Kansas City's Fairmount Park

by John M. Olinskey and Leigh Ann Little

Chapter 14:  1907
The Parks of Kansas City
Kansas City's Fairmount Park ~ Kansas City History, Sugar Creek History, Independence, Missouri History, and more
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Is the beginning of a golden age for KC's commercial parks and a lot of competition for Fairmount.  Two new parks opened this year.  Carnival Park and the new Electric Park.  Forest was popular, too, and Troost was struggling.

Electric Park, Kansas City, Mo.
Electric Park, Kansas City, Mo.

The new Electric Park at 46th and the Paseo had everything, band concerts, vaudeville, Electric Fountain, ballroom, natatorium (an indoor swimming pool), German village, alligator farm, chutes, Dips Coaster, Norton slide, penny parlors, novelty stand, Japanese rolling ball, scenic railway, pool room, a Hale's Tour of the World, Electric Studio, boat tours, old mill, a Temple of Mirth, Flying Lady, Double Whirl, Circle Swing, soda fountain and ice cream shops, knife rack, doll rack, shooting gallery, air gun gallery, giant teeter, boating, outdoor swimming, carousel, clubhouse cafe, Casino 5c theater, fortune telling and palmistry, covered promenade and horseless buggy garage.

New Electric's grand opening was Sunday, May 19.  Admission to the park was ten cents.  The Ellery band played at 2 and at 8 pm.  Seven days a week "Rain or Shine".  The vaudeville in the German Village was free, but the beer wasn't yet allowed.  There was a legal hassle about the transfer of the liquor license from the old park location to the new park.

The prohibitionists were trying to curb the devil rum.  A law had been passed in KC that until the population of the city reached 400,000 no more liquor licenses would be granted, and then only 1 for every 1,000 population of increase.  But on May 16, a liquor license for Fairmount was proposed by park management.  In front of the county court many people, mostly women with babies, protested and gave to the court a petition with 905 signatures.  The signatures weren't valid because the women could not vote.  The license for a saloon was granted.  Fairmount for the first time in a long time was wet.

Opening day at Electric Park was electric.  100,000 light bulbs, one every few inches, lit up the sky.  One thing Fairmount Park had going for it was its trees; Electric had few.  Directions to the Electric Park were as follows: 

"Take Rockhill and Troost cars direct to park.  Passengers brought to main entrance of the Promenade.  Vine Street car entrance at 45th and Woodland Ave.  Carriage, automobile, and pedestrian entrance at 46th and Lydia."

The new park was packed and declared a success by the public.

Meanwhile, Carnival Park had its grand opening at 7:00 pm on Saturday, May 25th.  Located at 14th and Minnesota Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas.  To get to the park from KCMO the new Intercity Viaduct served as the artery.  Attractions featured a scenic railway, Chute the Chutes, dancing and roller skating.  Vaudeville four times a day and a dog and pony show.  Only 15 minutes from downtown Kansas City, Missouri.

Carnival Park, Kansas City, Kas.
Carnival Park, Kansas City, Kas.

Forest Park opened in 1903 while Fairmount was in a coma.  Located in the Northeast park of KC, south of Independence Avenue and Hardesty, where the old Quartermaster building still stands.  Built by Col. Hopkins for $195,000 on farm and orchard land owned by the Michael, Ancel & Mattie Collins family for decades.  Distorted mirrors greeted the guests where they entered, a $15,000 English Carousel, Vaudeville, swimming, etc.  It was the only park, maybe in the whole world, that had a dress code.  But neither Carnival nor Forest lasted long.  Carnival closed in 1911 and Forest in 1912, due mainly to 1) Electric and Fairmount Parks' popularity and 2) in 1909 the city doubled in size to 50 or so square miles and land was growing in value.

New attractions like the Saloon delayed the opening a few days so Fairmount was the last park to open.  Balloon races between two and sometimes three professional aeronauts was the opening free draw.  Car fare to the park was still five cents each way.

On Sunday, June 9, at 1400 hrs. "B" Battery MO National Guard put on an exhibition just north of the park to Kentucky, which was now used as the picnic area.  The  old picnic area was now the hill which was now a zoo and other attractions.  The artillery exhibition led by Captain George R. Collins.  The 7 75mm field pieces were manned by 45 men.  Both days they marched to the park in the morning and set up camp, then made a lot of noise.

The success of last year's Fourth of July extravaganza encouraged park management to try and top it.  A crew of 10 men was brought to construct this year's volcano from New Orleans, where that sort of thing happens all the time.

A reporter from the Journal took a trip out to Fairmount Park on the Fourth.  The cars were running as quickly as they could be loaded, about one minute apart, starting in the morning and running that way until late at night, first crowded one way, then crowded the other.  His first stop was at the zoo.  Two hundred different animals, including a male lion named Moses.  His claim to fame was that he attacked his trainer, Dolly Castle, last winter in Wichita where she thus spent 17 weeks in the hospital ... why would she give him a second chance?  One of the main interests besides the cute little bunny rabbits was a groundhog that had been captured on the park ground.  There were also pony, dog and monkey shows going on constantly.

Next he touted the refreshments, all made at the park.  The ice cream was fresh and cost $1.25 a gallon and was delivered anywhere in the park for free.  The same cream used for the ice cream is used to make butter for the popcorn, bought locally and daily from nearby farmers.  A Japanese tea room encouraged ladies' card clubs, parties, receptions, etc., free.  All supervised by Mr. N. E. Newman, phone 713.

The rides came next, the longest lines were for the Circle Swing.  Next came the figure-eight roller coaster, then the merry-go-round.  Next he visited the Mystic Caves where the main attraction of the new attractions was called, "Chinatown Charlie".  In April of last year, the city of San Francisco had a devastating earthquake and fire.  Exposed in a part of the city known as Chinatown, sections of buildings were exposed to the outside world.  Found were opium dens, so Fairmount built a replica of Chinamen taking part in the highly addictive poison.  There were many other attractions in the Mystic Cave like Lovers' Lane, and a big surprise at the end, 10 cents.  Also on "The Hill" was Doreen the Snake Charmer, also ten cents.   He also checked out the Fairmount Hotel, claiming the dinner was superb.

One thing he didn't mention, but the Jackson Examiner did, was a homicide.  The Poindexter brothers from Kansas City broke the neck of a 22-year old Teamster, also from KC, James Wilson.  The two were arrested by Capt. Rice of park security and taken to the Independence Jail for safekeeping.  It was said that this was the end of a long feud.  The disposition of the case is unknown.

After the Fourth the Kansas City Chautauqua would dominate the park for twenty days.  Several VIPs like senators and congressmen from the state of Kansas spoke and gave slideshows of things like the progress of the Panama Canal.  Many Christian Indians from various tribes were in attendance.  The rest of the season was given to picnics, the Kansas City druggists picked the hottest day of the year (August 7) to have their day of frolic.  The heat caused the baseball game to be cancelled.  So many went swimming.  The grocers had theirs the next day.  Both went off without any heat-related casualties.

Later in the month the 8th annual reunion of the Army of the Philippines, including General Arthur McArthur, father of you-know-who, General Irving Hale, Col. W. F. Metcalf, Maj. L. B. Laughton, and Congressman E. C. Ellis.  Next the "Modern Brotherhood of America" passed through.  Both brought not just people to the park but to Kansas City.  Fairmount was good for the growing city.

They were not going good for Standard Oil of the World.  In May, a federal investigation headed by Herbert Knox Smith gave to President Teddy Roosevelt a report spelling out the alleged atrocities conducted by Standard in 1904, same year as the birth of the Sugar Creek facility.  The report titled "How It Controls" states:

"It is apparent that the dominating position of the Standard Oil Company in the oil industry has largely been secured by the abuse of transportation facilities  1) By flagrant discriminations obtained from railroads 2)By a refusal to operate its pipeline system so as to extend to independent intrinstics the benefits to which they were both morally and legally entitled, at the same time the Standard has prevented such independent interests from constructing their own.

Owning 20% of the oil output, Standard's refineries produced 86% of the country's illuminating oil (kerosene) and transported through its pipeline 90% of all crude oil in the oil fields and 93% in the new fields in the Midwest, Kansas, Texas, and the Indian Territories (Oklahoma).

In June the state of Kansas was also hot because Prairie Oil i.e. Standard, was not paying its fair share of taxes.  In response in July, the Boss of Bosses and at that time not yet as rich as he was going to be, spoke out calling Standard "A blessing".  In Chicago Rockefeller stated:

"Since the enactment of  the Interstate Commerce Law in 1887 the Standard Oil Company has carefully observed its provision and in no case has willfully violated the law.  I welcome the passage of the law and the principle of equality which was embodied in it.  The old system of special rates or rebates was obnoxious and was never a source of profits for the company." etc, etc

The Bull continued for about a half an hour.

Also in Chicago about this time a judge was studying the 1,462 count indictments of Standard Oil.  Each carried a fine from $1000 to $20,000.  The maximum could be as much as $29,240,000.  The subject of this probe was Standard of Indiana which on paper was only worth $1,000,000 while Standard of New Jersey was valued at $100,000,000.  For Uncle Sam it was like squeezing money from a turnip.

Copyright 2006 John M. Olinskey


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