Kansas City History

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."

David DeHetre / Flickr

What is the Plaza worth to you? To the city on the whole? A conversation inspired by the retail district being up for sale.

Guests:

  • Monroe Dodd, local historian, KCUR's Central Standard
  • Susie Haake, lifelong Plaza resident
  • Celia Ruiz, activist, Una Lucha KC, lifelong Kansas Citian
Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri

EBT. For some Kansas Citians the acronym has no particular meaning, but for long-time residents it's a reminder of the former downtown department store, Emery, Bird, Thayer & Company — or the restaurant that takes its name and some of its decor from this former Kansas City institution. EBT the restaurant announced to staffers Monday that it would close on December 31.

Green bean casserole is specifically a staple of the rural Midwest. What characterizes Midwestern cuisine, and how did it come about that a food-producing region celebrates the season's bounty with a recipe based entirely on canned foods?

Guests:

  • Lucy Long, director, Center for Food and Culture
  • Judith Fertig, local cookbook author and "foodista"
Cody Newill / KCUR

The Native Sons and Daughters of Greater Kansas City unveiled a new historic marker Friday to honor a Kansas City neighborhood you've probably never heard of before: Harlem.

Several dozen members of the Native Sons and Daughters, City Council members Scott Wagner and Jolie Justus and former residents of Harlem met outside the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport to commemorate the new marker. 

The Los Angeles Times / Creative Commons

There's a federal surveillance file from the early 20th century that refers to Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas during World War I as a "University of Radicalism."

"That's not hyperbole," said researcher Christina Heatherton of Trinity College in Connecticut during a conversation on Central Standard

Heatherton was writing a book on the Mexican Revolution.

In the early 20th century, new laws inspired by World War I ensnared revolutionary thinkers all over the country, and sent them all to the same place to do time: Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas. It turns out Leavenworth was a hotbed of radical training and thought. At the center of it all was Mexican revolutionary Ricardo Flores Magon.

Guest:

  • Christina Heatherton, professor of American Studies, Trinity College

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.

Ladesich is showing his movies in the Kansas International Film Festival.

Guest:

  • Anthony Ladesich, filmmaker, Be It Ever So Humble, There Is No Place and Studio A
Nan Palmero / Flickr-CC

St. Louis, the Gateway City, is also known worldwide as the "Gateway to the West." But before the federal government erected the Gateway Arch 50 years ago this week, some historians say that Kansas City had a strong claim to the title.

The National Park Service built the Gateway Arch in St. Louis to celebrate the millions of explorers and pioneers who settled the American West in the 19th century.

'Cattle, Cowboys & Culture: Kansas City To Amarillo'

Oct 23, 2015

The bond between Kansas City and Amarillo, Texas may be stronger than you think.  A train that ran between the two cities led to the shaping of cultures, and a lasting connection.  

Guest:

Michael Grauer is a Kansas City native and Curator of Art and Western heritage at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum.

Courtesy Aaron Barnhart

The story of Kansas abolitionist John Brown — the wild-eyed man who killed pro-slavery settlers in response to the sacking of Lawrence before the Civil War — has been told so many times he's now a historical figure of mythical proportions. Few people, however, know the story of August Bondi, who fought alongside Brown in less-murderous Free State skirmishes.

In just about every neighborhood, there's a movie theater, a nightclub or maybe a skating rink that has acquired a bad reputation for some reason, and that impression can stick in local memory, whether it's justified or not. We check out a few in Kansas City.

Guest:

Wikipedia -- Creative Commons

A local group is planning to celebrate the 50th anniversary of a little known but important gathering of gay activists in Kansas City.

The Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America at UMKC wants to memorialize the first meeting of the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations, or NACHO. The group gathered at Kansas City's State Hotel in February 1966, three years before the Stonewall Riots in New York City. 

A local blogger has collected and published photographs of the little corner grocery stores that used to fill Kansas City's midtown neighborhoods. It elicited a passionate response. What is it about the history and demise of mom n' pop groceries that touches a nerve?

Guests:

Sylvia Maria Gross / KCUR

"The Story of a Song" is monthly segment on KCUR's Central Standard, in which local musicians tell the story behind a recent song, and explain how it was constructed musically.

Artist: The Popper aka Walter Lee Edwin

The Song: I'm KC

Music Career: The Popper’s been rapping in Kansas City since 1996, straddling some of Kansas City’s different hip-hop scenes.

The Story: After a few days in jail early this summer, Edwin was on house arrest and wrote and recorded a whole album, Write (Right) Thru The Pain, about that experience. With that out of the way, he wrote, recorded and released the summer anthem "I’m KC" in a matter of days. 

For much of the 20th century, the clothes that Middle America wore came from Kansas City factories.

Scores of clothing manufacturers, many of them headquartered near Broadway in the northern part of downtown, produced work clothes for laborers and farmers, house dresses for homemakers and uniforms for industry and the military.

In the 1930s, the garment industry was huge in Kansas City, in both manufacturing and retail. It employed a lot of local women — particularly immigrant women. What was the KC garment industry like in its heyday, and what happened to it?

Guests:

Creative Commons

Whitney Terrell's novel, The King of Kings County, delves into the history of racial covenants and white flight in Kansas City; the author pulls no punches about that. But the characters who populate the novel and their personal dramas are purely fictional. Ten years after the novel was published, upheaval in Ferguson and a downtown renaissance in Kansas City may inspire us to see something new in the story.

Guest:

  • Whitney Terrell, author, The King of Kings County
Suzanne Hogan / KCUR

This story was rebroadcast as part of our best-of 2015 series. Since it was first reported in September, Sean Owens and his group of volunteers have uncovered the entire staircase. 

West Terrace Park sits on the edge of a bluff on the west end of Kansas City's Quality Hill neighborhood.

It offers a scenic overlook of the West Bottoms, the Kaw and Missouri rivers, and downtown Kansas City, Kansas. 

In the 1960s, parts of the park — including a road, a grotto, and a staircase, were demolished for the Interstate 35 extension. Over time, the history and grandeur of what was left of the park was covered by mud, graffiti, trash and invasive bush honeysuckle. 

But Kansas Citian Sean Owens, who has admired the park since he was a kid, wants to uncover, cleanup and restore this park to its original beauty.

Charlie Parker's birthday is coming up, and Kansas City is all a-twitter. Hear a visiting jazz scholar's take on the history of Bebop, and Kansas City-born Charlie Parker's place in it. Bonus: a recording of a jam session where you can hear the Bird talking.

Guest:

How Floods Shaped The Kansas City We Know Today

Aug 10, 2015
Montgomery / Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri

Kansas City owes its place on the map and its early prosperity to rivers. But those same streams that carried people and goods in and out — and later made easy routes for railroads – also created unforgettable chapters in the city’s history: destructive floods. With each disastrous chapter, Kansas City has recovered, adapted and sometimes changed direction.

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:

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