Kansas City History

Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3

This story first appeared on KCUR's Question Quest. You can find the episode here or wherever you download podcasts.

The DLC / Flickr -- CC

How do you tell a city's history? We talk with the head of one of the city's largest and most important historical collections on his last day on the job.

Guest:

Anna Sturla / KCUR 89.3

Leeds Cemetery doesn’t look like a typical cemetery. A couple of miles from the Truman Sports Complex in Kansas City, Missouri, it has no headstones and no green lawns. It's just an empty field filled with dry grass and Queen Anne’s lace.

 

For more than half of the 20th century, though, this was Kansas City’s "potter’s field," or final resting place for the city’s unclaimed bodies — those too poor for a proper burial.

 

At the turn of the 20th Century, Kansas City was known for more than just a raucous drinking and gambling scene. The "Paris of the Plains" also served as a center for new, syncopated styles of ragtime, blues and jazz. With the music came an assemblage of composers and music publishers who called KC home.

Guest:

Hopper Stone - © 2016 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

In 1984, Ghostbusters was the top-grossing comedy of all time ... and a cultural phenomenon. (Remember those "I've been slimed" T-shirts?)

We review the new version, along with the legacy of the original. Plus, we hear some of Kansas City's ghost stories.

Guests:

In this encore presentation of Central Standard: On the face of it, the 1983 Royals-Yankees insanity known as the Pine Tar Game is all about a technicality and a tantrum. But scratch beneath the surface and it's a Shakespearean-caliber drama with complex characters and a generations-long feud.

Guest:

Henry Fortunato / Indian Creek Trail Interpretive Signage Project

The Indian Creek Trail, which spans about 10 miles in Overland Park is about to get a facelift — new outdoor exhibit panels that will teach hikers and bikers about some little-known tidbits of Johnson County history.

For example, did you know that an off-handed remark turned 111th street into College Boulevard?

Maybe not, according to Henry Fortunato, founder of Sunflower Republic, LLC, and director of the Indian Creek Trail Interpretive Signage Project, because most schools teach very little about local history.

Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3

Yesterday, Southwest Early Campus in Brookside closed its doors for the last time. We explore the legacy of the 100-year-old Southwest High School.

We also hear the story of Daizsa Laye Bausby, whose death in a hotel room was ruled a homicide. She was supposed to graduate from Southwest this year. Was the life of this young black woman ignored by local media?

Guests:

You may not have heard of Octave Chanute before but, if you live in or around Kansas City, chances are you're affected by his work. Local historian Bill Nicks explains Chanute's lasting importance to aviation, and where you can still find evidence of his legacy in the metro.

Coy Dugger / KCUR 89.3

Stepping through the doors of the Harry J. Epstein Co. hardware and surplus shop in downtown Kansas City, Missouri is like stepping through time.

At first glance, Epstein’s looks like an old-fashioned, everyday hardware store. The shelves are lined with packages of bolts, and bins are stocked with piles of steel hand tools. 

But not all of the items are what you would find in an everyday tool shed. Some of Epstein’s more unusual products would make even the most proficient garage guru green with envy.

Coy Dugger / KCUR

Hardware store memories are about more than that tell-tale hardware store smell. How the story of industry in Kansas City mirrors the story of hardware stores, and what communities lose as those mom n' pop neighborhood shops fall away. Plus, how one of the oldest hardware stores in town has reinvented itself to survive. Hint: it involves a flying dolphin.

Guests:

At our recent Podcast Party we asked Kansas City to redesign our city's flag.

Our inspiration was a very popular episode of the podcast 99% Invisible called "Vexillonaire" (a play on vexillology, or the study of flags).

Jessica Spengler / Flickr

The food of Kansas City has a life story to tell. Author Andrea Broomfield tells it. The origins of Kansas City chili, tamales and tailgating, an affinity for dining al fresco and cinnamon rolls, and what local beer has to do with our sports teams and stadiums. Every food tradition can be explained through the lens of history.

Guest:

J.C. Nichols gave Kansas City the Country Club Plaza. Some say he also gave us racial segregation, mid-century white flight and the so-called Troost wall between white and black. We examine his influence, both in Kansas City and across the rest of the country.

Guest:

Courtesy Historic Kansas City

“Adult" coloring books are hot right now. Some 12 million coloring books sold in 2015, up from just 1 million the year before, according to the Nielsen Bookscan.

Some claim coloring is therapeutic. It’s undeniably nostalgic, but no matter the reason, The First Kansas City Coloring Book resurfacing now is certainly an example of good timing.

Couresy of Missouri Valley Special Collections / Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri

It’s been almost a hundred years since Prohibition, which, ironically, were some of the booziest years in Kansas City history. And although local chef Tim Tuohy is a newcomer to the area, he’s already learning the history of that time.

Tuohy works for Tom’s Town, a new distillery in the Crossroads that makes small-batch gin, vodka and whiskey on site, and is named for the man who just might be the patron saint of KC drinkers. 

“You know, Kansas City had an extremely rich beer and alcohol culture that really flourished here as a result of … Tom Pendergast,” Tuohy says.

Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library

The now-infamous Stonewall Riots in 1969 -- when gay people fought back against a police raid on a popular gay bar in Greenwich Village, New York --  is widely viewed as a major turning point in United States gay history, a moment that defined and established the gay and lesbian rights movement as we know it today.

But the real foundational moment may have been a quiet meeting here in Kansas City. It flew under most people's radar at the time, and remains a relatively unknown historical event even today.

In February of 1966, three years before the infamous Stonewall riots, a meeting in Kansas City  brought together the people who would become the leaders of the gay rights movement for the first time ever. A look back, on the 50th anniversary of that event.

Guest:

Freedom, Inc.

Feb 9, 2016

We explore the history and influence of the Kansas City political organization Freedom, Inc., one of the oldest African American political organizations in the country, and take a look at the relevance of the group in elections today.

Guests:

  • Micah Kubic, author, Freedom, Inc. and Black Political Empowerment
  • Emiel Cleaver, producer, Freedom Is Now
  • Shalonn "Kiki" Curls, Missouri State Senator

This city was founded on a geological anomaly called a rock ledge. Surrouded by cliffs and gorges, no less.  Back then, what we now call downtown Kansas City was dense wilderness. A geology professor explains.

Guest:

  • Richard J. Gentile, professor emeritus of geology, The University of Kansas

On a day set aside for commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr., we revisit a conversation with a local civil rights activist: Nelson "Fuzzy" Thompson, who died on January 11, 2014. Along with the Mutual Musicians Foundation's Anita Dixon, he discusses the fight for racial equality here in Kansas City.

Guests:

  • Reverend Nelson "Fuzzy" Thompson, The Southern Christian Leadership Conference
  • Anita Dixon, The Mutual Musicians Foundation
Missouri Valley Special Collections / Kansas City Public Library

It seems all but certain three West Plaza apartment buildings designed by Nelle Peters will soon be demolished.  

On Wednesday, a Kansas City Council committee recommended against historic designation for the three buildings at 47th and Summit, which were built in the 1920s and purchased two years ago for $3.6 million. A representative for Price Brothers told the Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee that there’d be no way to recoup the cost of renovating the buildings.

The full council still has to vote, but the Historic Kansas City Foundation’s Amanda Crawley told KCUR’s Steve Kraske no one is expecting a miracle.

The buildings are significant because Peters was one of the few female architects working in the city at the time.

“Certainly there are a lot of buildings in Kansas City that are protected that are by her, but we’ve also lost a lot,” Crawley said on Up To Date.

So who was Nelle Peters?

We take a look back at desegregation efforts through school busing in Kansas City. Two Southwest High School graduates share their memories of being bused.

Guests:

  • Eric Wesson, Editor, The Call
  • Monroe Dodd, KCUR's resident historian
  • Susi Cohen
Drawn by A. Ruger. Merchants Lith. Co. Published by Madison, Wis., Ruger & Stoner - This map is available from the United States Library of Congress's Geography & Map Division / Wikipedia

Through a series of formal steps, it sometimes happens that a public street leaves the city's ledger to become part of a private development. One concerned citizen worries about the city losing its soul, one block at a time, in the process.

Guests:

Cody Newill / KCUR 89.3

For 115 years, a time capsule once stored in the cornerstone of the Thacher School in Kansas City's Historic Northeast laid dormant. But a team of historians with the Kansas City Museum opened the memento Saturday morning, finding a treasure trove of documents.

The historic school was named after Civil War major Louin Kennedy Thacher in May, 1900 and was closed by the Kansas City Public Schools in 2009. The school building was demolished last August.

Gina Kaufmann / KCUR

The Savoy, Putsch's, the Westport Room at Union Station... even Dixon's Chili. How have the stories of Kansas City's iconic restaurants intersected with our own stories? The conversation begins at the Golden Ox; it's coming back to life as a West Bottoms steakhouse, with a few updates.

Guests:

  • Charles Ferruzza, food critic, The Pitch and KCUR
  • Monroe Dodd, journalist and historian, KCUR

When Anthony Ladesich found his father's youthful correspondence with an old Navy friend on a stack of reel-to-reel tapes, he also found so much more: a portal into Kansas City's jazz history, material for his films, and a way of keeping his dad with him a little longer.

This is an encore edition of Central Standard.

Guest:

  • Anthony Ladesich, filmmaker, Be It Ever So Humble, There Is No Place and Studio A

How did the Crossroads go from a gritty neighborhood with abandoned buildings to a vibrant destination spot? Crossroads pioneer Jim Leedy, an architect and a longtime gallery owner share their memories.

Plus: A Tax Increment Financing (TIF) explainer and the recent controversy about the blight designation for Crossroads development.

Guests:

National Archives at Kansas City, Missouri

Fingerprinting has been around since the age of the Egyptians. However, modern criminal forensics in the United States have only been using this unique human feature to identify criminals for a little over 100 years. And it all goes back to an odd mix-up at the United States Penitentiary, Leavenworth more than a century ago.

Jennifer Cotto / KCUR 89.3

If you've ever been to the Kansas City International Airport, chances are you've seen Rick Evans.

His large wooden chair sits in Terminal B — between the Boulevard Brew Pub and the Delta ticket counter. 

Evans spends most of his day sitting on a small stool next to his chair waiting for customers.

On a good day, he may see as many as 10. 

"I meet people from all walks of life," he says. "Everybody has a story. It's so neat to hear how people get their jobs, and the ordeal of going through things."

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