benjamin F. Bush and often accompanied Bush and Bishop Cameron Mann as they strolled through the countryside studying the Jackson County botany. Born in Payson, Ill., in 1869, Grissom was the son of a Methodist minister. He began writing at an early age and contributed to the Modern Argo of Quincy, Ill., at the age of 12. By age 13 he sold a

Arthur Grissom photo portrait. Courtesy of James M. Kemper, Jr.

20,000-word story to a New York publisher for $10. In 1882 his family moved to Slater, Mo., where he was employed by the weekly newspaper, and in 1885 he published his first newspaper story, “Out in the West.” That same year, at the age of 16, he became associate editor of Dawn of Day, a juvenile paper published in Detroit. After his family moved to Independence in 1885, he became editor of Western Young Folks. He attended Independence public schools and for two summers was city editor of the Independence Daily Sentinel. He graduated from Woodland College in 1887 and went to Kansas City where he joined the staff of the Kansas City Daily News.

As related by his grandson James M. Kemper in “A Memoir,” Grissom was highly regarded for his literary talents during his college years and sold many poems and short stories to leading magazines. He was noted for his society verse, typical of the Victorian age in which he was born and the Edwardian age that he was entering. After 1888 Grissom spent his time in both Kansas City and New York City. When he returned to Kansas City in 1895 he became managing editor and editorial writer for the Kansas City Evening World. Mary Paxton writes of being a young girl in her early teens when Grissom was dating the “elite girls” of Independence. During this time, Julia Woods came to to visit her friends in Independence, where she met Grissom, and after a few dates he became very fond of her. After attending Monticello College for a year, Julia had come home to make her society debut at a lavish party.

JCHS Journal — Summer 2015 Grissom was one of her escorts and admirers, and in one of his verses he describes her: Of snowy velvet is her sumptuous gown, Lace garnitured and trimmed with eiderdown; Her ermine cloak half hides a white suede shoe. While valley lilies and white violets crown The splendor of her beauty. Julia’s father, Dr. William S. Woods, a leading banker in Kansas City, was reported to be the wealthiest man in the city. When he found out that Grissom, whom he considered a nobody, was writing these verses to his only child, he set about to separate them by sending her on a trip to Europe. With Julia out of his life, Grissom left for New York, where he settled into the magazine world.


pon Julia’s return from Europe, her engagement to Archie Roberts, a wealthy young banker from Hannibal, Mo., was announced. It is believed that Julia met Roberts on the return voyage from Europe. Roberts was highly respected by Dr. and Mrs. Woods, and Julia was soon taken to New York by her mother to buy her wedding trousseau. One afternoon while they were in New York and Mrs. Woods was taking a nap, Julia went out on a shopping errand and ran into Arthur Grissom on Fifth Avenue. It is not known if this meeting was accidental or not, but he bought her violets and took her to lunch on Washington Square. After


lunch they were married at the Little Church Around the Corner.

In January 1898 the couple’s only child, Gladys Grissom, was born.

The incident was inaccurately reported in the Stevens Point, Wis., Journal that Julia was a “new” woman and while engaged to a “western swain” had gone to New York for her trousseau. While “on Broadway” she had met Grissom for the first time. The paper summarized the encounter:

Within a few years, Julia and her daughter returned to her parents. She filed for a divorce — a domestic development reported on by the San Antonio (Texas) Light.

They looked. They sighed. They spoke. They faced about. They entered the Little Church Around the Corner and were made man and wife.

She’s an old-fashioned girl, you see, and not in the least up to date,

As romantic as that version is, we know it is pure fiction.

I know it is very old-fashioned to say, your wife is a ‘saint from above’

In truth, their marriage was a surprise and unwelcome shock to Julia’s parents. However, the events that resulted in matrimony that day were very much in keeping with Grissom’s romantic style and Julia’s modern ideas. Following their marriage, the newlyweds returned to Kansas City where Dr. Woods tried unsuccessfully to persuade Grissom to join the banking business. After deciding this was not a business in which he had any interest, in 1899 he left the bank and together with George Creel started a society journal, The Independent; the two served as co-editors for the next two years. Initially The Independent had a strong political flavor reflecting Creel’s opposition to the faction led by James Pendergast. Later, politics were discreetly dropped from the magazine’s pages and it became the society journal serving Kansas City and the surrounding area.

The newspaper contrasted the divorce action with a lush poem Grissom poem wrote in the early days of their marriage.

But she is the kind of a girl for me, and the kind I want for a mate.

But I own I am fond of her oldfashioned way and proud of her old-fashioned love. The newspaper followed with this pointed commentary: “So sang Arthur Grissom, sentimental and society poet of New York, in the first flush of his adoration for Julia Stone Woods. He is now suing her rich father for $100,000, the material price which he sets upon the old-fashioned girl’s love, so celebrated in his verse.”


elieving that his father-in-law had broken up his marriage and taken his bride and little girl away from him, Grissom sued Woods for alienating the affections of his wife and breach of contract. The suit was dismissed in 1900 and the domestic matters resolved with a reported $30,000 settlement payable to Grissom, who agreed not to contest his wife’s divorce. Immediately following the divorce Grissom moved to New York and joined The Smart Set magazine.


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As editor Grissom created the magazine’s influential format, 160 pages combining a novelette, short play, poems, and witticisms. The magazine, under Grissom’s editorial leadership, published its first issue in March 1900. Its motto was “a magazine of cleverness, to provide lively entertainment for minds that are not primitive.”


he magazine provided a haven for writers just getting started as well as established authors whose more daring efforts could find no other market.

features of one class, and in this undertaking it has been successful. He was not himself a brilliant writer, but no man perhaps of the day was a better judge of the merits of what others wrote. Those that knew him personally say almost without exception that he was a nature of unusual gentleness and certainly if discouragement did not embitter, success did not spoil him ...

Mr. Grissom’s death will prove an irreparable loss, for he never failed to weigh and measure a The Smart Set was an instant manuscript by its degree success and become a leading of originality, never by a publication with wide circulacut and dried standard of tion. Net profits of The Smart what authors ought to be Set for 1902 were reported to The first issue of The Smart Set was published in March 1900. saying, and his faculty be $100,000. Single copies cost 25 cents; a yearly subscription $3. for discovering possibilities where a less observGrissom held a tragically brief ing reader would see nothing ceased young editor and literary tenure as editor of the literary worth while, was perhaps the real figure. monthly. secret of his success with The In the death of Arthur Grissom, He contracted typhoid, exactly Smart Set. the country has lost a distinct perhow is not known, and died on Though he died of typhoid fever, sonality .... Dec. 3, 1901, at the age of 32. his Independence friend Mary The Smart Set is, no one can The next month, Isma Dooly auPaxton, who later herself became a doubt, a magazine of cleverness. It writer, believed the romantic poet thored an extensive tribute in The has striven to reflect the salient Atlanta Constitution to the dedied of a broken heart. When it was founded in 1900, The Smart Set was a magazine for and about New York's social elite. The Smart Set evolved into something much more important — an expression of popular modernism. The Smart Set published some of the best authors of the day, including James Joyce and Joseph Conrad, and gave a start to others such as F. Scott Fitzgerald. The magazine also affected a cultural snobbery that involved biting satire of American society. For its time, the magazine was very liberal and also profitable.

JCHS Journal — Summer 2015


Building the Faith and Preserving the Neighborhood:

The Conflict in the Truman Neighborhood This article was written in 1985 and is published as originally written. A coda has been added updating developments over the intervening three decades. By Brent Schondelmeyer


he New York Times journalist wrote to his frail father-inlaw in 1971 in a matter-of-fact fashion asking for a decision on a matter that first had been broached seven years earlier. He politely referred to his in-law as “Grandpa,” though to the world at large he was better known as Harry Truman – the Man from Independence. Son-in-law Clifton Daniel, at the urging of National Park Service officials, wrote to Truman at his Independence home seeking his personal approval for the creation of a National Historic Landmark District that would include the quiet residential neighborhood around the former president’s home at 219 N. Delaware. “The Park Service has the authority to register the Delaware Street area without approval of anyone,” Daniel wrote his father-in-law, “but it does not wish to do so without your approval. It is that approval that (the Park Service) now seeks.” Truman, in earlier years, had been less than enthusiastic about the idea. In 1965 the former president informed the then-Secretary of the Interior: “I must say to you, that in the past I have been reluctant to

An elderly Harry Truman walking south on Delaware St. towards his home at 219 N. Delaware in Independence. Date and photographer unknown.

contribute to any effort designed to commemorate my Presidency.” But Truman, who had been an occupant in his wife’s Delaware Street home for more than 50 years, responded to his son-inlaw’s urging by giving his personal consent to the creation of the federally-designated Harry S. Truman National Historic Landmark District. The 12-block area was formally established in November 1971. By 1984, in the midst of community and centennial celebration of Truman’s birth, the quiet character of the Independence neighborhood had been transformed into a pitched political fight that extended far beyond the district boundaries and the 115,000 residents of Truman’s hometown.

The dispute was a direct result of the plans of the First Baptist Church in Independence – located a half-block east of the presidential home – to add a $1.5 million 1,100 seat auditorium that would necessitate the demolition of church-owned structures in the Truman neighborhood.


s the result of neighborhood opposition, court suits, aggressive newspaper coverage, and editorial opposition, the church’s expansion plans become the source of continuing controversy and something of a cause célèbre to historic preservationists throughout the country. The dispute covered a range of democratic ideas and values that resulted in a sharp and strident conflict: religious freedom, prop-


JCHS Journal — Summer 2015

erty rights, historic preservation and local versus larger public interests. The arenas of the conflict shifted from the editorial pages, to city hall, to the courts and across back fences in the neighborhood. Rev. John Hughes, pastor of First Baptist Church, viewed the dispute this way: “Our mission is to multiply, and this requires adequate meeting space. Our goal is not to destroy as many homes as we can. We also want to work with our neighbors to preserve property in this historic district. But we believe the Bible puts a priority on people as more important than property, if there is a conflict.” It was an ill-timed expansion plan by a congregation which identified itself as “A Historic Church Ministering to Contemporary Needs.” Though the project had been discussed for years, the church undertook the project just as the Truman Home was being opened to the public and as interest in Truman was heightened by the centennial celebration. The Truman Home had been left to the federal government in the will of Bess Wallace Truman, who had died in October 1982. The National Park Service, which took possession of the Truman Home that December, decided on an ambitious plan to open the Victorian structure for public tours in May 1984, to coincide with Mr. Truman’s May 8th birthday. The “property-people” conflict had been present long before the church’s most recent expansion plans. First Baptist Church regularly acquired adjoining properties over a 20-year period beginning in the early 1960s to provide needed

land for future church growth. Some homes on those properties were demolished as the building programs were undertaken. The other houses on church-owned property were used as classrooms for a growing Sunday school program or rented out as apartments. First Baptist Church was founded in 1845 with 12 members and grew steadily into a prosperous, prominent city-center church of 1,500 members. Church leaders recoiled at any suggestion that the church should relocate to a suburban location where land would be available without demolishing additional homes. “Black Americans were once told that they had the right to ride the bus, but only in the back,” Rev. Hughes said. “Does anyone suggest that the Baptists have the right to worship, but only on the backside of town, or only outside the Truman District. We hope this attitude is held by only a few bigots who do not realize our need for adequate space to conduct our worship and teaching services.”


n the summer of 1945, Life magazine dispatched the nationally-known photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt to capture the character of Harry Truman’s hometown and state. Eisenstaedt trained his camera lens down Pleasant Street – the first street west of the Baptist Church. The photo caption read: “It is a handsome, historic, prosperous little city of 16,000 people with many beautiful streets … lined with shade trees and moderate-sized homes.” Three of the homes in the photograph were later acquired by the church and demolished during ex-

pansion plans that included the 1968 construction of an educational building and parking lots. Those building programs helped change the character of the neighborhood that existed when Truman was president. As a boy, Truman lived from 1896 to 1902 in a house in the same neighborhood on Waldo Avenue. He returned to the neighborhood in 1919 when he married Bess Wallace and moved into her family home at 219 N. Delaware Street. It was his permanent residence until his death in December 1972. During his retirement Truman used the neighborhood for his fastpaced early morning walks that were a trademark of his presidency. During a 1948 Christmas Eve radio broadcast from his Independence home, the president shared these thoughts with the nation: As I came up the street in the gathering dusk, I saw a hundred commonplace things that are hallowed to me on this Christmas Eve – hallowed because of their associations with the sanctuary of the home. I saw the lighted windows in the homes of my neighbors, the gaily decked Christmas trees and the friendly lawns and gardens. The branches of the trees were bare and stark but somehow they looked familiar and friendly. The larger neighborhood underwent major changes after Harry and Bess returned to their Independence home in 1953. During urban renewal in the 1960s, the sub-standard housing of a predominately African-American neighborhood within the Truman neigh-

JCHS Journal — Summer 2015 borhood was demolished and cleared for a city park.


ther churches in the Truman neighborhood had also demolished several homes during their expansion programs. But no other major property holder — private, church, residential or business — was situated in such close proximity and in direct view of the Truman Home as First Baptist Church. By the 1970s, the church was the largest property owner within the two-block vicinity of the Truman Home. In 1967, Harry Truman, though reluctant to have a landmark district established, and his wife signed a protest petition opposing the rezoning needed to construct a 30-unit townhouse on a 75,000square-foot lot just north of the Truman Home on Delaware Street. The rezoning request was denied by the city Planning Commission. “Everyone is cognizant of the increasing number of visitors to Independence who travel these particular streets and it would seem that the need to maintain the traditional nature of this neighborhood should not only be readily apparent but a matter of civic pride,” a staff report stated. The growing interest in preservation of the Truman neighborhood — in part precipitated by designation of the federal landmark district — resulted in the 1974 adoption of a city ordinance making the federally designated landmark area also a city heritage district with congruent boundaries. The stated purpose of the ordinance was to maintain the Truman neighborhood as a “turn-of-the century Midwestern residential

community of spacious, freestanding homes and residentially related institutions …” A related ordinance established a sevenmember citizen Heritage Commission that would review construction plans, alterations, or demolitions to any building within the city historic district. The property owner could appeal any decision of the commission directly to the city council. However, the adopted ordinance specifically exempted any established churches within the district from all of the preservation provisions that were obligatory for all other property owners. Heritage Commission members strongly opposed the exemption, which was not in the original ordinance they had helped draft. Allowing special consideration for certain organizations, commission chairman Edgar Hinde said, “would not be fair and equitable to others within the district.” A homeowner within the historic district had to adhere to detailed requirement concerning landscaping, remodeling, the amount of paving permitted on the lot, and other provisions. Changes to their building were subject to review by the Heritage Commission. However, churches could demolish homes, no questions asked.

13 block-area, the church exemption clause was retained. Baptist churches and other denominations lobbied strongly for continuation of the exemption. “Exemptions for religious groups are commonplace and a proper way for government to express the priority value our society places on the religious life of our people,” Rev. Hughes said in defense of the church exemption in 1984. Not all clergy members whose churches were within the historic district agreed. “There does need to be separation of church and state, but that shouldn’t involve the separation of church and responsibility,” said Rev. Thomas Melton, minister of First Presbyterian Church and an original member of the Heritage Commission. Many neighbors viewed the constitutional arguments as specious reasons offered by religious officials, of whatever denomination, to justify their plans regardless of their impact on the neighborhood. Officials of First Baptist Church, in originally discussing the building plans, said the expansion project might require the demolition of as many as six church-owned homes, mostly to make land for additional parking.

The exemption was put into the preservation ordinance following strong lobbying of the city council by members of First Baptist Church, who said they were planning a building program — the same program which the church actually would begin a decade later.

Several neighbors who opposed the church’s building program had helped restore older homes in the neighborhood and were also active in preservation and historical groups. The church plans, if followed through, would destroy the integrity of an important streetscape on Spring Street that included a house listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

hen the city council decided in 1979 to expand the historic district to include a 22-

ther property owners were concerned that the asphalt parking lots would compound wa-




JCHS Journal — Summer 2015

ter drainage problems in the neighborhood, increase traffic congestion, and adversely affect residential property values. Rather than merely objecting to the expansion plans, several neighbors joined together and filed suit in September 1984 challenging the constitutionality of the exemption clause in the city preservation ordinance. The suit argued that the exemption violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. As its remedy, the suit sought an injunction preventing the demolition of any of the six churchowned properties. It named both the church and the city as defendants. First Baptist Church immediately moved for dismissal of the suit. Their attorney, Michael Whitehead, in a written brief argued: “It is apparent that the grievance here is not a crass dollars-and-cents matter to these Plaintiffs, but it is almost a religious difference, because the Plaintiffs espouse the historic preservation values almost religiously.” By this time, some of the most enthusiastic evangelists of the preservation faith – the National Park Service employees – had arrived in Independence. Not only did the Park Service have the faith, but they also had a major investment. They were concerned about protecting in perpetuity the Truman Home, 334th unit of the national park system, which about 80,000 visitors would tour annually. (In its first two years of operation, the Park Service had put more than a million dollars in capital improvements, planning, interpretation,

and preservation efforts at the Truman Home). In an internal memo of September 1983, the then-acting regional director of the Park Service expressed his concerns about what was happening in the Truman neighborhood. “We strongly urge everyone who holds responsibility for maintaining the [Truman] Historic District to act with utmost discretion, and particularly within an approximate three-block area surrounding the home to carefully avoid changing the character of the neighborhood contemporary from that existing during Mr. and Mrs. Truman’s lives.” The memo cautioned: “We intend to request no ‘veto’ power over neighborhood decisions, nor [do] we seek to ‘control’ the future of the area. This is now, and should remain, the collective responsibility of the community.” Park Service officials opposed the church expansion and gave quiet moral support and encouragement to the neighbors opposed to the building program. Though keenly interested in preserving the neighborhood, the Park Service’s legal authority extended no further than the house sitting on their .77 acre site at 219 N. Delaware. The national landmark district, though it is a program administered by the National Park Service, is largely an honorific designation that provides no real regulatory power other than restricting the use of federal funds for projects that might adversely affect the designated area.


ites, districts and buildings are selected because they are “our nation’s most important historic and cultural resources,” according to the National Park Ser-

vice. However, city officials at the time chose not to erect a 35-pound bronze plaque that the federal government had cast in 1978 to mark the district’s designation. If good fences, as Robert Frost wrote, make good neighbors, church parking lots make bitter enemies. It also made for serious politics. The city council had jumped into the dispute. It decided, amidst much attention and heavy lobbying, to reduce the size of the 22block city historic district by about two-thirds and also to eliminate the church exemption. Opponents of the First Baptist Church building program felt the church was gerrymandered out of the smaller historic district. The new boundary followed the property lines of parcels owned by the First Baptist Church — property that was needed for the expansion and additional parking lots. The smaller boundaries, moreover, did not include all of the original national historic landmark district. The one-block area left out was a portion of Pleasant that included those same parcels owned by the First Baptist Church.


utside the district, it made no matter whether the city preservation ordinance contained a church exemption clause or not. The only church still left in the smaller district was First Presbyterian Church — a congregation which had not publicly sought or favored the church exemption clause in the original ordinance. Also, if First Baptist Church were outside the historic district, the lawsuit by the neighbors would be moot since the church was no longer within the district and sub-

JCHS Journal — Summer 2015

15 church’s expansion plans or changes in the district boundary.) Failing on the political front, the homeowners in the former 22block larger district formed the Truman Neighborhood Homes Association with the intention of achieving, through private action, a long-term solution to neighborhood preservation.

Journalist Sue Gentry’s front page February 1972 story shared the community’s excitement at being designated a National Historic Landmark District. Gentry concluded her article: “All the residents are eagerly awaiting further explanation of just what a ‘historic landmark’ status means and most of the them are getting into the spirit of planning to ‘live up to the name.’” The fight over exactly what it meant was a decade away.

ject to the ordinance. (The suit was later dropped by the plaintiffs for that reason.) City council member John Carnes, who offered the plan, said his proposal represented a compromise and that its adoption would make for “a strong district and a strong foundation.” The city council, on a 5-2 vote, reduced the city historic district against the advice of National Park Service Director Russell Dickenson, and against the wishes of the Trumans’ daughter Margaret and more than 30 property owners who objected to being “drawn out of the district.” The vote occurred days before a city primary election in which some council members faced opposition. (Three months earlier five of the seven city council members said they favored keep-

ing the boundaries of the 22-block historic site intact after the district was the subject of a planning commission public hearing.) Council member Bill Snyder, who opposed the reduction, said the move to reduce the district’s size was “retribution plain and simple. You’re punishing the people in the [Truman] Heritage District because they are arguing with the church.” Editorial writers for The Kansas City Star, commenting on the council action, said: “It is ironic that the plan to preserve the lovely old Victorian neighborhood Harry S. Truman put on the world map should stir one of the ugliest episodes Independence has experienced.” (This was one of nine editorials that appeared in either the morning or afternoon paper of The Kansas City Star during a sixmonth period that opposed the

“We felt like the Truman District needed protecting, and we weren’t satisfied at all that the city would help,” said Ken Thornton, an association leader. More than 30 property owners, by the spring of 1985, had agreed to put deed restrictions on their property to prevent demolition of their homes or paving of significant portions of the property. The effort was supported by many key property owners whose homes adjoin First Baptist Church, thereby serving as a barrier against further expansion to the north by the church.


ut the prospect of further residential demolitions by First Baptist Church prompted the National Park Service to take the extraordinary step of listing the Harry S. Truman Historic District on its 1984 annual report to Congress on “damaged and threatened” sites. The report noted that the boundaries of the new smaller city historic district dropped out a one-block area that was within the original 1971 12-block national historic landmark district. Those properties — about half of which were owned by the church — were not covered by the city preservation ordinance. That move meant the city no longer provided any protection to that one-block area, which the federal government


JCHS Journal — Summer 2015

considered to be of national historic significance. Only 50 of the 1,609 National Historic Landmarks were listed on the report, and of those the Truman district was one of only three landmarks listed under the category “potential damage” — the highest ranking. The report states: “The extensive damages and threats [National Historic Landmarks] must exhibit to warrant listing in the report generally require remedial action that is too costly correct to by private owners alone.” Protecting the view from the Trumans’ back porch, which looks out towards the First Baptist Church expansion and new parking lots was what most worried Park Service officials. “We realize there’s been some changes since President Truman’s death and even since Mrs. Truman’s death,” said Norm Reigle, park superintendent of the Harry S. Truman National Historic Site. “We feel if this process continues, sooner or later the area will be unrecognizable.” In April 1984, the Park Service published for public comment a planning document outlining various alternatives for the long-term management of the Truman Home. Alternatives for protecting the historical site included acquiring additional property in the vicinity of the Truman Home or acquiring facade easements. A full year later, a draft management plan based on the alternatives was still being discussed and debated by Park Service officials in Washington, D.C., according to agency officials.

Any recommendation to expand the park boundaries would require congressional approval. The basic philosophy of the Reagan Administration was to oppose expanding the national park system either by adding new parks or adding land to exiting ones. If the Park Service did not expand its boundaries, it would be up to the city and private efforts of property owners to protect and preserve the neighborhood. If Harry Were Here The neighborhood conflict had many of the attributes of a typical land use/zoning dispute: neighborhood opposition; project proponents appealing to political bodies to support “progress”; parties resorting to legal action; and both proponents and opponents seeking to build public support for their positions. Both sides were aggressive in making their views known. First Baptist Church leaders organized letter-writing campaigns within their denomination while neighborhood residents circulated petitions, held a midnight vigil in front of the Truman Home, and hung black banners on their homes after the city council voted to reduce the size of the city heritage district. What made the Independence dispute so bitter and intense was that it pitted a strong group of preservationists committed to preserving the historic neighborhood against an equally committed church membership intent on growing larger without relocating. The Truman centennial only heightened the conflict, which drew national attention. In the year of recalling Truman’s life

and accomplishments, both sides speculated frequently on what Truman’s own opinions would have been. The preservationists pointed out that Truman had spearheaded the effort to reconstruct the structurally unsound White House. During the $6 million project between 1949-52, the Truman family lived in nearby Blair House. They also pointed to the Trumans’ 1967 opposition to the townhouse project just north of their home and his concurrence in the creation of the national historic landmark district. Repeated references by the preservationists to the Trumans’ memory annoyed the Baptist leaders. The Kansas City area association of Southern Baptists, consisting of 126 area Missouri churches, with 77,000 members, at their October 1983 annual meeting adopted a resolution that stated: We deplore and condemn the use of the name of President Harry S. Truman to restrict the healthy growth of any church and to prevent it from using property it owns for the missionary purposes for which it was secured. The resolution also took aim at the preservationists. We deplore and condemn and philosophy which worships history instead of the Lord of history, which exalts the creations of the creature over the Creator of heaven and earth. The Baptists pointed out that Truman was an ardent supporter of religious freedom and a Baptist himself. The resolution noted that Truman, while president, had contributed $25,000 to a major building campaign for the First Baptist Church of Grandview. Truman

JCHS Journal — Summer 2015 had joined the church during the period between 1906 to 1917 he spent working on the Grandview family farm. Truman’s gift, actually $20,000, allowed the Grandview church to relocate in 1949-50 to a site several blocks from the original site. Rev. Welbern Bowman, the Grandview minister at the time, said in a 1981 oral history: “[Mr. Truman] wasn’t in favor of the [Grandview] church being built where the old one was because he knew that the situation was such that it couldn’t expand there.”

An editorial writer for the Kansas City Star, early in the dispute, commented:

office, or are gone from the community.

The puzzle is why this controversy has erupted; churches are exempt from rules that govern the district. Surely in a matter of this magnitude cool heads can prevail.

Constructive efforts emerged — sometimes from unexpected events.

Truman, the politician, often advised: “If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen.” In the heated First Baptist Church controversy many directly involved got “burned” in one way or another. The church received an enormous amount of unfavorable publicity.

The reason was the church would have to demolish several homes to provide room for a parking lot — a situation quite similar to the choice facing the First Baptist Church of Independence.

Substantial ill-will within the community grew out of the conflict.

Then there was the opinion of Margaret Truman Daniel, the Trumans’ daughter and sole living person to have resided at 219 N. Delaware St. She opposed both the changing of the city historic district and also the specific building plans of First Baptist Church which she had seen. “It doesn’t add anything to the neighborhood,” she said. “It would be a shame to tear down houses to put that up. But the Baptists won’t be happy about that.”

The city historic district was reduced by approximately two -thirds.

The latter point is what seemed to escape most the participants in the neighborhood dispute. The church, from the beginning, was free to do what it had always planned to do: build an addition to its church. It owned the property and was exempt from the preservation ordinance. All that was needed were the necessary city building permits.


The Harry S. Truman National Historic Landmark District was listed in a report to Congress as “damaged and threatened.”

There were enough hollow victories and disappointments to share for years and possibly generations to come.

The Coda The preservation dispute was painful. Hard feelings and deep anger, opened by the sharp-edged conflict, were slow to heal or be forgotten. Time has helped. Many of the principals are now deceased, no longer hold public

But the story line began to change.

One summer day in 1994, the front wall of one of the city’s oldest buildings, the 1853 Choplin home, literally collapsed, revealing the guts of the home like a cutaway doll house. The historic structure was located on the opposite corner of the Truman Home. Given the dire condition, the city’s first response was to demolish the structure. Preservationists formed a nonprofit, got control of the property, secured a revolving loan, and restored the building as a residential structure which was later sold and occupied. Neighbors documented significant blighted property holdings of the Community of Christ Church – then known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – which besides its world headquarters also then owned a large hospital and a nursing home. The property held special significance to the church because of its proximity to a spot Mormon prophet Joseph Smith Jr., in an 1831 revelation, had designated as “Center Place” for Zion — a New Jerusalem — for his followers. The Truman story and the Mormon story were competing histories — each stories of national significance. Mormons believe Independence is the spot for the second coming of Jesus. The same neighborhood shaped the character and life of a major U.S. president.


JCHS Journal — Summer 2015 provided funding to restore the 1925 Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Building. It was Truman’s polling place and where some of his presidential papers were stored until the Truman Library was opened. The large, forlorn building was restored to civic life. In January 2003, an extensive fire destroyed most of the interior of a 1924 three-story brick apartment building located a half-block from the Truman Home. Within two years, the apartment building was restored by making use of historic preservation tax credits. New things seemed obtainable and were being accomplished. In 2004, after faithfully serving his congregation for 33 years, Rev. John Hughes left First Baptist. In a letter to church members, Hughes shared his pride that the church had invested $2.1 million in new buildings and had not left for the suburbs.

Truman Home

This modified 2007 map shows the complicated boundaries of the city and national historic districts. The city district (Heritage) is subject to architectural review. The federal district is not. Historic preservation tax credits are available in both for contributing properties. The federal district was not formally adopted until November 2010. Source map, Community Development Department, City of Independence.

The RLDS church formed a redevelopment corporation and developed plans for a 72-block area that resulted in the church selling off many of its properties, fixing up selected blocks, and offering commercial and residential tax abatement. There was civic leadership and funding behind the effort to deal with neighborhood issues and significant blight. In 1996, the Truman District was listed on the Most Endangered

List of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It was an ignoble distinction that struck to the core of civic pride. If the community was so “Wild About Harry,” visitors were curious why the former president lived in such a blighted, rundown neighborhood. Voters approved a parks sales tax in August 2000 – the first tax increase in a generation – which

“I’m glad we were ahead of the revitalization curve in our area by investing significantly and helping stabilize our neighborhood,” Hughes wrote church members in a pastoral letter. “From time to time we had to fight to maintain freedom from unnecessary zoning controls. I hope in time some of our critics will understand that we purchased additional residential properties in self defense.” Other projects fell in place. The long-closed Palmer Junior High School was reopened as administrative offices for the Independence School District. The school district later moved out because of air-quality issues, but subsequently the educational building underwent an $8 million conversion into senior housing,

JCHS Journal — Summer 2015


The city received a second National Historic Landmark plaque which was placed on the Independence Square— part of the expanded district—just opposite of the National Park Service offices located in an old Independence fire station. The dedication occurred in May 2013. Photo by the author

which opened in 2014. Attention turned to Independence Square. Independence attorney and redeveloper Ken McClain and his wife Cindy began slowly acquiring and opening new businesses on Independence Square, effectively turning the city center around with over $20 million in private investment and tireless efforts. Even the Truman Courthouse, which had been closed to the public, was restored and reopened in September 2013 – 70 years after Truman and dedicated the Independence Hall-inspired structure.

considered as “contributing” by virtue of their historical integrity and association with Truman’s life.

In one of the most up-and-down preservation stories in the United States, the Harry S. Truman National Historic Landmark District became one of the most comprehensive national historic districts for any U.S. president. Truman spent over 64 years of his life in the neighborhood as a student, local politician, president, and, finally, the Man from Independence.

After extensive documentation and endless bureaucratic delays, the National Park Service recommended a major expansion of the Harry S. Truman National Historic Landmark District boundaries, which was approved in November 2010.

“Presidents do not arrive at the door of their presidencies as blank slates,” historian Jon Taylor told the National Park System Advisory Board Landmarks Committee panel which approved the expansion. “They are influenced by the experiences they have had with the people and places that make up their personal pasts.”

The expanded boundaries include 550 buildings, of which 445 are

Truman returned with Bess to Independence in 1953, built his

Even the contentious issue of the historic district was addressed.

presidential library, wrote books, declined invitations to serve on corporate boards or accept large speaking fees, and lived another two decades in the community among his friends and neighbors. Truman loved the town in an almost parochial way. “It is good to be back home in what I call the center of the world, Independence, Mo.,” remarked Truman in an interview filmed on his back porch. “I think it’s the greatest town in the U.S. …” He concluded his sentimental case: “It is the center of the things for most of us, and it’s the center of things for me, and I am more than happy to be here and stay here the rest of my life.” Truman died on Dec. 26, 1972, at the age of 88. Bess remained in the family home another 10 years and died on Oct. 18, 1982, at the age of 97.


JCHS Journal — Summer 2015

Hazelle Hedges Rollins

A Kansas City Puppet Phenomenon By Ann K. Ragan


azelle Hedges Rollins, for some 40 years, was the largest exclusive manufacturer of marionettes and puppets in the world. Her business address was not Europe, but Kansas City, Mo. Hazelle began making marionettes as a hobby when an 11-year-old boy next door brought her a marionette manufactured in Italy and asked her to make a companion so he could perform a play. This request was followed by others, including that of a neighborhood toy store which wanted to stock marionettes for retail sale. Thus began a lifelong passion and a major Kansas City business — making puppets for the world market. Hazelle was born in 1910, the daughter of Ralph and Jessie Hazell Hedges. The family lived at 815 W. 59th St. in Kansas City. She was the oldest of five children; there were four younger brothers. Her father was the president of Columbian Hog and Cattle Powder Co. in the 1400 block of Genessee in Kansas City. She graduated from Westport High School and attended Kansas City Junior College in 1929. In 1932 she earned a B.A. in Fine Arts from the University of Kansas, where she added an “e” to her first name. In 1933, she attended the Kansas City Art Institute and took time to teach unemployed women arts and crafts classes at the YWCA.

There’s a gleam of merriment in Hazelle Hedges’ eyes as she activated her original marionette ‘The Jester.’ Jackson County Historical Society collection: Photo 19064

In 1934, Hazelle worked at the newly opened Nelson-Atkins Museum as a telephone operator. Museum staff quickly recognized her talent and asked her to teach puppet-making on Tuesdays and Thursdays to more than 100 students, ages 7 through 15, enrolled in the museum’s summer program.


er business was conceived and started during the Great Depression in 1935 in the Hedges family basement. Anxious to start her own business, she went to the 1935 New York Toy Fair looking for retailers who would sell her marionettes. The only factories at that time which made puppets exclusively

were in France, Italy, Germany, and Czechoslovakia. Inspired at the workshop taught by Tony Sarg in Greenwich Village (famous for his puppets and giant Macy’s parade balloons), she returned to establish her own small factory in the Kansas City garment district in the Thayer Building at 107 W. 8th St. She employed Kansas City Art Institute students to make simple, lightweight, short-stringed marionettes with heads of a sawdust and clay composite. Hazelle’s first local sales were to Emery, Bird, Thayer Company; her first national sales at Marshall Field in Chicago.

JCHS Journal — Summer 2015 As orders increased, Hazelle’s puppets were shipped from Kansas City to New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Hazelle entered the international market in 1936 and sold a fourth of its annual puppet production overseas — selling by the next year more puppets in Johannesburg, South Africa, than in Kansas City.


he growing business ultimately would move into three other Kansas City locations over the next two decades. The next location was 107 W. 8th St., where the growing business had a staff of 35 during the busy holiday season. In 1946 the company moved again, into its own building at 10th and Campbell. In the late 1940s and 1950s, TV shows like the wildly popular Howdy Doody Show spurred the puppet business. By 1957, annual puppet sales climbed to over 250,000 puppets, and the factory moved to 1224 Admiral Blvd. — the final location. At that time, Hazelle employed as many as 50 workers with 11 field representatives selling to some 1,800 department and toy stores. By 1972, even Princess Grace — the former Grace Kelly — had placed a Hazelle

order to establish a puppet theater in Monaco. In addition to marionettes, Hazelle’s customers were requesting puppet stages and playlets. Hazelle’s friend Bernice Rose, a business partner and a Duke University journalism graduate, was initially in charge of playlet scripts. The first marionette sets included a play, three or four marionettes, and a ten-pound folding stage. Hazelle kept her puppets in the public eye by participating in community events. Her booth at

21 the Plaza Art Fair attracted attention from young and old alike with its music and dancing Popeye marionettes. Of all her marionettes, Teto — a white-faced clown wearing his red jumpsuit with white polka dots — became Hazelle’s best seller. In 1937, her puppets were featured in the Kansas City Power and Light booth at the Better Homes and Flower Show in Municipal Auditorium. The J. C. Nichols Company also featured her puppet show “Why Live with Folly?” at the Better Homes and Building Exposition. Hazelle was a consummate promoter. In 1941 she married John Woodson “Woody” Rollins, an industrial engineer who became her business partner and helped her improve production methods. He began handling sales and advertising while Hazelle’s brother Harold handled the office accounting and bookkeeping.


azelle combined her business career with motherhood. With the additional help at the factory she was able to get her two children, Nancy and John, off to school before work and to return home to prepare the family’s dinner. Her son John recalls that many holidays and summers were spent working at the factory. Industrial methods were invented and adopted to help with large-scale production. On this production line heads were painted with lacquer as they passed by on a moving chain. The automatic electric machinery dipped the heads six times. As marionette-making was still so new, no commercial machines for the manufacturing were on the market and had to be developed. Jackson County Historical Society collection: Photo 19122.

One of John’s first tasks was using screw eyes to attach plastic shoes to the wooden dowel legs of the marionettes. Other tasks he did while a high school student included working in the packing department and typing shipping


JCHS Journal — Summer 2015 say, inspire them to create with action.” Schools used puppets as therapy tools. After Hazelle developed simple finger puppets in the 1960s, New York City schools ordered more than 10,000 to help children act out conflicts they faced in racially troubled school situations. Today Independence School District kindergartners come to the Puppetry Arts Institute to learn the basics about cooperation, sharing, and following rules through making and using Hazelle’s puppets.

H Hazelle and Woody Rollins, displaying their ‘Talking Marionettes’ at the 1950 Toy Fair, Permanent New York display at the Toy Guidance Exhibit in New York City. Jackson County Historical Society collection: Photo 19047

labels, invoices, and bills of lading. In 1949, the Conservatory of Music in Kansas City and Women’s Committee began a three-year joint venture with Hazelle to present operas such as Pagliacci and La Serva Padrona. The opera students and Conservatory Orchestra recorded the music; Hazelle made puppets for the stage productions.


n 1956, Hazelle developed a line of hand puppets for her college sorority, Alpha Omicron Pi, to use in a community outreach program at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan. Instead of the rigid Tenite plastic used for marionette heads, the hand puppets had washable, soft vinyl plastic heads and simple cloth bodies. The puppets were

inexpensive so they could be given as gifts to hospitalized kids, and the children could manipulate them in their beds. Hazelle also developed a new lightweight cardboard stage which could be used for hand puppet shows when facing one way, or turned around for marionette shows.

azelle, Inc. was sold in 1975 when the Rollinses retired, and continued to operate under different ownership through 1983. When the Kansas City puppet factory closed in 1983, the remaining inventory of Hazelle puppets and puppet parts was given to Goodwill Industries. In the early 1990s, Goodwill donated the items to the Greater Kansas City Puppetry Guild.

“Puppets are more than toys,” Hazelle observed. “They are widely used in teaching, in audio visual education in the primary grades, and in speech classes. Puppets inspire children, educators A special stage was created to feature Teto. Jackson County Historical Society collection: Photo 19137C

JCHS Journal — Summer 2015


Hazelle donated her private collection of over 1,000 ethnic and folk puppets, acquired over 40 years, to several institutions: the Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of Anthropology at the University of Kansas, the Nelson-Atkins Museum, the Kansas City Museum, and the Fowler Museum of Cultural History at UCLA. The Smithsonian holds some 60 Hazelle puppets, which they call “Hazelle’s Famous Puppets,” and they have been exhibited over the years. Hazelle’s collection of rare and antique The final location for Hazelle, Inc.’s puppet factory was 1224 Admiral Blvd, which puppets was included in a large 1978 had originally been constructed as a Jewish synagogue. Photo by Ann Ragan. exhibit titled “Puppets and Things on Strings,” which also included such famous puppets as The Puppetry Arts Institute has been open to the pubCharley McCarthy, Kermit the Frog, and Howdy lic at its current Englewood location at 11025 E. Doody. Winner Road in Independence since 2001. Some 300 Hazelle puppet designs are exhibited at the Today, the non-profit offers Kansas Citians an opporPuppetry Arts Institute museum in the Englewood tunity to take puppet workshops and enjoy profesArts District in Independence. sional puppet shows, but also to explore a part of Jackson County’s rich history. A subcommittee headed by Diane Houk developed a five-year plan to raise funds to establish a puppetry Hazelle died on March 25, 1984. center and museum. Her obituary noted that she was a founder of the PupThe group worked tirelessly, giving workshops and peteers of America, an honorary trustee of the Kansas puppet presentations and securing grants to insure the City Art Institute, a life member of the KU ChancelHazelle puppets and puppet parts could be profeslors Club, and president of the Nelson Gallery Art sionally curated and preserved. Study Club.

Hazelle Rollins: Significant achievements In 1946, Hazelle was appointed by Kansas City Mayor H. Roe Bartle to a 30-member Women’s Commission for International Relations and Trade. By the 1960s, Hazelle was chairman of the Women’s Chamber of Commerce’s Naturalization Committee, aiding immigrants in the process of becoming naturalized citizens. She served on the board of Camp Fire Girls. She was a member of many civic organizations including the Jackson County Historical Society, the Soroptimist Club of Kansas City, Children’s Theater of Kansas City, the Kansas City Museum, People to

People, the women’s division of the Kansas City Philharmonic Association, the women’s auxiliary of the Salvation Army, and the Wives of Rotarians. In 1972 she was appointed the first of very few women in the United States to serve as chair of the Kansas City Advisory Council of the U.S. Small Business Administration. In 1976 Hazelle was one of 25 National Committee Members of the U.S. Treasury Small Business Advisory Committee on Economic Policy in Washington, D.C. She was also a member of the Kansas City Athenaeum and the Kansas City Museum.


JCHS Journal — Summer 2015

A filmmaker shares stories of discovery

Useful Guide to Finding Historic Records By Gary Jenkins


documentary is defined as an official, factual record of some event, generally in movie or film format. To create a documentary film about an historical event, the filmmaker must locate books, experts, video, and images. In making documentary films about an event taking place in the early 20th century, many primary source documents are available. Most archives are now digitalized — and Google is your friend. A visit to the archive is more time consuming, but sometimes necessary. When an archive has documents that are not digitalized, most archives will copy the document or allow the requestor to copy the document. Sometimes I merely use my phone camera to take photos of documents I find useful as images for my story. When the filmmaker is researching a well-known or famous event, the internet is the primary source for searching. Usually a state or local archive will contain some information and, at times, digitalized images available for downloading. When the event is not famous, the film researcher must get more creative. Many times there will have been some kind of legal proceeding around the incident. When I was filming Negroes To Hire: Slave Life and Culture on Missouri Farms, I wanted to tell the story of Celia the Slave. This event occurred in Callaway County, Mo. I used this story to

Two 1855 court documents about Celia the Slave found at the Callaway County (Mo) courthouse and used in the making of the documentary Negroes to Hire: Slave Life and Culture on Missouri Farms. Provided by the author.

demonstrate the use of slave women as sexual surrogates by slavemasters. Celia was purchased at age 14 to be the concubine of a middle-aged widower, Robert Newsom. She tried to break it off at age 18 or 19, when she fell in love with a fellow slave named George. Robert Newson denied permission for Celia to see George. Newson made one last visit to Celia's cabin. She killed him, burned his body in her fireplace, and scattered his ashes in the yard. I knew she had been arrested and convicted of this murder in 1855. I

went to the Kingdom of Callaway County museum at Fulton, Mo., looking for images or documents to demonstrate Celia's story. I learned the entire court file had been copied and was available at the courthouse for $15. I used images of the handwritten testimony by persons who gave an account of this murder at the time. I hired actors to read sections of the testimony for a dramatic recreation of the trial. For more recent events, if there were court cases involving the topic and/or the subjects, court and other law enforcement records

JCHS Journal — Summer 2015

25 audio tapes obtained during an FBI investigation into Mafia infiltration of Las Vegas casinos. The Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, codified as 42 U.S.C. § 3711, contains a section named Title III.

Kansas City, Mo., Police Department booking photos of the Spero brothers, (from left to right) Carl, Joe and Mike. Photo provided by the author.

are invaluable. The trick is finding and obtaining them. The first and most important is the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, request. This process is relatively simple and inexpensive. The researcher first visits the FOIA website at http:// FOIA provides that any person has a right, enforceable in court, to obtain access to federal agency records, except to the extent that such records (or portions of them) are protected from public disclosure by one of nine exemptions or by one of three special law enforcement record exclusions. An FOIA request can be made for any agency record, but the researcher must determine which agency is likely to possess the records sought. Each agency’s website will contain information about the type of records the agency maintains. If the researcher is looking for records about a certain person, the first hoop to jump though is proof of death of the subject you are researching. I learned that a digital copy of a newspaper article reporting the death works. It does not have to be an obituary.

The researcher makes a written request describing the information requested and the format (paper copies or digital) desired in as much detail as possible. Practically, I made a FOIA request about the Kansas City Mafia associates known as the Spero brothers — Joseph, Mike, and Carl. I had a newspaper article in which the reporter had written about the death of all three brothers. I received a letter stating that those names had been mentioned in over 4,000 documents. I received a telephone call from the FOIA person and she suggested a method by which I could cut this down to just under 300 documents. Since there was no way I could determine what was in the documents, I elected the smaller version to save time and money. This is not an exact science, and the documents I have received are not exactly what I wanted.


uring the making of Gangland Wire, I wanted some records that might not be available under the normal FOIA channel. I wanted copies of the audio recorded from wiretaps and hidden microphones. Specifically, I wanted

From reading the case WXIA v. U.S. Government and Rosenthal 763 F.2d 1291 (11th Circuit 1985), I learned that under section 18 U.S.C.A. § 2517 federal authorities who use Title III to gather audio evidence must disclose that information, if certain criteria are met. 1. The audio must have been presented at trial as evidence. 2. All chances of appeal are exhausted. 3. The releasing agency uses a balancing test. a. Are the records requested sought for a legitimate purpose? b. Are the records requested to be used to promote a public scandal or gain an unfair commercial advantage? c. Are the records requested likely to promote public understanding of historically significant events?

I filed a motion with the Federal Court in the Western District asking for an order to allow me to review and copy all tapes in this case. My request met the three “balancing test” conditions. The order was issued. I presented it to the FBI and was able to view and obtain copies of all audio tapes in the case file. The audio files were an essential part of the Kansas City Mafia documentary.


JCHS Journal — Summer 2015

Diaries of Nellie Perry

“Surprised to see so many fine buildings” By Sandra Gail Teichmann-Hillesheim


n October of 1888, Nellie M. Perry, 22 years old, first traveled by train and stage from her family home in Grinnell, Iowa, to visit her bachelor brother George in Ochiltree County, Texas.

She returned several times before going to stay in 1916. Miss Nellie wrote thoughtful diaries, essays, and stories detailing her experiences, and all of her train travels between Iowa and Texas took her through Kansas City. Perry’s writings are privately held by Mrs. Jeanne Gramstorff, a grand niece, and copies of some documents are available at the PanhandlePlains Historical Museum in Canyon, Texas. Woman of the Plains: The Journals & Stories of Nellie M. Perry, which I edited, was published in 2000 by Texas A & M University Press, and re-issued as new-in-paper in 2015. I offer here an introduction to Miss Nellie Perry’s writings through excerpts which reference Kansas City.

Nellie M. Perry in 1928

I also include an excerpt of her passing through Kansas City in 1920, which will appear in my forthcoming book, Women on Trains. First trip to Texas, 1888: On the morning of October 23, 1888, I started on my long-talked-of trip to visit the brother who had for the past two years made his home in the Texas Panhandle . . . I was feeling exhilarated and happy at the prospect of enjoying the first long trip alone, . . . Time of leaving Grinnell was early morning—before “sun-up” when the overnight travelers on a stuffy Iowa Central train were looking and feeling their worst, stretched out in various uncomfortable attitudes—snoring in different keys, and completely unattractive. I felt rather superior, with a touch of disgust, as I settled myself in a dusty upholstered seat with book— Black's White Wings—in my hand. It proved not very entertaining (in fact I'm afraid I never read the book at any time later) and I soon laid it down and began the more interesting study of human nature as seen close at hand and of the landscape as it became visible thorough the dirty windows.

Missouri seemed to me the picture of desolation, poverty's mark over it all. Negro men, women and children in every direction—working, playing, throwing stones at the train or just staring at it as we rushed by. Moberly, Missouri, where we changed to the Wabash Western R.R., had nothing pleasant in sight. . . . Change of R.R. proved agreeable, though somewhat crowded. A two-year-old spoilt child made life hard for the passengers as well as for mama during most of the trip to Kansas City—his howls rending the air. Flesh and blood were severely taxed and some withering glances were cast over shoulders at the poor mother. [Note in margin of diary: 50 years later or thereabouts: strange that not one of the suffering tourists did not lend a hand-try to entertain the child and relieve the mother. Why not I?] In Kansas City all was confusion—tired, anxious travelers—all in a hurry to engage the agent's interest in their various problems—sick—not seats for nearly all.

JCHS Journal — Summer 2015


At this time, 1888, there was only one ticket agent, very curt and indifferent to the troubled faces confronting him; poor man, he too had his troubles! But there was plenty of time, as we had a two-hour wait in that dirty, dark depot, where even the electric lights left us at intervals. The boy-terror, accompanied by helpless mama, appeared again on the scene and kept up almost a continuous howling while we waited. Finally, exchange and Pullman tickets being received, we found and boarded our train for the Southwest. Coaches crowded. I was thankful to find the berth reserved for me. Thinking joyfully of the sweet rest soon to be mine I was amazed to hear the porter say that my reservation was on another train. So I was put off, in the dark, in a nameless little station and left to the indifference of another ticket agent, who nodded his head, saying, “That’s the train,” when, after a long wait, a rumbling sound was heard. I stumbled through the darkness again, loaded with valises and a shawl strap—and full of wrath at the conductor and ticket agents. But the Negro porter on the first train was at least polite and had escorted me into the dirty little waiting room. And later, when I settled down in my own berth, on the right train, there was peace at last and watched the moonlight scenes from my window with interest until I fell asleep. [Note in margin of diary: How different now in 1941, in the beautiful and comfortable Union Depot in K.C.—a delightful place to wait for hours and plenty of willing service—Red Caps, agents, etc.] . . . Second trip to Texas, 1900: Mother and I left Grinnell at 6:30 P.M. on Tuesday, June 19, 1900. We expected to take a sleeper at Albia but were told after getting on the cars that no sleeper had been run to Kansas City for a month, but we could get one at Moberly about 2 A.M. Finding later that it would be at least three in the morning before we could have a sleeper and we would reach Kansas City at seven, we decided to make the best of sitting up. By the aid of a silver quarter apiece which brought us two pillows from the porter’s cupboard, we passed a more comfortable night than we expected and got into the city feeling quite comfortable. . . .

Perry arrived in Kansas City about two weeks prior to the 1900 Democratic National Convention. A fire in April completely destroyed the just-built convention center. The community rallied and constructed this second convention center in 90 days. Photo courtesy of Missouri Valley Room, Kansas City Public Library.

In Kansas City the first thing was to find some breakfast. We went upstairs, where a very good restaurant and dining room is conducted by the Blossom House managers. Here we had good cakes and coffee. Then I had a long wait to have our tickets stamped, changed, signed, etc. Agent tried to look quite ferocious when he asked about owner of my second ticket, for Ma was stowed away on a distant seat. I said I had signed her ticket originally, and I guessed could do it again. He asked about her size, color of hair, etc., making no notes, but evidently intending to remember all about her for future reference. After the ticket business was over we had an hour to spare and took a car ride, seeing something of the city and enjoying the fresh air. We were surprised to see so many fine buildings there and especially to note the clean street and general well-kept air. Have since discovered that this is country manners— for the Democratic Convention soon to meet there— great effort being made throughout the city to have everything in apple-pie order. As we left street car at station we met Rev. Chas. Cushman, a Grinnell boy, who now preaches in Kansas City, Kansas. At 9:30 A.M. we left Kansas City on the Santa Fe for Dodge City. Cars were greatly crowed—a coming together of excursionist to the South and West—and it was pretty hot too. We were obliged to sit in end of car with a lot of dirty land-seekers who played cards, swore and spit. They borrowed my timetable and


JCHS Journal — Summer 2015 The girls went to sleep almost immediately and slept soundly two hours. But when we got to Kansas City about 6:00 P.M. they were wide awake and interested in the Missouri River, the boats and the city. At the depot Grandma and the children waited sometime while I was standing in line reserving berths in the Pullman.

Blossom House Hotel was located opposite of Union Depot located on Union Ave. in the West Bottoms. The 1903 flood ultimately resulted in relocating a new train station at its current location. Photo courtesy of Missouri Valley Room, Kansas City Public Library.

studied it earnestly; didn’t seem to have much idea where they were going or how to get there—asking one another occasionally, “Didn’t the conductor tell us to change here?” I was a little afraid of microbes after their dirty fingers had been rubbed into the map so thoroughly. . . . [On return trip] August 9, 1900. Mother and I left Liberal at 7:40 Thursday morning and had a pleasant cool ride . . . We reached Kansas City at 8:00 A.M. and found a train just ready to go East on the Wabash, but decided to wait till ten o’clock as it would make no difference in the end and save a wait in Moberly. We went upstairs to the Blossom House restaurant where we had a comfortable breakfast. Then we took a street car ride, got some ice-cream soda downtown and went into one of the dry-good stores. It was very hot from Kansas City to Moberly. . . . Trip to Texas, 1905: On Tuesday morning, June 12, 1905, at 3:45 P.M. Grandma, Louise, Harriet and I started for Ochiltree, Texas via the Iowa Central R.R. . . . [In Moberly] , the water in the station was bad—dark colored. Negro said Soberly's supply all came from a pond. The station was crowded by train time—1:30 P.M.— and so was the chair car where we finally found seats—and oh how hot and dirty it was!

Then we went to the Blossom House and got a nice room and were soon ready for supper which we got in the Blossom restaurant—fine roast beef and baked potatoes, etc. Then we ate some peaches in our room by way of dessert and the girls and I went out to the fruit stalls and bought a large bag of fruit to carry with us. Then we all lay down to get a little rest before train time—10:45 P.M.—no eleven o’clock. After waking the girls, paying our bill and going to the depot, we found our train was delayed by a washout and would be in at 1:30 A.M.! rushed back to the hotel to ask if we were not entitled to our room a few hour longer—having paid $2.50 for it, it seemed a reasonable request—and was told to bring my family back immediately and take the room— which I did, putting the children to bed again, Ma and I taking turns lying down and sitting by the window in a big rocking chair. At one o’clock we did not disturb the children but I went across to the depot only to be told the train would be there at 2:40 A.M. Two other trips I made, and at last at 4:00 A.M. we left on the tourist car for Texas. We were glad enough to go bed though it was getting daylight and we had a good rest till eight o’clock. . . . Trip to Grinnell, 1920: May 26. Left Perryton at 10:15 A.M. for Grinnell. . . . Kansas City - 7:30 A.M., just on time, had a good breakfast at Harvey. Escorted by Red Cap. Left for Des M. at 8:30 (Colored woman seated herself at my table at breakfast. I was not exactly pleased, but remembering my theory about equality of black race, I forced a pleasant remark about weather. Negro man’s troubles between Shattuck and Waynoka, refused to leave car and demanded his seat taken in his absence by white man. Negro held his own tho. Woman who watched the affair said to me, “Negros shouldn’t have been educated. There was no such trouble till they were educated.” . . .

JCHS Journal — Summer 2015


Other stories These two additional stories (abstracted below) are published in full on our expanded online Summer 2015 Journal. Go to for the articles and see related information.

A Tribute to Dory DeAngelo

Changing Places

By LeAnna DeAngelo

By Cathy Callen

This monograph by a family member shares personal reflections about this Kansas City television personality and local historian.

This family history monograph tells the story of Nellie Neff — member of a distinguished Kansas City area family. She was the youngest of seven children and had six older brothers.

DeAngelo wrote several books mainly dealing with the history of Northeast Kansas City. Perhaps the best known is Kansas City Style: A Social and Cultural History of Kansas City as Seen through its Lost Architecture. The Missouri Valley Room at the Kansas City Public DeAngelo in a 1961 production of Skin of our Teeth, UMKC Playhouse. Library contains DeAngelo papers, Missouri Valley Room, Kansas City newspaper colPublic Library. umns, theatrical notices and over 800 photographs taken by DeAngelo during the period 1989-99. The author, a niece, has this to say about her aunt: She had the self-confidence, talent, and was outgoing enough, to move freely between the art world, the academic world, the theatre, and a love for Kansas City that is unprecedented. What is really amazing is that she took the interest and love for Kansas City that the whole family has, and made it a part of her mission, her life’s work, to make sure the people of Kansas City knew their past. Dory DeAngelo currently lives in a Kansas City area care facility. The author lives in Monument, Colo.

One brother, Jay, became Kansas City mayor in 1904. Others, including Jay, were involved in the Daily Drovers Telegram, a publication reporting on the livestock industry. Another brother was a minister; another the area’s first chair of pediatric medicine at Kansas City University Medical Center; another a university professor. Callen focuses on the personal history of one daughter, including her Brother Frank and Nellie Neff tragic death in a boating in 1878. accident in 1895. Nellie and a friend Albert Schabacher tried to exchange places in a rowboat. Both tumbled into the lake and drowned. Neither could swim. The monograph shares the newspaper accounts of the tragic accident. The author wonders about the relationship of the two young people: “Was she happy that last night? Was she in love with Albert? I had heard a family rumor that the two were engaged, but had no evidence.” The fuller story of the Neff family is told in Callen’s book Running Out of Footprints. Callen, who is a relative, lives in Lawrence, Kan.


JCHS Journal — Summer 2015

Last Chapters This section shares information on where prominent individuals mentioned in this Journal are buried. Names are listed alphabetically by last name. The JCHS website includes a Google map showing the burial locations. The extremely useful website was an invaluable resource to find and confirm these “last chapters.”

John Gilbert “Jack” Bennett (1895 — 1929) John Bennett, killed during the contract bridge game, was buried in a family plot in Union Ridge Cemetery in White County, Ill. Myrtle went to the Kansas City undertaker handling arrangements for the husband she shot. She asked that he be buried in a different suit and tie; the undertaker obliged.

Myrtle A. Bennett (1895 — 1992)

Arthur Grissom (1869 — 1901) Arthur Colfax Grissom was 32 years old when he died in New York City. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Independence, Mo. The simple grave says nothing about his distinguished literary life.

Hazelle Hedges Rollins (1910 — 1984) John Woodson Rollins (1909 — 1993) The husband and wife, who were also business partners, are both buried in the Rollins Room of the ornate mausoleum at Mt. Moriah Cemetery in Kansas City, Mo. He outlived his wife by nearly a decade.

Mary Ellen “Nellie” Perry (1864 — 1953) Perry is buried in Perryton, Texas, in the panhandle near the Oklahoma border. Her obituary noted she was “never too busy to take on some civic task.”

James A. Reed (1861 — 1944) Reed is buried in Mount Washington Cemetery, which at the time was an unincorporated pastoral rural setting and later was annexed by the city of Independence.

Myrtle Bennett was cremated and her remains were sent to cousins in Miami, Okla. – relatives that she effectively wrote out of her third and final will.

Harry Truman (1884 — 1972) Bess Truman (1885 — 1982) Margaret Truman (1922 — 2008)

It showed some ingratitude, because Myrtle had lived in their home for four years before moving into a local nursing home. Myrtle left the nursing home secretly and returned to Florida, where she died.

All three Truman family members are buried in the courtyard of the Truman Library in Independence, Mo. Visitors from around the world come and visit the presidential library and wander in the courtyard. Clifton Daniels, the New York Times journalist and husband of Margaret, is also buried there, making a quartet— father, mother, daughter and son-in-law.

Winter 2015 JCHS Journal

To mark the 70th anniversary of the conclusion of World War II, look for a special story about the U.S. Army Effects Bureau.

Our Winter Journal will include a story about the family behind the Jones Store — a major regional department store. JCHS recently received papers, scrapbooks and other documents from the family of J. Logan Jones, the store founder, which provide rich personal insights on this family and commercial enterprise.

This special Army operation, housed in a Kansas City 10-story warehouse, had the inauspicious task of receiving and processing the personal belongings of soldiers killed, missing and captured, and returning them to family members. The building still stands.

JCHS Journal — Summer 2015 More content available online Expanded content related to the Summer 2015 journal is available online at


Have an article for The Journal?

Online you may find the full stories about Dory DeAngelo and Nellie Neff, listen to Truman talk about his hometown, read an excerpt from Ralph Monaco’s book about the Bennett murder trial, and find some of Arthur Grissom’s poetry.

The Jackson County Historical Society welcomes submission of articles relating to the history of Jackson County, Mo., and the Kansas City area.

About our authors

Materials should be written for an interested general audience.

Gary Jenkins Jackson County Historical Society Board member Gary Jenkins is a retired Kansas City Police Dept. officer and currently is a practicing attorney. He produced three documentary films and authored one young-adult historical fiction based on events on the Western Underground Railroad. He currently is producing a true crime podcast titled Gangland Wire: Crime Stories. Ralph A. Monaco II Monaco is a lifelong resident of Raytown, Mo. with a passion for local history. He is the author of several local history books including Scattered to the Four Winds: General Order No. 11 and Martial Law in Jackson County, Missouri, 1863. He is a past president of the Jackson County Historical Society and a practicing attorney for 33 years. Ann Kathryn Ragan Ragan has served as President of the Puppetry Arts Institute Board of Directors for the last three years and been a board member five. She is a retired architect from Ragan & Associates and a partner in Culmsee-Ragan & Associates. Other writing includes “The Legends of Great Grandfather William Theodore Hart, A Cowboy on the Chisholm Trail.” Brent Schondelmeyer Schondelmeyer is on the Jackson County Historical Society board and a State Historical Society of Missouri trustee. He was a Kansas City Star reporter during the Truman neighborhood preservation conflict and wrote extensively about the dispute. The article in this Journal was originally written in 1985 for a chapter in a book on Truman that was never published. It has been updated to include later important developments over the subsequent 30 years. Gloria Haralson Smith Smith is a seventh-generation Jackson County resident who loves local history and family history, a “genealogy addict” and a JCHS board member. She is a member of DAR and Jamestown Society, and is active in the Independence Junior Service League. Sandra Gail Teichmann-Hillesheim Teichmann-Hillesheim’s books include Slow Mud, Killing Daddy, and Woman of the Plains. She is also a playwright with Mockernut Street, Corinne, and Not Laughing staged. Her fiction, poetry, and essays appear in numerous literary journals and anthologies. She is retired from West Texas A&M University, where she was a professor of Literature, Theory, and Creative Writing.

Manuscripts should be between 1,500 to 2,500 words and include sufficient notes and sources. Authors should submit manuscripts electronically. JCHS does not accept responsibility for statements of facts or opinions made by authors. Original articles are preferred though articles previously published may be considered if reprint rights are secured. An editorial board will review and select articles for publication based on subject, quality and sharing a broad view of the region's history. Send your manuscripts to

A note on sources This is a general regional history historical publication and not a scholarly journal. We have chosen not to provide notes on sources and citations in the print publication, but do share author’s notes on sources on our website.

Correction An article on Blevins Davis (Winter 2014) misstated the number of home radios available during the Great Depression. The correct number was 20 million.

Join the Celebration!

Branch Birthday Party on Tuesday, November 10, 2015! Join us at your local branch to celebrate 50 years of great stories with activities, refreshments, prizes, and more! Plus, each kid will receive a complimentary children's book! (while supplies last) Visit to ďŹ nd out more!

JCHS Summer 2015 Journal  

This issue of the journal includes articles about the infamous Bennett murder trial, writer Arthur Grissom, a preservation fight in the Trum...

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