The A's (Kansas City Is A Cowtown No More)

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The A's (Kansas City Is A Cowtown No More)

During those years, baseball fan emotions bounced from joyous to tumultuous to downright silly at times, but there’s no doubt the A’s moving to Kansas City from Philadelphia changed the city’s image from a cowtown to a metropolis. 

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“Well, we had a big parade, had a big crowd, drew a big crowd. It was a very exciting time for us to get a major league team,” says former Mayor Charles Wheeler.  “It helped get the Chiefs, it helped get the Scouts, the hockey team. And we got a basketball team. So we became a major league city with four different professional franchises. That was the beginning and it all resulted in the fact that we supported the team.”

To be honest, cowtown wasn’t the only image of K.C. before the A’s moved 1,500 miles west, the first major league team to really jump the Mississippi. It was a town known for political bossism with the Pendergast machine. A Mafia town with the growing and influential Civella family. A wide open city that was a playground for bank robbers on holiday and gave the country the Union Station Massacre. It’s image was anything but metropolitian. 

That all changed when the A’s flew into town to open the 1955 season. 

“When they did come into Kansas City, they were flying into the downtown airport. They see so many people celebrating that they made the, the plane circle the city several times just to see how excited the fans were in Kansas City for them to be here. And it lifted the spirits of the players,” says Jeff Logan, president of the Kansas City Baseball Historical Societ. 

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Sure the Kansas City fans loved the A’s move but what did the players who moved with the team from Philadelphia think? 

“Well, I think the overall attitude was great,” according to Gus Zernial, a power hitter who made the transition from Philadelphia. Zernial spent three years in Kansas City, leading the team in homers two of those years. “The players wanted to move out of Philadelphia because playing before a small crowds and most of theem were booing no matter what kind of a year you had. We just couldn’t win and I don’t think we had a winning attitude. And that attitude changed greatly when we got to Kansas City with all the players.”

I should mention that these A’s interviews were done many years ago for a documentary film that has yet to be finished, so some of the folks you’ll hear from in the series have died. Zernail is one. He died in 2011 at age 87. 

Clearly Kansas City had a long history with baseball. The Monarchs, of course, were the Yankees of Negro League Baseball and professional baseball stretched back to the 1880s. Fan Paul Blackman remembers how sports just felt different once the A’s were in town.

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“ I can remember one of my first times at the stadium, a Saturday afternoon sitting up in the upper deck on a cold April day and the White Sox scored about 29 runs.  But, they were our team and it was exciting and so that got me hooked.  Going to A’s games was something that our family did, my sister, my parents.  So it was um, it was a family love affair and an interest and there were some years when we would go 30 or 40 games a year. I’m a big Royals fan now.  But, there’s always been a special place in my heart for the A’s because they were the, the team of my childhood.”

It was the team of my childhood too. My first big league game was at Municipal Stadium at 22nd and Brooklyn. 

While the Yankees and A’s owner Arnold Johnson were sceaming to get the team out of Philadelphia, lots of people in Kansas City were, indeed, working to lure them here. The city sold bonds to add an upper deck to the ballpark. This turned out to be part of the caper to by the Yankees to get the A’s to Kansas City. The massive construction project was awarded to the constuction company controled by Yankee owner Del Webb.

Kansas City promised to put a million people in the stands, so backers had to sell a lot of season tickets. My dad knew nothing about sports, but he was a downtown business owner and as such felt obligated to buy four box seats, in the front row, right behind the hometeam dugout. 

Carl barley knew the difference between a homerun and a hotdog, but he could pick out seats. And because he, and so many others on both sides of stateline, bought season tickets, the city would change its image and change big league baseball’s footprint in America.

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Now when the A’s came to Kansas City the color barrier in the major leagues had only been broken nine years earlier by Jackie Robinson in Brooklyn. In fact, when the A’s played their first game in K.C. in 1955 the Tigers, Phillies and Red Sox were still all white. But the A’s would quietly lead the way in intrigrating the game. 

Harry “Suitcase” Simpson and Vic Power led the way for black players not only in Kansas City but in the American League. 

That’s in our next installment of Archiver: The A’s in Kansas City.

Music used in this episode Dirtbike Lovers, Balti and Waterbourne by Blue Dot Sessions

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The A's (Fleeing Philadelphia)

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The A's (Fleeing Philadelphia)

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I've always loved baseball. In fact here's a picture of me as a little kid just to prove it! And, as you can see, my love began with the Kansas City Athletics. To tell the story of how that team came to be in my hometown, we have to go back to the 50s.

It’s the beginning of 1955. The Kansas City Athletics, known as the A’s, are kicking off their first year in Kansas City after leaving Philadelphia where they played since 1901.

On the surface, it all looked so good; a big league team was in town for the first time, an updated Municipal Stadium, fans streaming into the ball park. But if you peeked underneath, it was all built on sleazy backroom business deals and one-sided trades all orchestrated by the hated New York Yankees and their hand-picked A’s owner. 

“It was no secret that this was an unholy alliance,” says author Mitch Nathanson who has written extensively about sports in Philadelphia. "The other club owners pointed this out in advance. It was written about in newspapers that this is not going to be a sale to an independent entity. This is going to someone who was essentially a cousin of the Yankees.”

It was one of the greatest conspiracies in sports history. One that would lead to turmoil in Kansas City, a congressional hearing and, eventually, one of the craziest owners in all of professional sports. 

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To tell the story of the Kansas City Athletics, you have to start in Philadelphia where they were a charter member of the new American League. 

The first thing the A’s did was hire a former catcher named Cornelius McGillicuddy to manage the club. Although from the time he was a boy in Massachusetts, he was called Connie Mack.

Starting in 1886, Mack spent 11 seasons in the major leagues and a few more in the minors before being hired on by the A’s. He also bought a 25 percent share of the team and later the Mack family would own the club outright. 

As they do to this day, baseball managers wear the team’s uniform. Not Mack, he always wore a suit and often a straw hat. 

It’s hard now to think of Philadelphia as anything but a Phillies town, but for the first half of the 20th century baseball there was dominated by the A’s. They were World Series champs in 1910, ‘11 and ‘13. They went through lean times and roared back in the ‘20s and ‘30s when they were world champs in 1929 and 1930.

“For the 54 years that the A’s and the Phillies played together in Philadelphia, the A’s out drew the Phillies. I think 40 times, so there were only a few years where the Phillies ever out drew the A's,” says Nathanson, who is also a law professor at Villanova University.

“Unlike in Chicago where you would be a Cubs fan or a White Sox fan, or in New York where you would be a Giants fan, but not a Dodger's fan, that wasn’t the case in Philadelphia. There were people who were A’s fans who didn't hate the Phillies. There was nothing to hate. They were just innocuous. They were invisible almost. It was a different situation in Philadelphia than it was in these other towns where there are rivalries between the teams. There were no rivalries between the Phillies and the A's. The Phillies were an afterthought. The A’s were the team that people followed.”

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So, led by Mack, the A’s and their fans enjoyed a couple of dynasties and successes at the box office. Mack eventually owned the team and Shibe Park and ran the whole operation. But after World War II, the A’s were awful. In 1946, 1947, and, well, to be honest they were awful for the rest of their time in Philadelphia.

Mack was now in his 80s and his mind was shot. He would call out for players who played for him decades ago. He brought his inept sons Earl and Roy into top jobs in the organization. Those two were battling Connie Mack, Jr., Mack’s son from his first marriage, over the future of the franchise.  

American League owners were worried. Puny crowds meant less of a take for teams visiting Philadelphia. They wanted the A’s out of Philadelphia. So the hated New York Yankees hatched a scheme that would enrich the team both on and off the field. But first, to make their plan work they had to get the A’s to Kansas City.

In Octorber 1954, American League President Will Harridge introduced a man named Arnold Johnson as the new owner of the A’s. Newsreel footage showed an odd looking news conference; Harridge was sitting in a chair and Johnson was sitting on the arm rest, his arm around the American League President’s shoulder. But getting to this point was a constant drama with confussion mixed in. 

First, Johnson had a long business relationship with Yankees’ owners, Dan Topping and Dell Webb. The Yankees already had a foot print in Kansas City. Their top minor league team, the Blues, had been playing there for decades. In fact, Johnson bought the stadium at 22nd and Brooklyn from Topping and Webb. 

“Johnson pretty much owns everything he has to Topping and Webb,” says Nathanson. “In addition if they move to Kansas City, the stadium has to be refurbished and Del Webb's construction company is going to handle the construction. So there's money that goes directly into Del Webb's pocket and they know that Johnson is the guy they can control. The Yankees were successful for 40 years and you could say they were a great organization, but they were great because they were taking players from other clubs to maintain their dynasty,” he says.

As this was all happening most of the league was pulling its hair out as the Mack family fought over whether to sell the club to Johnson, find a way to keep it in the family, or sell the A’s to buyers in Philadelphia.

In fact, Roy Mack, the son appointed by Connie to run the club, had made a deal with local businessmen to buy the A’s and keep them in Philadelphia and American League owners had already approved that deal. 

But Johnson wasn’t going to let that happen. “He took a plane directly to Philadelphia, drove straight to Roy’s house, marched in and made him a deal he couldn’t refuse,” says Bob Worthington with the Philadelphia A’s Historical Society.

He offered more money for Roy’s shares in the club and a juicy job in the front office in Kansas City. 

So, Roy decided to switch his loyalties back to Arnold Johnson and to make the deal with Johnson,” says Worthington. “Now that created all kinds of problems, two in particular. Number one, the agreement with the Philadelphia syndicate had already been signed. That was the deal that was on the table and that was the deal that was going to be considered at the next American League ownership meeting in late October. When Roy Mack had signed that agreement along with his father Connie and his brother Earl, they had telegraphed William Herridge and said, we have concluded this deal."

“The second issue, of course, was Roy had agreed to transfer his loyalty back to Arnold Johnson, accept that deal, but Connie and Earl hadn’t. So, Roy confronted a significant situation, a problematic situation that he had to deal with. The saving grace for Roy Mack was that the deal with the Philadelphia syndicate was subject to approval by the American League to agree to that agreement, to accept it, to condone it, to approve it so that Roy Mack and his father and brother could sell the stock to the Philadelphia syndicate. When they showed up at the ownership meeting in late October, this would have been October 28th, all the American League owners walked into the room assuming they were simply going to vote on the deal for the Philadelphia syndicate, transfer ownership of the Athletics to that group, the Athletics would stay in Philadelphia and be done with it. But, to the amazment of the other owners, when it came time to vote, Roy Mack voted against his own deal."

Those businessmen of the Philadelphia syndicate were outside the room just waiting to hear that, yes, they were the new owners of the A’s. “The Philadelphia syndicate group was really angry,” Worthington continues. “They suspected a double cross, that somehow, someone, one of the Macks had walked away from the deal they had only signed days earlier and, indeed, that was the case.” 

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Finally, the deal was done. Hearts soared in Kansas City where business leaders and politicians had been working for months to lure the team from Philadelphia, perhaps not aware of just how much of a role the Yankees played and the scheme they were ready to hatch.

By December, the downtown Macy’s was advertising Kansas City A’s ties for two dollars. “K.C. Athletics blazes forth in pink. He’ll wear it with pride,” the ad in the Kansas City Times raved. And pride in the city’s brand new big league team...off the darn charts.

“And when they did come into Kansas City, they were flying into the downtown airport. They see so many people celebrating that they made the plane circle the city several times just to see how excited the fans were in Kansas City for them to be here,” according to Jeff Logan, who is president of the Kansas City Baseball Historical Society.

That’s in our next installment of Archiver: The A’s in Kansas City.

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Music used in this episode Rally, The Big Ten, The Silver Hatch and In Passage by Blue Dot Sessions

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How Did We Get Here?

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How Did We Get Here?

I want to take you back to August 19th, 1991. It’s 93 degrees and humid. Hundreds of anti-abortion protestors from around the country have gathered in Wichita. There’s nothing spontaneous about it, planning went on for weeks and eventually hundreds would swell to thousands.

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CBN News

Most people, including the city’s three abortion clinics, the police and city officials, thought the whole thing would be done in a few days with a handful of arrests. But what came to be known as the Summer of Mercy stretched on for six tense weeks, resulted in 2,600 arrests and changed politics in Kansas in ways that we feel right this minute. 

For the last decade Kansas politics has been conservative, very conservative, hard right. There have been attempts to stop teaching evolution in public schools, efforts to make same sex marriage unconstitutional and countless anti-abortion bills in the Legislature, conservative lawmakers emboldened by those protests in Wichita in 1991. 

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CBN News

During the protests, people sat in front of a clinics and practicly every day Wichita police would come along, zip cuff the prootestors and haul them away in city buses and a few times in rented trucks. Thousands gathered at Cessna Stadium to listen to Pat Roberts, founder of the Christian Broadcast Network, speak. 

They chanted to reporters to “tell the truth” about what was happening in Wichita. Tell the truth, the 1990s and less catchy version of today’s fake news. So it went like that for a month and a half and it emboldened conservatives across the state. 

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CBN News

It’s really hard to list all of the momentous events in those six weeks in Wichita. Federal marshals were called in. The leader of the protest, Kieth Tucci, was arrested for violating a federal court order to cease blocking access to clinics - while he was on a radio program. Wichita Police Chief Rick Stone received the Department of Justice "Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award". Pat Robertson filled Cessna stadium with anti-abortion protestors and the national media was all over the story. The New York Times called it “a political windstorm” that hurled Wichita into the “center of the bitter national feud over a woman's right to an abortion.” What nobody knew was how that windstorm would blow into politics today in Kansas and how this all fits into this season’s theme...the free state myth. 

It took a couple of years before the Summer of Mercy essentially took control of the Republican party in Kansas. But when it did, it grabbed the party by the throat and wouldn’t let go. 

“What the Summer of Mercy did was, in essense, coiless conservative Repubublicans around a very simple idea and then provided them energy that was then salted in (political) races,” says Kansas City Star columnist and political thinker, Dave Helling. “The message to Republican was clear; you need to be on the right side of the abortion issue or you don’t have much of a chance.”

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CBN News

Abortion has infected the way Kansas politicians deal with all sorts of issues; taxes, school finance and highway repair. It’s made these issues not policy to be debated and comprimised on but moral issues, says Helling. “Most of our politics now is defined by the abortion issue approch which is this; you can comprimise on taxes or school funding but if you think abortion is murder you really can’t comprimise on that.”

I want to give the final word on all of this to Archiver historian Virgil Dean. One of our reoccurring themes this year was the Free State Myth, that Kansas isn’t quite as progressive as we like to think. However, the other thing we discovered this season was that Kansas has always been a place where change agents were welcome.

“Because of the nature of Kansas’s early history there were people who were pushing the envelop for rights for individuals. There were also other forces pulling back from that, reacting against it,” says Virgil. 

I want to say thanks to all of our subscribers and listeners and I hope you enjoyed this season of Archiver. If you missed our episode on Indian boarding schools with the actor Wes Studi or our William Allen White episodes with NPR’s Bill Kurtis, I hope you’ll go back and listen. 

I’m thrilled to say that in 2018 Archiver will be doing some oral histories from Vietnam veterans and a very exciting project on the Kansas City A’s, a story that begins with a sick bed family betrayal in Philadelphia and ends with hard ball politics in Washington. 

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Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is Cicle Vascule, Vik Fence Haflak, and The Summit by Blue Dot Sessions; both have been edited.

 

 

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The Most Important Basketball Player You've Never Heard Of

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The Most Important Basketball Player You've Never Heard Of

For just a minute, conjure up the song “Sweet Georgia Brown” in your head. Now, think about the Harlem Globetrotters and their magic circle warm up routine. That’s where we’re going to start this story.

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The Globetrotters have always been innovators. But perhaps their greatest innovation was in 1985, when they signed a woman, the first woman to ever play professionally with men. That woman was from Kansas, and she would not only change the game but become a hero to female athletes and probably many other young women.

Even the most casual basketball fan can tick off famous Jayhawks: Wilt Chamberlain, Jo Jo White, coaches Phog Allen and Bill Self and, of course, the inventor of the game, James Naismith, who we covered on a previous Archiver. But the one who scored more points, blazed more trails and probably inspired more athletes was Lynette Woodard. 

In her four years at KU, she scored 3,649 points, more than any other woman in the game, and she scored all those points at a time when there wasn’t a three point shot. How does that stack up against the men? Well, the man with the most points at KU, Danny Manning, had 2,951. That’s 698 fewer points than Lynette. Put another way, Manning would have had to play 35 more games, an entire other season, to match Woodard’s scoring. 

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What else you say? How about a four time All America. Twice an Olympian and in 1996, she was named the greatest female athlete ever in the old Big Eight. Make no mistake, Woodard joining the Globetrotters was a big deal. 

Ebony Magazine called her the Crown Princess of Basketball, a play on the Trotters famous marketing line. This is what the Philadelphia Daily News wrote about her after a game in Houston on February 14th, 1986.

“Doe-fleet and willow-tall, 26 year old Woodard is blazing a trail in basketball. She won’t rival Jackie Robinson, but that’s OK. Woodard is not comfortable being thought of as a role model.”

But, it turns out, one doesn’t seek role model status...it finds you. And it certainly found Lynette Woodard. 

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I needed to know more about not just Lynette the basketball player but Lynette the role model. So, I went to Mechelle Voepel who writes about women’s sports for ESPN.com.

I covered Lynette at the student radio station at KU and even played in some pick up games with her. I think Lynette Woodard as a player was uncomplicated, versatile to be sure, but not complicated. As a person, very complicated and not too well known. 

She’s one of the all time greatest athletes in women’s sports. I’m not sure there are any greater advocates than guys, including some who I worked with at the Kansas City Star, who played against her,” says Voepel. “I just saw her earlier this year at the women’s basketball Hall of Fame and I was so glad to see her and say hi to her. Do I feel like I really, really know her as a person? I would say no. I revere what she meant to the sport and always want to talk about it because it’s not talked about. But who Lynette is as a person, maybe someday she’ll write a book or tell her story about who she is.”

Woodard bounced around a bit. Sometimes deep into basketball. Sometimes away altogether. She played for the Globetrotters for two years, played in both Italy and Japan, worked as a Wall Street stockbroker and would return to coach briefly at KU. She was athletic director in the Kansas City Missouri public schools and played two seasons in the WNBA.

In 2004, she was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

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Lynette also reminded me of another Kansan, another basketball trailblazer we talked about on Archiver; Coach John McLendon. He was the first black person to graduate with a physical education degree from KU, the first black coach in professional basketball and a man who changed the game and paved the way for African American players. 

Woodard and McLendon both quietly changed basketball and, along the way, inspired countless young men and women. Lynette Woodard is back where she belongs, in college basketball. She was named head coach of Winthrop University’s women’s basketball program last year. 

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Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is Manele, Milkwood, City Limits by Blue Dot Sessions; both have been edited.

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Derby Day in Kansas

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Derby Day in Kansas

We’re talking horse racing on this Archiver, something not associated much with Kansas. But, for an amazing two minutes and four seconds in 1938, a horse from Johnson County was the top three-year-old in the land. It was owned by a man who was better known for suits than stallions, and who had an odd connection to Kansas City political boss Tom Pendergast.

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The horse was named Lawrin. He was trained at the 200 acre Woolford farm which is now part of Prairie Village, right around 83rd and Mission Road. Lawrin came from a pretty good line. His grandsire was Sir Gallahad, a French Thoroughbred horse and one of the most important sires in American racing. Woolford Farm was named after Herbert Woolf, the president of Woolf Brothers, one of the most important clothing stores in Kansas City history. 

Lawrin was the only Kansas bred horse to ever win the Kentucky Derby, and he gave a big boost to the careers of the man who trained him, Ben Jones, and the jockey who rode him, Eddie Arcaro.

Lawrin's victory is a standout moment for a state not particularly known for its history with horses, but Archiver historian Virgil Dean says there’s more horse history in Kansas than one might think.

“Certainly when settlers started moving into the Kansas Territory in the 1850s, horses were important to people at the time,’ Virgil says. “They were the primary source of power for transportation and agricultural purposes.”

But people were also interested in leisure time activities, and in the late 19th century that often meant horse competitions.

“As early as 1858, before Kansas is even a state, you have the first county fair in Leavenworth County and there’s an emphasis, among other things, on horses,” Dean says. “Douglas County has its first fair the next year, and they specifically talk about races and a women’s equestrian event that attracts a lot of attention. So, there is an effort to focus attention on the importance of good horses and breeding from very early on.”

The 1938 Kentucky Derby was run on May 7. It was partly cloudy and the track was fast. Lawrin was an 8-1 long shot even though the colt had a pretty good year. He had already won the Hialeah Stakes, the Hollywood Trial Stakes, the American Invitational and the Flamingo Stakes before the Derby. 

Lawrin would come from behind and win by four lengths.

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Here’s how the Louisville Courier-Journal described the scene as Lawrin entered the winners circle with 22-year-old Eddie Arcaro aboard and owner Herbert Woolf thrilled with the come-from-behind win. 

“Straw-Hatted, wearing a dark blue suit and a maroon and gray striped silk tie, Mr. Woolf made no secret whatever of the fact that he was just about as elated as it was possible for him to get,” the paper wrote.

“He waved at friends, swung his heavy binoculars in a carefree manner and when little Eddie Arcaro rode Lawrin up to the tan-barked, flower-edged plaza and into that magic circle, Mr. Woolf strode forward and gripped the jockey’s hand as if he were a long lost friend.”

The headline the next day in the Kansas City Star said, “It’s Our Derby.” The sub-head was flashier, “Lawrin’s Winged Feet Bring Turf Glory to Herbert Woolf and Kansas City.” Arcaro told the Star he thought Lawrin was better than War Admiral. This was amazing praise in 1938 when War Admiral was half of one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports.

The 1938 Derby was run in a year when horse racing often dominated sports coverage. But neither the Kentucky Derby nor the Preakness nor the Belmont Stakes was the biggest race of that year. That title goes to the one-on-one battle between War Admiral and Seabiscuit. 

The fact that Arcaro would even suggest Lawrin was on par with War Admiral would have been big news in 1938, especially since 40 million people, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt, listened to the Kentucky Derby on radio. 

Eddie Arcaro would go on to become one of the most famous jockeys ever. Lawrin was his first of five Derby winners. Arcaro is the only jockey to win two Triple Crowns. As it happens, Lawrin had no chance at a triple crown. Woolf did not register him for the Preakness or Belmont stakes. 

While there wasn’t much horse racing history or action in Kansas, just across the state line there was plenty of horse track action—action that would lead to the downfall of the political boss of Kansas City and an unexpected connection between Herbert Woolf and Boss Tom Pendergast.

Woolf’s rise to business prominence in Kansas City roughly coincides with the assent of Pendergast as the machine boss in the city. The Woolf family moved their clothing business from Leavenworth to Kansas City in 1879, and opened shop at 5th and Main. 

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About that same time, the Pendergasts were creating their political dynasty in the West Bottoms. Herbert would take over Woolf Brothers in 1915, and expand the business into Junction City, Wichita, Dallas, and Memphis. Tom would take over the machine from his brother, Big Jim, in 1925 and expand it into almost every political office in Jackson County and much of Missouri. 

While Woolf loved riding and breeding, Pendergast would turn out to be an inveterate gambler on horses. Pendergast’s addiction was so severe that he and associates opened the Riverside Jockey Club just north of Kansas City in 1928. In one month, Boss Tom lost $600,000 dollars at the track. 

Like most things Boss Tom touched, says Jason Roe from the Kansas City Public Library, the Riverside track was barely legal. Roe has extensively studied the Pendergast era in Kansas City.

“Around 1927, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a ruling that created a loophole for gambling on horse racing where you could make, basically, a donation to breeding horses. It’s somewhat like the loophole that exists today. If you participate in a raffle for charitable purposes that’s not gambling, even though you are buying a ticket and you could win something,” says Rose. “That’s the loophole Pendergast was able to take advantage of to open up the racetrack in Riverside.”

In it’s heyday, upwards of 17,000 people would pack the track for a full day of racing. Pendergast got involved in an insurance kickback scheme to help pay off his huge gambling debt. And indirectly, says Roe, it lead to the death of the Pendergast machine. Boss Tom was indicted for failing to report the income from the kickback scheme to the IRS, the same kind of case that brought down Al Capone.

“It was the accountants who got him in the end,” Roe says. 

Tom Pendergast pleaded guilty to tax evasion in May 1939, and spent 15 months in Leavenworth. His boss days were done. But here’s the unexpected connection between Woolf and Pendergast—after Boss Tom got out of prison he still had five years probation to serve, a common part of any sentence. On Aug. 13, 1943, a letter was sent from the office of federal Judge Merrill E. Otis, the judge who sent Boss Tom up the river. A group of notable Kansas Citians wrote the Justice Department’s pardon attorney asking that Pendergast be released early from his probation. Banker James Kemper wrote a letter. So did developer J.C. Nichols as did Monsignor Thomas McDonald, a prominent priest in Kansas City. Also advocating for Boss Tom: Herbert M. Woolf. 

Did Woolf write because the two had some business connection or political connection? Maybe, it was a horse connection. To this day, nobody knows. 

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Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is Manele, Begrudge, Rally, and Drifting Spade by Blue Dot Sessions; both have been edited.

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Fast Food Kansas

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Fast Food Kansas

Do you know the 1946 musical “The Harvey Girls?” It stars Judy Garland. In the film, she sings one of the most famous show tunes of all times “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe.” The movie is about Harvey House restaurants, and the young women in their starched, white aprons and cuffs who went out west to feed hungry train travelers. 

"The train must be fed", they sang in the movie. In fact, millions of people needed to be fed and, wouldn’t you know it, we figured out how to do it fast right here in Kansas. 

Harvey House founder Fred Harvey had a nomadic and varied life before finally settling in Kansas. After immigrating to the U.S. from Liverpool in 1853, he started work as a pot scrubber in a New York restaurant. He worked his way to cook and would move on to New Orleans where he worked in the jewelry business before going to work for the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad. It’s that job that brought him to Leavenworth. 

Archiver historian Virgil Dean says Harvey opened his first restaurant in the Topeka train depot in 1876 then spread his Harvey Houses from there. By the time Harvey died in 1901, there were 47 restaurants and 15 hotels in the chain all excellent food served by well trained and pretty Harvey Girls. “Prior to this time there were very few places that people could get that kind of meal for a reasonable price in a short time,” Virgil says.

The Harvey Girls became famous and celebrated.

“These girls were hired because of their attractiveness, their maturity and their ability to work hard,” Virgil says.

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As train travel gave way to highways and cars, Harvey Houses faded away, although a few survived into the 1960s. But people wanted even faster food, and a couple of guys in Wichita figure out how to do that. 

White Castle hamburgers were invented at 1st and Main in downtown Wichita in 1921. They were the brainchild of diner owner Walt Anderson and insurance man Billy Ingram. 

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White Castle, with its pure white exterior and stainless steel interior, reopened the market to ground beef. People were scared to eat it after the Upton Sinclair novel “The Jungle” came out in 1906. The book unearthed the unsanitary conditions in meat packing plants. 

The chain quickly spread, opening its second store in El Dorado in 1922, moving out of Kansas into Indiana in 1927 and entering the movies in 2004 with Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle.

If Harold and Kumar got the munchies in central Kansas, they would've ended up at the Cozy Inn in downtown Salina. You’re not a real Kansan unless you’ve had sliders at the Cozy’s. But which came first, White Castle or Cozy’s? Naturally, we turned to Archiver historian Virgil Dean.

“According to their own history, Cozy followed White Castle by a year. But their inspiration for the slider type hamburger with no frills, and very little meat, was the White Castle restaurant which started in Wichita,” says Virgil. But Kansas wasn’t nearly done with fast food. And the next restaurant concept was even bigger.

Pizza Hut we founded in Wichita in 1958 by brothers Dan and Frank Carney, who borrowed $600 from their mom to open the first store. In 1965, they aired their first TV ad in Wichita. It has a kind of Keystone Cops feel. A guy orders a pizza on the phone and then races to Pizza Hut in a tiny kid's Mustang convertible chased by his neighbors. Clearly, the ad has nothing to do with pizza and everything to do with the convenience of take out. 

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The bothers Carney sold the business to Pepsi in 1977 and Pizza Hut is now owned by Yum Brands, based in China. Pizza Hut can still be big news in Wichita. In September the original building was moved onto the Wichita State campus where it will house Pizza Hut memorabilia. 

Sure fast food having its root in Kansas is fun, damn fun. But what did we turn loose on America? To help us figure that out, we went to Elizabeth Burger.

“Just like a hamburger without the ham,” she says. Burger is a senior program officer at the Sunflower Foundation in Topeka. Her job takes her all over Kansas, overseeing programs for healthy eating and active lifestyles. 

“The key is creating systems and structures that facilitate people toward making the healthier decisions rather than the unhealthier ones,” Burger says. “Unfortunately in today’s world we live in what’s called an obesogenic environment and that’s an environment that’s saturated with factors that guide us to make unhealthy decisions about our food choices and physical activity.” 

Much of that environment is dominated by commercials for fast food and surgery drinks. Billions a year are spent by food companies. But Elizabeth is not a total fast food buzz killer. The key, like with anything, is moderation.

“Yes, I do occasionally eat fast food. As a treat.” She even says Cozy’s is on her bucket list. Sometimes it’s about where and who you’re eating with. “Are you being nourished mentally and holistically as well as physically. So, if I were to go to the Cozy’s in Salina with my husband, which is something we’ve been looking forward to, and it’s a treat nutritionally the food may not be up to par. But it’s a special event. I’m nourished by this meal so it’s part of an overall diet.”

So, our fast food journey through Kansas starts on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe with Judy Garland and ends with, well, a bit of a lecture on our eating habits. But we think, we might all be craving a Cozy’s slider right about now. 

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Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is The Big Ten, and Sunday Lights, by Blue Dot Sessions; both have been edited.

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Out Whiting The White Man

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Out Whiting The White Man

This episode of Archiver was inspired by the film, The Only Good Indian, directed by Kevin Willmott, a good friend of the podcast. The film was written by Tom Carmody from Lawrence. It’s about the Haskell Institute in Lawrence back when it was a boarding school for American Indians. 

Tens of thousands of school age Indians were forced into these boarding schools all across the country. Many times they were kidnapped by soldiers or police. Kids would, naturally, run away from such semi-imprisonment. The movie is about an Indian bounty hunter played by Wes Studi. His job was to track down the kids who would run. Here’s the film description from IMDB:

 The Only Good Indian

The Only Good Indian

"Set in Kansas during the early 1900s, a teen-aged Native American boy (newcomer Winter Fox Frank) is taken from his family and forced to attend a distant Indian 'training' school to assimilate into White society. When he escapes to return to his family, Sam Franklin (Wes Studi), a bounty hunter of Cherokee descent, is hired to find and return him to the institution. Franklin, a former Indian scout for the U.S. Army, has renounced his Native heritage and has adopted the White Man's way of life, believing it's the only way for Indians to survive."

They would cut the kid's hair, forbid their native languages, force them to be Christians. And when they ran away, armed bounty hunters, like the Studi character, would chase them. The line from the movie that most fits our story is when Studi tells one boy, “Sam Franklin is going to be the best white man he can be. I’m going to out white man the God damn white man." 

How could any of this be good? I have to admit upfront that I started out on this story absolutely sure how I was going to tell it. But I ended up in a very different place, and it’s a place that I’m not totally comfortable with. 

The Only Good Indian tells the story of the worst part of Indian boarding schools. Some of the schools, surprisingly to me, operated until the 1970s, albeit much differently, as we’ll see, than when they were first created. By the 1970s, Haskell had already converted to a junior college. 

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Richard Henry Pratt

The whole movement starts with a Civil War veteran named Richard Henry Pratt who coined the phrase, "kill the Indian, save the man". He was a leader of what was known as the “Friends of the Indian Movement” and while "kill the Indian, save the man" certainly doesn’t sound friendly or supportive or even humane, it was far better than General Phillip Sheridan’s notion that the only good Indians he ever saw were dead, something he claimed he never said in all fairness but certainly the phrase has lived through time.

Still, the kidnapping and forced assimilation at Haskell and other boarding schools was repugnant to me. Archiver historian Virgil Dean, certainly no apologist for these institutions, was the first one to suggest that there may have been some virtue to these schools.

“In the early part of the 19th century, as the United States expanded west, the policy had been one of removal of Indians from the east and then concentrating them on reservations,” Virgil says. “Kansas was a big part of that. Kansas territory was created out of what had been Indian territory. Toward the end of the century you have a lot of people looking for other solutions to the so-called Indian problem. Many reformers, at the time, thought education was the solution. By 1884, when Haskell Institute is established, the idea is to bring Indian children in from all over the country to live there and literally change them to make them more able to achieve in a white society.”

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Were kids beaten? Yes. Psychologically abused? Yes. Sexually abused? Yes to that too. And it’s not like the government didn’t know. In 1928, something called the Meriam Report was issued. Here’s what it had to say about boarding schools:

“The survey staff finds itself obligated to say frankly and unequivocally that the provisions for the care of the Indian children in boarding schools are grossly inadequate.”

Haskell opened as a boarding school seven years after Richard Henry Pratt opened the Carlisle school in Pennsylvania. Carlisle was made famous, of course, by Jim Thorpe, perhaps the best American athlete ever. But it was right around the time of the Meriam report that things began to change, slowly, but change nonetheless. 

In 1926, Haskell dedicated its football stadium and 8,000 Indians from across the country came. Some drove, many took the train, some even walked. Haskell won its first football game in its new stadium. They beat Bucknell 36 to nothing. Things at Haskell seemed to get better from there. 

To find out more about early Haskell, I talked to Eric Anderson, an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and Chair of the Indigenous and American Indian Studies Department at Haskell. I told him that the whole boarding school concept, even if it had some virtues, still made me uncomfortable.

“We should be uncomfortable with that because it was a matter of saying Western culture is better and we don’t have a place in American society for American Indian cultures. They are inferior," said Anderson. "Whether it was the Army fighting wars or federal bureaucrat running Indian boarding schools it was all part of the theory that there was nothing good in Native American culture," he continued.

 Haskell Boarding School

Haskell Boarding School

"But there are some positives. Whether they got a trade that they learned. Whether it was a place where people of different tribes came together and began to see a common kind of history and they could find strength in their own diversity. Or whether it was a place where sweethearts met and married and went on to have their own kids who the sent to Haskell as part of a growing American Indian experience," Anderson said.

It’s a growing American Indian experience because by the time Haskell was dedicating its stadium, Indians were slowly taking more control of these institutions. My research was clear: there were, in fact, some redeeming things that came out of Indian boarding schools. But I didn’t really begin to feel that until I called Wes Studi at his home in New Mexico. 

Studi is Cherokee, acted in Dances with Wolves, played Geronimo in Geronimo: An American Legend and was in Avatar.

 Wes Studi

Wes Studi

Studi was an activist. He was at Wounded Knee, South Dakota in 1973 when it was occupied by the American Indian Movement. But Studi is also a graduate of an Oklahoma Indian Boarding school.

“In 1960, I actually wanted to go to Chilocco boarding school where my dad had gone. The reason was that he had some good stories to tell of having been there. That was maybe 20 years before I went. Now, by the time I went many Indian people had gotten jobs as different kinds administrators as well as people who dealt with the students in the dorms and in the classrooms. It wasn’t a matter of being thrown into a Hell hole by 1960," said Studi.

He continued that there clearly were students who didn’t have the positive experience he had at Chilocco. Still, his memories are good.

“For me it was a big adventure. I wanted to go off someplace and see what I could do on my own.”

This story turned out to be not only a real education for me but far more emotional than I could have imagined. I asked Haskell historian Eric Anderson about that.

“I think we have a really complex story here in boarding schools. Certainly, there were many negative features. Certainly, there are many stories of bitter and acrimonious experiences leading to some fracturing of family relationships leading to assaults on culture that are lasting and we still live with the legacy of.”

Still, Anderson said, many, many Indians came away with an education and used it to transform the boarding schools. Nonetheless the subject is an emotional one for him.

“It’s especially difficult when you look at a picture of toddlers holding up a sign that says Haskell babies. Thinking about how hard that must have been, it’s very hard to remove oneself from the emotionality of it," said Anderson. "It’s our responsibility as historians to look at the broadest possible collection of evidence that leads us to the conclusion that this is a really complex period of time that in many ways we’re still living with.” 

I’m reminded, amateur historian that I am, that history is rarely heaven or hell, black or white, the truth is always in between and not everyone’s truth is the same. But if there is a lesson in all of this, for me it was persistence. Studi’s character Sam Franklin said he was going to “out white man the white man.” Many Native Americans endured being ripped from their families, beaten, abused for an education that eventually helped lead Haskell from a boarding school to a university, an institution to be proud of instead of one to be feared. An institution that celebrates Native American heritage rather than trying to kill it.

Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is Gathering Stasis, Drone Thistle, Balti, Snowdrift and by Blue Dot Sessions; all have been edited.

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Women And Sunflower Politics

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Women And Sunflower Politics

This Archiver starts in 1984.

Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum is running for reelection. She was still using the Landon name at the time, a potent political name in Kansas. Now with Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, you may not realize the uniqueness of a woman in the United States Senate in 1978.

Depending on how you define it, Kassebaum was the first or second woman elected in her own right to the senate. Before Kassebaum, Margaret Chase Smith followed her deceased husband into the House, and then won a seat in the upper chamber in 1948. 

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Women in Kansas politics go back to before women could even vote in most elections. And, wouldn’t you know it, the very first women to be elected mayor of an American city was from Kansas.

Argonia, Kansas sits along U.S. 160 in Sumner County, about 20 miles north of the Oklahoma line. That’s where Susanna Madora Salter, active in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, became mayor in 1887. She presided over about 400 folks, oddly, about the same size of Argonia today.

Men being children, of course, Salter’s name was placed in nomination by the men of the town as a joke. The joke was on them, Salter received two-thirds of the vote and was elected on April fourth.

“She was a well educated person,” says Archiver historian Virgil Dean. “Met her husband while she was attending K-State. By all accounts she did herself proud. She had a background in activism and no doubt saw this as a way to strike a blow for women’s rights.”

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Indeed, the election of 1887 was the first time women could vote in Kansas in a municipal election. They had been voting for school board elections since 1861. By 1912, women had full suffrage. That's eight years before the 19th Amendment.

“Kanas was ahead of most other states but it took a long time to get to the ultimate goal. Kansans, some Kansans, were struggling for a better place from the beginning,” Virgil says. In fact, there was an unsuccessful move to grant women and African Americans full suffrage at the Wyandotte constitutional convention, and again in 1867.

The first woman elected statewide in Kansas was Elizabeth Wooster in 1918. She was superintendent of public instruction, an office we no longer have. Nobody could accuse Lizzy, as she preferred to be called, of being soft on teachers. In 1922 she tried to fire several of them in Cimarron after they’d been seen at a dance. That inflexibility cost Lizzy a third term.

It took 34 years for Kansans to elected another woman statewide. In 1956, Lillie Washabaugh became state printer, another office that no longer exists. Kansas sent its first woman to Congress in 1932. Kathryn O'Loughlin McCarthy, a Democrat no less, was swept into office with FDR that year. She was one of only eight women in the House at that time, she had just one term.

Wait a minute. We haven’t heard from a woman yet. Let’s fix that right now. 

“We had our first female legislator elected in 1918,” says Kansas State Rep. Stephanie Clayton from Overland Park; she also has a history degree from Emporia State. “You had the election of Minnie Grinstead that year. We have a really interesting excerpt from the Kansas City Star talking about how some of the other legislators, the male legislators were concerned, that Rep. Grinstead would nag them about their cigar smoking,” Clayton says. 

Despite Minnie Grinstead and Kathryn McCarthy and Mayor Salter and even Senator Nancy Kassebaum it took a long time for Kansans to make a woman governor.

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Democrat Joan Finney was not only the first woman governor of Kansas, she got there by ousting incumbent Republican Mike Hayden in 1990. And you know what else? Finney was the first woman to ever unseat an incumbent man to become governor. 

Finney would only serve one term. She chose not to seek nomination for a second term in 1994, and unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic nomination for senate in 1996.

In 2002, Kansas elected its second female governor. Kathleen Sebelius, another Democrat, was elected in with 53 percent of the vote. Sebelius was reelected four years later with 58 percent, and she would go on to serve in President Obama’s cabinet. 

So after all those fits and starts, how are women doing now in Kansas politics today?

In 2017, 29 percent of the Kansas Legislature was female. And that percentage has been pretty steady since 1989, about a quarter of lawmakers have been women. But here’s what’s puzzling: in 1989, Kansas was ranked eighth in the country but with about the same number of women in the Legislature, today Kansas ranks 18th.

I went to another veteran politician to talk about this. Sandy Preager was mayor of Lawrence in the state house and senate and had three terms as Insurance Commissioner. A moderate Republican, there were those who wanted her to run for governor. I wanted to know why more women aren’t getting into politics.

“Politics are ugly right now. It’s not fun,” she says. “Maybe it’s the sensitivity of women. I think by and large women have trouble doing that sort of thing. The women I worked with (in the Kansas Legislature) were team players to just get the job done and not worry who got the credit.”

Clayton says she’s 40 years old and does not believe she’ll see a woman president in her lifetime. I’m 60 and I absolutely believe I will. I’m not sure why I’m more optimistic than these two accomplished women politicians but I am. Maybe it’s because I learned my first political lessons from my mom, active in politics her whole life. Perhaps it’s because I’ve covered a lot of strong and smart women in the Kansas Legislature. Or maybe its the ghost of Mayor Susanna Salter of Argonia, Kansas who in 1887 told a bunch men to go pound sand, that she had a better way.

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Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is Balti, Paper Napkin, Sunday Lights and One Needle by Blue Dot Sessions; all have been edited.

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Small But Powerful

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Small But Powerful

We start this Archiver with an endorsement. Not of this podcast, although I would never say no to that, but with the first presidential endorsement by the New York Times on October 11th, 1860.

“Mr. Lincoln, of Illinois, familiarly known as “Old Abe”, age 51, height six feet seven, by profession Rail-Splitter, is to be our next president,” the Times began. “The thing seems pretty sure.” 

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Why height is important, the Times doesn’t say. But it wraps up this way: “Things will go on very much as they have hirtheto-except that we shall have honesty and manliness instead of meanness and corruption in the Executive Departments, and a decent regard for the opinions of mankind in the tone and talk of the government and on the subject of Slavery.”

Newspaper endorsements were crucial for political candidates, be it for president or city council. It’s less so now, but they’re still important. Even President Trump when he was a candidate met with the editorial boards of the Washington Post, New York Times and Chicago Tribune.

Presidential candidates have historically made stops in New York, Washington, Los Angles and Chicago. But Kansas candidates from senate to the city council made the trek to court editors and publishers in Emporia, Iola, Parsons, Garden City, and Junction City. Towns all over Kansas where winning over these small town papers was crucial to election. And many of these editors became giants in Kansas politics. 

So the most famous small town editor in Kansas was, of course, William Allen White of the Emporia Gazette. But White wasn’t the only small town editor in Kansas to play a political role. Archiver historian Virgil Dean says White connected early Kansas editors to more contemporary editors. 

“If you look at Kansas history through journalism there is a really interesting connection between editors or publishers and the early scope of Kansas history. I can see three generations of prominent editors and White comes in the middle. In fact, six of the first 24 governors of Kansas were newspaper editors,” Virgil says. 

John Martin was elected governor in 1884. He owned a Free State paper in Atchison first called Freedom's Champion. In 1918, Kansas elected Henry J. Allen governor. He owned papers in Salina, Ottawa and Wichita. There’s Clyde Reed who was governor and senator and owned the Parsons Sun and then there’s Clyde Reed, Junior who would take over the Sun from his father. 

When you want to talk Parsons, journalism and politics in Kansas, you go to my KCUR colleague and friend for 25 years Jim McLean, who started his career at KLKC radio in Parsons. He knew Clyde Reed, Jr. who unsuccessfully ran for governor but did serve on the Kansas Board of Regents. 

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“I think he’s a good example of the small town editor who used to predominate in Kansas. Most communities of any size had an influential, well read, highly regarded newspaper and nearly all of those newspapers were associated with a strong willed and fairly big personality type editor,” Jim says. 

“Editorials written by Clyde Reed, Jr., Emerson Lynn, the Seaton family, politicians paid a lot of attention to them. And Clyde Reed, Sr. was very influential statewide because he wrote very strong editorials, he followed current events very closely and those papers watched the events in Topeka in particular. Those editors had outsized influence not only in their community but statewide,” according to Jim.

While most Kansas publishers or editors ran newspapers that were small to medium sized, there was one who ran a huge media empire. Arthur Capper served in the U.S. Senate until January 1949. 

Born in 1865 in Garnett, he was 84 and nearly deaf when he made this broadcast. Before the senate he was governor. By the way, he served in the senate with two other publishers we’ve talked about, Henry J. Allen and Clyde Reed. 

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So while this Archiver is titled Small but Powerful, Capper’s media holdings were anything but small. He owned the Topeka Daily Capital, published Capper’s weekly and later would own WIBW radio and TV in Topeka. In 1919, 1.7 million people subscribed to his various publications. 

He knew Charles Curtis from Kansas who served as Herbert Hoover’s vice president, the Kingfish, Huey Long from Louisiana and Senator Robert La Follette, the Republican progressive and anti-war crusader from Wisconsin. Capper knew Carrie Nation and his father knew John Brown. 

“In times of excitement and stress and strain a majority can be most terribly and completely and brutally wrong,” Capper said in his farewell address.

I suspect Capper is talking about the Sedition Act of 1918 or maybe the internment of Japanese Americans in World War Two…it may have been a warning about the Patriot Act. 

What’s true is this certainly seems like something politicians and editorial writers should remember today.

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Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is Chilvat, Waterbourne, and City Limits by Blue Dot Sessions; all have been edited.

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The Most Powerful Newspaperman In Kansas History

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The Most Powerful Newspaperman In Kansas History

This story starts with a tape that, until recently, was in a box at the Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas. Archiver historian Virgil Dean found it.

It’s a speech 79 years ago by William Allen White, editor of the Emporia Gazette, social commentator and player in national Republican politics. And, best that we can tell, this is the only surviving recording of the man known as the Sage of Emporia.

“Since I first came to the University of Kansas 50 years ago and left after four years without a degree, I’ve often asked myself; what is the thing we call an education? And I don’t know.”

While White said he didn’t know a lot about education it’s clear that he did. White talked about the advantages of a good education but, for me, the most intriguing line was this: If he can read and reason sensibly, White said, he will not mistake kindnesses for cowardice. Seems like something we should be talking about now.

 Kansas Historical Society

Kansas Historical Society

White was speaking on November second, 1938 at a gala celebrating the 75th anniversary of KU. It was a nationally broadcast speech, originated by WREN, the KU radio station at the time and picked up by the NBC Blue network. It was front page news in the Lawrence Daily Journal-World, sharing space with the civil war in Spain, the Japanese invasion of China and the 16th annual potato exhibit at the Lawrence armory. 

I asked Archiver historian Virgil Dean about how he discovered the tape and what it means to actually hear White’s voice. 

“Prior this this even White’s most recent biographer, Sally Griffith, who I contacted, said she wasn’t familiar with the tape, had not found that, and was under the impression from contemporary accounts that White spoke in a high pitched voice,” Virgil says. “Certainly that’s what we have here. It’s not a dynamic speaking voice by any stretch of the imagination. But I think it gives you an opportunity to get the know the person better. Especially for people who are writing or trying to do a biography of somebody like that. Whatever you can find that helps you get to know them a little bit better, using that along with all the other historical evidence you have might be of significant value.”

The whole speech was only about five minutes, part of a much longer program. Early in the speech White had, frankly, some pretty boiler plate education ideas; someone should be able to read 50 pages of a serious book and then write a cogent retelling with correct spelling and proper punctuation. But then the speech turns throughly thought provoking, White suggests that education leads to civility and even kindness. 

“If he can read and reason sensibly, he will know how to judge his fellows, how to spot a fool, how to know a knave when he meets him. He will not mistake kindnesses for cowardice. He will not find himself suspecting everyone and believing everything.”

There’s a great biography on White by Sally Foreman Griffith written in 1989 and there’s White’s autobiography published posthumously in 1946.But film maker Kevin Willmott, a friend of Archiver, is making a documentary about White’s life. It’s being narrated by legendary news anchor and documentarian Bill Kurtis.

Now you may just know him as the announcer on NPR’s Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me or the narrator of the Anchorman movies. But Kurtis has had a celebrated journalism career. He’s won two Peabodys and a DuPont. Full discloser: I produced several documentaries for Bill that aired on A&E in the late 90s. 

 Kansas Historical Society

Kansas Historical Society

He talked to me from his studio in Chicago. I asked him if there was one thing people needed to know about White and what he meant to journalism, what would that be? Kurtis didn’t hesitate. “Wisdom,” he said. “He was the voice of the midwest. We don’t have those anymore. People who are associated with a region of the country. People came to him. People came to his front door,” 

White’s writing was clean. It was understandable and it was aimed at everybody not just the elite, Kurtis says. “But with a smile and perhaps a laugh along the way.”

Wit, wisdom, sage, all William Allen White writing qualities. But there was passion too. 

“Dip your pen into your arteries and write,” he said. 

White, it seems to me, spoke and wrote not just for Emporia but for Goodland and Dodge City and Chillicothe in Missouri and Enid in Oklahoma and every other small town in the Midwest. And with government and media in flux, maybe even in crisis, there’s no better time to remember and study William Allen White.

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Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is Cat's Eye, Balti, and City Limits by Blue Dot Sessions; all have been edited.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Free State Myth

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The Free State Myth

Anyone with a passing knowledge of the civil rights movement knows about the lunch counter sit ins at the Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina. A protest that started with four people on February 1, 1960 grew to hundreds of protestors by July. Lunch counter sit ins, at times, dominated the news in the south. 

“Are sit in strikes justifiable?” asked legendary south Florida anchorman Wayne Fariss in a commentary in 1956. “It’s an active problem of political, economic and moral significance to all Florida,” he said from the set of WCKT in Miami. WCKT is now WSVN. 

The Florida sit ins started a few weeks after Greensboro. But before Greensboro and Miami there was Dockum Drug Store in Wichita. 

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We like to think of ourselves, us Kansans, as civil rights leaders; the free state, brown versus board, abolition. But does our history really back up the claim? Or is it…just a myth.

I think a lot of us can see in our head the black and white film of young black protestors being spit on or even beaten as they sat at lunch counters in the south demanding to be served. Greensboro is probably the best known but sit ins happened all across Dixie. But many simply don’t know about Dockum Drugs.

“Well, Dockum’s Drug Store was a major drug store located in the center of Wichita,” Carol Haun, who helped organize the sit in, told C-SPAN. “It was a main place for people to go during the lunch hour, for teenagers to go for a hamburger and a coke. The policy of the store was that they did not serve colored, as we were called at that time.”

The sit ins began on July 19, 1958, a year and a half before Greensboro. Nine other students showed up that day. For three weeks the students sat at the Dockum lunch counter. They were taunted and insulted but there was no violence. Mostly, white customers just went somewhere else and profits at the store plunged. 

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In just three weeks Dockum’s in downtown Wichita was desegregated as was the entire Rexal chain. A civil rights victory. There were many in Kansas: Brown versus the Topeka Board of Education chief among them. But before Brown, the Kansas Supreme Court desegregated some schools, at least the ones the law allowed. 

For some, and I’m among them, civil rights in Kansas began with Quantrill burning Lawrence and ends with Brown. But, of course, that’s just not true.

“Kansas. We call ourselves a Free State, the Free State fortress but we have these Jim Crow practices,” says Archiver historian Virgil Dean. While there were certainly Jim Crow practices around Kansas for the most part they weren’t codified in law. School segregation was legal in larger cities like Kansas City, Topeka and Wichita. But some smaller towns tried to segregate schools, contrary to state law, and when cases from those cities made it to the state Supreme Court the justices desegregated. One of the most famous was Webb v. School District 90 in Merriam. “Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries segregation was being practiced in school districts where it shouldn’t have been. And every time the Supreme Court rules for the plaintiffs. There’s a famous case in Ottawa in the 1880s, there’s one in Oskaloosa that comes in the very early 20th century,” says Dean. 

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Here’s what the Kansas historian James Lieker wrote:

“How is it, for example, that the same state that advocated Indian genocide and practiced school segregation also became the only state to legally evict the Ku Klux Klan and only one of seven to censor the racist film Birth of a Nation?”

So our past is a little rockier than I wanted to think. Okay, I can live with that. But how are we doing now? Where does that Free State Kansas thing stand?

When you want to talk about how African American history in Kansas intersects with the present, you talk to Lang. He’s written about the black freedom movement and black urban communities in the midwest. What’s important about Kansas, Lang says, is that it’s not the deep south. That there has always been room for, a lane if you will, for agitators and change agents. 

“We don’t want to error on the side of, racism is the same everywhere you go in the United State. I don’t believe that’s the case. There are reasons people came to Kansas and built communities and tried to build lives.”

So more than a half century past Brown and Dockum drugs and the Webb desegregation case in Johnson County, the answer to the question ‘Where does that Free State Kansas thing stand?” seems to be, we’ll see. 

At least that’s one answer. And the question is such an important part of the Kansas story, we’ll revisit civil rights and the Free State Myth in future in future Archivers this season. 

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Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is Gathering Stasis and, Drone Thistle by Blue Dot Sessions; all have been edited.

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The Beat Comes To Lawrence

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The Beat Comes To Lawrence

If you look around YouTube, you’ll find no shortage of videos featuring William S. Burroughs, the famous beat writer. One of the best videos shows rock ‘n roll hall of famer Patti Smith playing the acoustic guitar in Burroughs tiny bungalo in old east Lawrence. That’s Lawrence, Kansas. River City. Hashtag L-F-K.

There were a lot of reasons the author of Naked Lunch, a book that Time magazine named one of the best English language novels between 1923 and 2005, moved to Lawrence. You can see one big reason in another video; Burroughs emptying the clip of his semi-automatic pistol into a target in the woods near his home. 

“He’d hand you the gun and you’d say, is it loaded? And he’d say, of course it’s loaded! What good is an unloaded gun? I like guns that shoot and knives that cut,” says James Grauerholz the executor of the Burroughs estate.

This episode of Archiver is just as much about Lawrence as it is about Burroughs. According to his closest friends and confidants, he changed Lawrence and Lawrence, well, let Burroughs be Burroughs.

But how and why Burroughs moved to Lawrence in 1981 is, of course, tied to how he lived his life up until then. Burroughs was born in St. Louis in 1914. His grandfather invented an adding machine. His mother claimed to be related to Robert E. Lee. He had an uncle who was a publicist for the Rockefellers.

It’s impossible, really, to boil down Burrough's life in a few lines but here’s some of what you need to know: after Harvard he moved to Europe where he came out as gay. He did marry a Jewish woman to help her gain admission to the U.S. at the time Nazis were rising to power. 

He would eventually find his way back to America, become addicted to drugs and marry once again. His wife, Jane Vollmer, would move with him to Mexico City in 1950 after a drug charge in New Orleans. Burroughs skipped bail and fled south of the border. 

It was in Mexico that Burroughs, drunk and probably high, shot and killed Vollmer, also drunk and probably high, when he used a pistol to try and shoot a highball glass off her head. It didn’t work. Guns, it turns out, would always play an outsized role in Burrough’s life. 

He would live and write in Paris, London and New York. In New York he would rub elbows with, well, almost everybody…David Bowie, Andy Warhol, Frank Zappa and, of course, other beat writers…like Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg. Already a drug addict, Burroughs would pick up a nickname in New York, the Pope of Dope.

Burroughs first saw Lawrence in 1976 when KU’s English department brought him in for four days to teach. In 1981, he moved. It would have a profound effect on him and, in some small but lasting ways, change Lawrence.

Many said there were three places to be in the 60s and 70s; Berkeley, Boston and Lawrence. Archiver historian Virgil Dean, who lives in Lawrence, talks about the counter-culture feel of the town at the time, a town already filled with characters. 

“Certainly it had the reputation, and rightly so, as the place in Kansas at least that was most tuned in in regard to the counter culture, Vietnam War protests, civil rights activities and that kind of thing in the late 60s and 70s. The university and the local counter culture attracted people from all over the country who would travel through or stop in cause they knew there would be a receptive audience.”

Phil Heying is an artist born in Kansas City but with deep ties to Lawrence who worked with Burroughs on some visual arts projects. James Grauerholz was Burroughs constant companion starting around 1974. He managed his affairs, is now executor of his estate and is the one who convinced Burroughs to move to Lawrence.

Burroughs bought a little house in old east Lawrence where he and his cats would be visited by lots of famous folks; the actor Steve Buscemi, the poet Alan Ginsberg, the musician Tom Waits. But here’s the thing, in Lawrence most people just didn’t care.

“The town seemed to fit him like a glove and he was very comfortable. And he would do things like walk to the liquor store, to the grocery store and have conversations with ladies by the cat food in Dillion’s. He could just be a normal citizen of a town. Everyone was like, that was Burroughs but so what? So it was a good place for him,” Heying says.

“People were impressed. This was the William Burroughs. But that wore off because they were regular old River City hippie/poet/Philosopher-of-the-barstool. Lawrence was like that,” says Grauerholz.

Don’t get the idea that Burroughs moved to Lawrence and just got high, drank and fired guns in the woods, although he certainly did plenty of all of those. Grauerholz made a two book deal for him and Burroughs, somewhat surprisingly to me anyway, did a TV commercial for Nike because, well, people have to make a living. 

When you talk Burroughs, you not only talk Zappa and Timothy Leary and Debbie Harry but also Sig Sauer, Lugar and Glock. Few things excited Burroughs more in his Lawrence life than getting a new gun. 

But Lawrence isn’t quite as naughty as it used to be. While pockets of the counter culture that drew Burroughs and many others to River City are still there, they’re hard to find, the town has a much more suburban feel to it. 

 1927 Learnard Avenue

1927 Learnard Avenue

Things from early Lawrence days like Rock Chalk Bar, Joe’s Donuts and ditch weed have disappeared. But Burroughs lives on in some unexpected ways. Hundreds of people a year visit his house at 1927 Learnard Avenue. And the city has named a park, trail and playground after him. 

Williams S Burroughs died in Lawrence on August second, 1997.

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Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is Plate Statis and, Threads and Veils by Blue Dot Sessions; all have been edited.

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The Most Important Coach You've Never Heard Of

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The Most Important Coach You've Never Heard Of

By: Sam Zeff and Matt Hodapp

To get ready for this Archiver, I want you to think back to the 2008 NCAA National Championship game when The Jayhawks would win in overtime. Picture a play early in the first half when KU rebounds the ball, takes off on a fast break that ends up with a dunk on the other end. Ninety-four feet in just seven seconds. 

It’s hard to imagine for most of us, but that’s not how basketball was played for most of its existence. 

The man who invented that style of play, that moved the game from the two hand set shot that can only be pictured in black and white, is a Kansan who literally changed the complexion of the sport.

A documentary came out last year celebrating the life of that coach. "Fast Break: The Legend of John McLendon" was directed by University of Kansas film Professor Kevin Willmott who says McLendon is an American hero.

“He is one of those guys who perservers all these odds and it changes America and sports for all of us. The game that we love and take for granted now is played the way its played today and looks the way it looks today because of John McLendon,” says Willmott.

McLendon was born in Hiawatha but grew up in Kansas City, Kansas. He attended Northeast Junior High and Sumner High School which was an all African-American school at the time. He wasn’t good enough to make the basketball team but lettered in gymnastics.

He started college at KCK Community College and would eventually land at the University of Kansas. While he wasn’t a very good player, McLendon loved basketball and his step father decided if he wanted to learn to coach he might as well learn from the inventor of the game. So, Mclendon went to KU and studied physical education because that’s where James Naismith, the inventor of the game, taught. But as painful as it is to hear, KU in 1933 wasn’t the beacon of civil rights that we like to imagine.

“The Free State myth is what we sometimes refer tothis situation as. While abolitionist did a lot to win the Civil War and keep slavery out of the territory, after the Civil War Kansas wasn’t that much different than most of the other northern states,” says Archiver historian Virgil Dean.

“Throughout the late 19th century you have some opportunities for blacks; Kansas is considered a place to go in the post Civil War migration. KU opened up fairly early for blacks, black students enrolled in the 1880s and some graduated. But by the turn of the century it was changing quite a bit. Segregation was becoming more prevalent.”

In 1936, McLendon was the first black man to graduate from KU with a Phys Ed degree. The first barrier he would break. He learned basketball by talking with Naismith and hanging out in Robinson gym watching Phog Allen’s practices. Naismith got McLendon his first job, coaching in Lawrence public schools.

Then in 1941 he got his first college head coaching job at North Carolina College for Negroes, now North Carolina Central University. It’s easy to find his coaching records, the fact that he won three consecutive NAIA championship at Tennessee A&I in 1957, ‘58 and ‘59. He was the first coach to ever win back to back to back national championships. He broke a barrier when he became the first black professional coach in 1962 with the Cleveland Pipers of the old American Basketball League. And he broke another barrier in 1966 when he became the first black man to coach at a predominately white college, Cleveland State.

But if you want to know about McLendon the man, there’s only one person to talk to. Professor Milton Katz teaches at the Kansas City Art Institute. Katz’s office is filled with sports memorabilia, mostly baseball and, of course, basketball. While Kevin Willmott made the McLendon documentary, Katz was the driving force behind it.

“I’m a social historian. So I’ve written a lot about civil rights activists over the years and I’m a basketball enthusiast," says Katz. 

So when Katz moved to Kansas City in 1974 he went to the NAIA tournament at Municipal Auditorium downtown. That’s where he met McLendon. 

“What made me want to write about Coach McLendon was the incredible courage, fortitude and stamina he had to really break the color barrier in Kansas City in collegiate athletics,” Katz says. “He was an extremely humble man, an elegant man, highly educated and really a person with the finest moral character of anyone I’ve ever met.”

The finest moral character of anyone Katz ever met. You hear that sentiment from many others in the film. But just like every other sport in America, well almost every endeavor in America, it would take too long to truly recognize what he meant to basketball. McLendon did well, to be sure, after coaching he went on to a nice career with Converse sneakers. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979 as a contributor, whatever the hell that means, but finally was inducted as a coach last year at a ceremony in Springfield, Mass.

Even by then, Katz says, McLendon was a mystery to even the biggest basketball fans, “If he was white there’s no doubt that in 1970 when that first letter went to the Hall of Fame nominating as the fourth winnest coach in collegiate basketball he would have been in the Hall of Fame as a coach.”

Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is MKNT and, City Limits by Blue Dot Sessions; all have been edited.

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G.I. Joe From Kansas

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G.I. Joe From Kansas

By: Sam Zeff and Matt Hodapp

We start this episode of Archiver in 1918, the end of the first World War, because the way America treated those veterans would forever change the way the country takes care of its soldiers, sailors and marines. Make no mistake, it would take decades plus lots of pain and suffering to do the right thing, but it happened. And wouldn’t you know it, it took a Kansan to get it done. 

The man who vastly improved the way America treats its veterans is Harry Colmery, a distinguished looking fellow who studied law at the University of Pittsburgh in his native Pennsylvania. His law career was interrupted by World War I were he served in the Army Air Service as an instructor and a pursuit pilot. 

After the war, Colmary settled in Topeka to practice with John S. Dean, a politically connected lawyer who was active in Republican politics and a progressive. Dean, and how odd is this Archiver fans, was also part of the legal team that helped strip goat gland doctor John R. Brinkley of his medical license in 1936. 

But back to Colmary. He was lucky. He had a profession and a job after the war. This wasn’t the case for millions of veterans who fought in trenches in France and Belgium. The government promised them future bonuses, but the Great Depression made the vets desperate for the money right away. 

In 1932 the the so-called “Bonus Army” descended on Washington and camped in the city. On July 28th, it boiled over. The bonus army was attacked by 200 cavalry troops with sabers drawn and 400 infantrymen with bayonets fixed. The troops were lead by none other than Gen. Douglas McArthur. 

For Harry Colmary back in Topeka, this was too much to take. In between wars he had already worked to change regulations so service members could be treated at Veterans Hospitals for non-service related problems. Then World War II started, and millions more men and women would join the military. This time, though, Harry Colmery was going to make sure veterans would come home to what we now would call a safety net.

Colmery designed and congress passed the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944. We know it as the GI Bill of Rights.

The Roosevelt Administration was worried that America would plunge right back into a depression when the war ended. That’s why FDR and congress passed the GI Bill. It offered education benefits, no downpayment home loans and unemployment insurance. 

The number of students at the University of Kansas and Kansas State almost doubled after the war. The suburbs grew as veterans bought houses. But the GI Bill of Rights was not without its failures.

Because home loans were left to local officials, in the south black vets were often denied mortgages. Because many universities were segregated, in 1946 only 20 percent of blacks who applied for educational benefits actually enrolled in college. But the GI Bill would endure and be there for veterans of every war since.

Future wars would introduce us to Agent Orange, PTSD, trauma caused by IEDs. And how America cares for its veterans hasn’t gotten any less controversial. 

There’s been scandals at Veterans Administration hospitals, there’s some unscrupulous for-profit colleges that prey on veteran education benefits and it’s impossible to have a national political campaign without hearing about how America must do a better job taking care of vets. 

But here’s the thing; 75 years ago we couldn’t even have the debates or the fights because a veteran safety net simply didn’t exist. It didn’t exist until Harry Colmery put pen to paper in 1944. And then, he kind of vanished.

The VA put his name on its hospital in Topeka but that was it. Until last summer. That’s when some American Legion members in Topeka raised 400-thousand dollars to build a Colmery statute at Ninth and Kansas Avenue in downtown. It’s Colmery saluting, backed by a relief of service members.

The ceremony was captured on video by the American Legion and featured national commander Dale Barnett who said Colmery now gives all veterans at least a chance at a home, health care and an education.

Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is DisinterA Calendar Spread and by Blue Dot Sessions; all have been edited.

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Kansas Killers And Our Rocky Relationship With Capital Punishment

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Kansas Killers And Our Rocky Relationship With Capital Punishment

Above photo of the gallows at Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing, Kansas in 1965 - Kansas Memory

By: Sam Zeff and Matt Hodapp

 Clutter killer Bill Kickock -  Kansas Memory

Clutter killer Bill Kickock - Kansas Memory

The murder of the Clutter family on November 15, 1959 in tiny Holcomb, Kansas, which is just outside Garden City in the southwest corner of the state, is certainly the state’s most famous homicide. Author Truman Captoe wrote about the murders in his now famous book “In Cold Blood”. He made millions, and put Holcomb on the map.

While the Clutter murders are the best known in Kansas history, they certainly aren't the most bizarre. The killers were eventually put to death, but the state hasn't always been in favor of the death penalty. In fact, Kansas has struggled with the capital punishment for most of its history.

Perry Smith and Bill Hickock used a shotgun to kill the four Clutters in their farmhouse. The two thought there was a safe full of money but there wasn’t. They got away with a little cash and a radio.

The crime would be shocking today but it’s hard to describe just how shocking it was in 1959.

Smith and Hickock would be captured in Vegas on December 30th, about six weeks after the murders. 

Things moved quickly. By March they were convicted and given a mandatory sentence of death.

Five years later, they were hanged in Lansing. First Hickock, who took 20 minutes to die, and then Smith. 

In 1935, Governor Alf Landon signs a new death penalty law in response, no doubt, to midwestern gangs like Ma Barker and her boys and Bonnie and Clyde who were robbing banks and killing cops. That’s also part of the reason the state created the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

Between 1944 and 1954 there were executions, until Governor George Docking was elected. He refused to sign death warrants because he was morally opposed to capital punishment. 

His successor, John Anderson, a Johnson County lawyer and former state attorney general, had no such concerns and signed the death warrants for Hickock and Smith, and the last two men to be hanged in Kansas. Three months after Hickock and Smith, were executed George Ronald York and James Douglas Latham were hanged after a seven state crime spree where they killed nine people, one in Wallace, Kansas near the Colorado line.

So, Kansas had the death penalty, it didn’t, it did, it didn’t and its been 52 years since the state has executed anyone. And the death penalty is no less political or controversial right now. So political, in fact, it’s been a prominent feature of the last two elections in Kansas. Here’s a TV ad from 2014 when Governor Sam Brownback was running for re-election. He was in a very tight race with Democrat Paul Davis, so he turned to the Carr brothers from Wichita, convicted of killing five people in a crime spree in 2000:

In 2016 but there was an expensive campaign to oust four state Supreme Court justices because they blocked the Carr’s death sentences on procedural grounds. The U-S Supreme Court would eventually reinstate the death sentences. None of the justices were, in fact, ousted in the retention election. 

"I think it's very clear that Kansans have long been very skeptical about the death penalty," said Dr. Micah Kubic, the Executive Director of the ACLU of Kansas. "I think that was also born out in a public opinion poll that we commissioned at the ACLU of Kansas earlier in 2016 that found very clear support for an alternative to the death penalty. When given the option, more people supported the idea of life imprisonment without parol than supported the death penalty."

Fact is even without much change to laws around the country the death penalty is falling out of favor. Ten years ago there were 53 executions in the U.S. Last year just 20. Oddly, or maybe not, all were in the south, expect for one in Missouri. All were by lethal injection. But there are still plenty of people on death row, ten in Kansas and 26 in Missouri.

"I do think however that there will be another effort to repeal the death penalty legislatively (in Kansas). Keep in mind, just a few years ago in frankly a more conservative time they were just one vote away form getting repeal in the sate Senate."

The arguments against capital punishment, Kubic told us, are numerous: because of the lengthy appeals, it took an average of 19 years for those executed in 2016 to have their sentences carried out, it’s more expensive, there’s the moral argument against the state killing someone, and the simple fact that mistakes are not an option and we know mistakes happen.

The argument given by former Governor George Docking, who lost his bid for a third term, many believe, because of his opposition to the death penalty, was much simpler: “I just don’t like killing people.”

 Kansas State Capital - Sam Zeff

Kansas State Capital - Sam Zeff

Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is Disinter, A Calendar Spread and by Blue Dot Sessions; all have been edited.

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Dr. King's Last College Stop

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Dr. King's Last College Stop

By: Sam Zeff and Matt Hodapp

 The New York Times

The New York Times

On April 4th, 1968, the radio and TV crackled with awful news. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis.

For most, it would feel like the United States was coming apart at the seams in 1968: The Tet offensive in Vietnam, wild political conventions and assassinations: First King then Senator Robert Kennedy. Both great men would have ties to Kansas in 1968. Kennedy, as we talked about on a previous Archiver, gave his first speech in Kansas after he announced his presidential run

King would start his year at Kansas State University on January 19th, at a convocation in a jammed packed Ahearn Field House. King came away impressed and heartened by the students he met that day in Manhattan. But we didn’t know how impressed until decades later when hand written notes found in the suite jacket he was wearing the night he was shot surfaced. Notes directly about K-State. And his words that cold morning in Manhattan are as meaningful today as they were 48 years ago.

“You see a fact is merely the absence of contradiction but truth is the presence of coherence. Truth is the relatedness of facts. Now it is a fact that we have come a long, long way but it isn’t the whole truth. And if I stopped at this point, I’m afraid I would leave you the victims of an illusion wrapped in superficiality, and we would all go away the victims of a dangerous optimism. And so, in order to tell the truth, it is necessary to move on and not only talk about the problem in terms of progress that we have made but also to make it clear that we still have a long, long way to go before the problem of racial injustice is solved.”

 Kansas Memory 

Kansas Memory 

King didn’t arrive at K-State without controversy or concern for his safety. The president at the time, James McCain, was criticized for bringing radicals to the KSU campus. The man who arranged the lecture, political science department chair William Boyer, received a threatening letter that he turned over to the FBI.

King’s speech was part lecture, part sermon. The first half was laden with facts and figures on poverty, unemployment and education. But then King transitioned from lecture to sermon. He didn’t have a speech, really, just notes. A King aid said the K-State speech was homiletics, the art of preaching.

"...I must say that it would be an act of moral irresponsibility for me to condemn riots and not be as vigorous in condemning the continued existence of intolerable conditions in our society which cause people to feel so angry and bitter that they conclude they have no alternative to get attention and to engage in this kind of violence. What we must see is that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? She has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. She has failed to hear the promises of freedom and equality that have not been met. America has failed to hear that have not been met. America has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, humanity, equality. And so it is still true that our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. As long as justice is postponed, we will be on the verge of social destruction.”

"As long as justice is postponed, we will be on the verge of social destruction." That was certainly true in 1968, but is it true today in Kansas?

We asked Kevin Willmot, a professor at KU and a filmmaker who's films deal with race and social justice. He grew up in Junction City, KS in the 1960s.  

"I was in fourth grade when King was assassinated. When the flash came across the tv, my mother started screaming," said Kevin, "I went to school the next day, and I was that current events kid that always talked about what was going on in the world. I raised my hand and said 'last night Martin Luther King was assasinated' and my teacher said 'we won't be talking about that'. I think that had a huge effect on me cause because I don't think I've stopped talking about it ever since."

 Kevin Willmot is a filmmaker and professor at KU. His films deal with race and social justice.

Kevin Willmot is a filmmaker and professor at KU. His films deal with race and social justice.

"Dr. King being in Manhattan, I mean, that made you believe that the country was going to go towards King's dream. That that would maybe become the reality in American life. And everything that's been happening in the last few years, especially in Kansas, has told you that these people really don't believe in that dream. That the leadership doesn't maybe understand the dream; that they believe in a different dream. And that's the thing that's so frightening to people. That maybe there's another American that is growing right now, and certainly the President (Donald Trump) has become the symbol of that," said Kevin.

Why haven’t we learned what King tried to teach 48 years ago in Manhattan? Well, really big thinkers have failed to answer that question, and maybe we never will. But perhaps it has something to do with political leadership.

“Ultimately, a genuine leader is not a searcher of consensus but a molder of consensus,” King told the crowd.

"On some positions, cowards ask the question: is it safe? Expediency asks the question: Is it politic? Vanity asks the question: is it popular? But conscience asks the question: is it right? There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic nor popular. He must take it because conscience tells him that he is right.”

 Dan Lykins unveiling a commemorative bust of Dr. King at K-State

Dan Lykins unveiling a commemorative bust of Dr. King at K-State

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Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is Zither Spark, Snowdrift and In Passage by Blue Dot Sessions; all have been edited.

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Presidential Politics And The Man From Russell

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Presidential Politics And The Man From Russell

Please start by hearing Hail to the Chief in your head or maybe even going to YouTube to find a version, like this one from the Marine Corp Band.

Kansas hasn’t produced the number of presidents and presidential candidates as Virginia or New York but Kansans, both famous and obscure, have played an important role. We’ve had a war hero, a millionaire, a prohibitionist and a communist run for president. 

We’ll talk about all of them, but we will focus on the 1996 Bob Dole campaign against Bill Clinton, which touched on things we’re still grappling with in 2016. It will sound familiar, except for how it ends.

 KU

KU

The first Kansan to run for president was John Pierce St. John, the eighth governor of the state, who ran on the Prohibition Party in 1884. He lost, of course, but some historians believe he won enough votes in the swing state of New York to propel Grover Cleveland into the White House. 

The first major party presidential candidate to come out of Kansas was Gov. Alf Landon who was somewhat of a Republican superstar for balancing the state budget during the depression. Some called him the “Kansas Coolige” but not all historians would agree. 

Landon made millions in oil and gas and would later go on to make even more money in radio. He was also the father of future Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum. 

Landon would lose in a landslide to Franklin Roosevelt in 1936, winning only Main and Vermont. He didn’t even carry Kansas.

 Alf Landon campaigning for President.

Alf Landon campaigning for President.

Turns out Landon wasn’t the only Kansans on the ’36 ballot. There was also Earl Browder who was born in Wichita and was best remembered as the General Secretary of the Communist Party USA during the 1930s and first half of the 1940s.

The next Kansan to run was Dwight Eisenhower in 1952. The country not only liked Ike but loved him and elected the World War Two hero twice. He crushed Adli Stevenson in both 1952 and 1956 with Richard Nixon as his running mate.

 

Both Landon and Ike would play up their Kansas roots as would the next Kansan to run, Sen. Bob Dole.

When you look back things often seem inevitable.

Dole announced in Topeka on April 10th, 1995. He said, “Today, tempered by adversity, seasoned by experience, mindful of the world as it is, yet confident it can be made better, I have come home to Kansas with a grateful heart to declare that I am a candidate for the presidency of the United States.”

Dole led Senate Republicans for years, he ran for v-p in 1976 with Jerry Ford, he was GOP national chairman. 

He was the odds on favorite when he got in the race in 1995 but there was a big field and diverse field. Pat Buchanan ran. So did billionaire Steve Forbes. Senators Lamar Alexander and Phil Gramm ran. Also some guy named Morry Taylor.

He was suppose to appear on the statehouse steps but the weather went south on him and they moved the event indoors. A lot of things would head south on Dole over the next 18 months.

The primary wasn’t a cake walk for Dole, he lost in New Hampshire, Arizona and Delaware, but in the end he got 59 percent of the primary vote with Buchanan finishing a distant second with 21 percent.

Dole was a conservative to be sure but he was a compromiser, someone you could deal with. But he was forced hard to the right by his primary challengers and that’s where he stayed. And just like Ike and Alf, Dole would sell himself as a plain spoken son of Kansas. Here he is accepting the nomination.

A couple of things about Dole in 1996. While 73 years old he looked great. Dark hair, tanned and looked like he could still be serving in the Army’s 10th Mountain Division.

 KU

KU

But Dole wasn’t a great orator, he wasn’t folksy and at times had trouble sticking to the script and all that would hurt him against Bill Clinton, seeking his second term.

With a Clinton at the top of the ticket again this year, it’s a little spooky to see some of the same attacks from 20 years ago. Dole attacked Clinton for not being tough enough on illegal immigrants, on what kind of judges he would pick and charged that he was soft on crime. Has a 2016 ring to it, no? And while the republican candidate is the one with the sex scandals this year, Dole and the RNC had a field day with Clinton’s peccadillos.

But, in the end, nothing would help.

Clinton never trailed in the polls, the Dole campaign was in total disarray with epic infighting. The joke was the campaign would pick sites for a rally when Dole looked out of the plane window and decided to land.

In the last few days he lashed out not only at Clinton but the media, a sure sign in politics that things are going poorly. And in another nod to today, as the campaign neared its end, many congressional Republicans abandoned Dole to save themselves. 

The RNC spent $4 million in targeted districts to save their newly attained majorities in the House and Senate. But it was a pasting. Clinton got 379 electoral votes, Dole 159. In the popular vote, Clinton got 49 percent, Dole 41 percent and Ross Perot got eight percent. While Perot had some amusing moments, in the end his run doesn’t mean much today.

The next night, unburdened by a campaign he knew he was going to lose, Dole went on the David Letterman show where he was very funny. He joked that the $200 talent fee was the first work he had in a long time and that he called Clinton, collect, to concede. 

Dole quit as senate majority leader and gave up his beloved senate seat to run for president. Something the New York Times noted in it’s day after election piece:

“Mr. Dole sacrificed these things not merely to lose the Presidency, but to run one of the most ineffectual Presidential campaigns in recent memory. Always the legislative tactician, Mr. Dole, according to his close associates, approached the Presidential race much as he did a Congressional negotiating session, believing that the key to victory was a clever endgame strategy. But so bleak were the polls, and for so long, that Mr. Dole was forced to realize, far earlier than most losing candidates, that the endgame would probably not be enough.”

Ineffectual and bleak. Wow. 

In his concession speech Dole called Clinton his opponent, not his enemy. As we write this, we don’t know the outcome of the Clinton-Trump race. But I don’t think it will end with someone saying that. Is that small town Kansas talking or just a different political era?

I don’t know, but it sure seems gracious and maybe even quaint.

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Our theme music is used in this episode is Shy Touches by Nameless Dancers. Other music used in this episode is City Limits, Heliotrope, and Manele by Blue Dot Sessions; both have been edited.

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