4th annual Horse Show was the last, blowing 23K
hurt. The local entrepreneurs now had the new
Convention Hall downtown to invest in. Horses
were losing their value and bicycles were also seeing
depreciation. Sales would soon plunge. A
new word was creeping into the vocabulary,
au-tow-mo-bil, with the accent on the third syllable.
Park Management also
changed. Mrs. E. C. Loomis was now in charge of
the Fairmount Hotel, while the park now had two
managers, Mr. Lehman and Mr. Rosenthal. The
season was under the thumb of the Orpheum Amusement
eight season was unlike any other. For the first
time there were no new expensive projects.
Things also got started late. Professor W. O.
Wheeler was again put in charge of the new Fairmount
Park military band. The 3rd Regiment Band, which
had been so popular in the years past, would not
return. On Sunday, May 21st, concerts were given
at 3:00 P.M. and then again at 8:00 P.M. in the band
stand. Weekday concerts were put on hold.
The grand opening of
the new "Fairmount Park and Orpheum" was
Sunday, June 4th. This season's emphasis was on
Vaudeville. Nine big acts were the draw.
In the theater there was a complete high-class bill,
like Melville and Stetson, Reno and Richards, Lorenz
and Allen and the Four Nelson Sisters. At the
lake a gent by the name of Charles Marsh dove from a
height of 49 feet into a lake with his bicycle.
Lenge's Orpheum Band was in the stand. The
park's mottos this year were "Cost You
Nothing," "Everything For Free," and
"Something Going On All The Time."
On an enchantingly
beautiful Sunday afternoon, the Old Settlers
Association held a basket picnic. Some of the
local history makers were in attendance. Talks
were given by military men like Major Warner.
General Blair sent a letter regarding the battle of
Westport. Fighting Joe Hooker arrived by
train. There were politicians like Congressman
Cowherd. The cloth was represented by Father
Dalton. Some who could not attend, many due to
their health, sent histories for others to read.
Mrs. Sarah Lykins Russell, on of the oldest settlers
to this area, read a paper on the early history of
Kansas City. Oldsters from both Kansas City,
Kansas and Independence were invited to
Toward the end of
June, the champion lady swimmer of the world, Cora
Beckwith, a British subject, visited the park.
One hell of a swimmer, she had swam the English
Channel when she was just 15 years old. A few
years later she floated for 12 hours a day for 40
days! She was already credited with saving 49
lives, so she demonstrated what to do to save a
drowning person. She also showed off the famous
Beckwith Backward Sweep. Another European
feature was the Faust family of some fame. The
former Horse Show grounds were again being used for
baseball. Teams like the Kansas City Billard
Makers played Bruce Lumber Company.
Fairmount's 4th of
July celebration reflected the worldliness of the new
America, a world power. Burmese Football is
similar to soccer, except the ball is made out of
wicker; whoever touches it or lets it hit the ground
loses. Good players, like Moung Toom and Moung
Chit could pass it back and forth for hours without a
foul. Juggling was their forte. Bubble
thin glass balls that broke at the slightest wrong
move were used, glistening in the sun like crystal,
never touching their hands. In the band stand
was Lenge's Military Band. A musical battle of Manila,
complete with cannon, rockets, rifle fire and flashing
lights, gave two performances a day. The
Manhattan Four comedy team headed the Vaudeville bill
in the theater. The usual fireworks display on
the lake was again the biggest in town and "It
Cost You Nothing!"
In the popularity
contest this 4th of July, Fairmount Park came in
first, Troost Park second, and Washington Park was
almost deserted. Only 300 people spent the day
there, in what was to be the park's last 4th.
The remainder of the
season was given to Vaudeville, for that was what the
Orpheum Amusement Company was all about. Martin
Beck owned 10 Vaudeville theaters and a piece of 25
more from Chicago to San Francisco.
There were two types
of Vaudeville; big time and small time. Big time
Vaudeville paid well, from $50 to $3,000 a week.
That was before expenses, but it still wasn't too
bad. There were two or three shows a day.
Small time Vaudeville was the pits. It paid
lousy and sometimes played 6 to 10 shows a day.
Fairmount was big time.
described as an enemy to responsibility and
worries. Admission was 25 cents for a balcony
seat and 10 cents for general admission. A bill
consisted of six or seven 20 minute acts twice a day;
matinee at 2:00, evening at 8:30. Shows
throughout the circuit were all about the same.
The opening act was always a silent act like a bunch
of dogs or a juggler; something to get the late
arrivals to their seats. A comedy team might be
next, followed by a skit. Before intermission, a
dance or musical group would give you a reason
to come back. After intermission was a comedy
single followed by another musical number. Last
would be something like a troupe of European trapeze
artists in bright red costumes, something to tell your
At that time,
Vaudevillians were made, not born. A few grew up
in middle class, but many were orphans. Learning
a trade was better than begging. Many started by
either dancing or juggling. Working your way up
the ladder was tough, as there were only a few
headliners at any one time.
Many very talented
people appeared at Fairmount Park's Vaudeville shows
this season, like Henry Lee, impersonator of famous
people of his time (he not only did the mannerisms and
voice, he would also dress in their
likeness), Francesca Redding, one of the
first dramatic actresses of legitimate theater to play
Vaudeville, and the Howard Brothers and their Flying
Banjos, two of the greatest in their profession.
Hungarian born magician and escape artist, who took
the name Harry Houdini, was not yet famous.
Harry and his wife Bess had struggled for years, till
by chance he met Martin Beck of Chicago, owner of the
Orpheum Co. He was hired in at $60 a week.
Kansas City was his second stop, where he escaped from
the Central Police Station in August. At
Fairmount Park he had the local cops apply handcuffs
from which he soon escaped. Next year he went to
Europe and came back in 1905 worth $1,500 a
week. Vaudeville was not yet in its golden age
and was already playing a huge part in American
The season came to an
early end this year. Fridays had been amateur
night since the 4th of July, and proved to be very
popular. So, as the month of August and
Houdini's act slipped into memory, Fairmount Park had
Amateur Week. Lenge's Band provided
accompaniment for the outdoor extravaganza held in the
band stand. Admission was free. Prizes and
maybe a job were offered for those with talent and
lots of moxie. So ended another successful
INTERESTING EVENTS IN 1899
Weevil crosses the Rio Grande and heads for the cotton.
Mine Workers of America organized.
Steel Co. is created.
Steel Co. has its beginning.
U. S. Auto
production reaches 2,500.
last horsecar runs.
becomes the "Show Me" state.
Kresge chain store opens.
Canned Milk Co. starts up.
Copyright © 2005 John M. Olinskey