The Illustrated History of Fairmount Park

by John M. Olinskey and Leigh Ann Little

Chapter 31:  1924
Kansas City's Fairmount Park ~ Kansas City History, Sugar Creek History, Independence, Missouri History, and more
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At least four good things came out of Prohibition that we still have today.  Number one, nightclubs, unlike saloons of pre-Prohibition days, they were called same because that's what they were.  Since they legally didn't exist, there was no closing time.  Two, mixed drinks; with real booze going for $8 to $12 a bottle, drinking it straight could be expensive.  The smart thing to do was to dilute it.  Three of the most popular were highball, with whiskey and 7-Up, vodka and orange juice, called a screwdriver, and rum and Coke.  Three, soda fountains.  Since alcohol was a sin, ice cream and soda pop were in.  The soda shop lowered the drinking age as it was now the center of socialization.  Four, beauty shops, since men no longer came home with beer goggles.  Wrinkles, gravity and familiarity put the birth rate in America in jeopardy.

By Sunday, May 18, all three parks were open to the public.  Electric began the season with a circus.  It was a three-ringer with clowns, elephants, horses and aerial acts.  Poodles Hanneford, world's greatest riding clown, was the featured attraction, along with Hall's Juvenile Elephants, and Swan Ringen, lady diver.  Two shows every night.  Matinee Saturday and Sunday, rain or shine. 

On Saturday, May 24, the 15,000 K-12 students of the Kansas City
Missouri schools, were treated to a picnic at Electric  by the PTA. 
Though there was quite a wind chill, the kids didn't seem to mind.  The temperature at 6 a.m., as the line to enter started to grow, was only 41 degrees.  There was frost in St. Joe.  The circus and entrance were free, but everything else cost money.  This came as a big disappointment, so park management gave way.  One free ticket to eight concessions given randomly.  Some big kids received tickets for the kiddie train or Merry-go-Round, while some children's tickets were for the roller coaster, much trading followed.

Fairyland's second season again saw Sam Benjamin the head honcho.  The Crystal Swimming Pool was given two coats of white paint with lead.  There was a new kiddie pool, from 4 inches to a foot and a half deep.  A cafe had been added, enabling parents to keep an eye on their children, and vice versa. 

The park's first major picnic was the Campfire Girls.

The trolley line had been extended down Prospect to the main entrance.  Admittance was still ten cents, kiddies were free.

The work on Fairmount Park started on the first days of Spring,
painters, carpenters, and electricians and laborers prepared the park
for its May 17 opening.  The carpenters and electricians worked on the new stuff, like the Caterpillar, a ride that moved up and down while flying around a track.  King Tut's Tomb, a Mysterious Knock-Out, and a pony track. The kiddie playground was enlarged with new stuff to entertain.  Among the attractions to get a new coat of paint for the Mountain Speedway, Over the Top, Canals of Venice, Captive Airplane, Puzzletown, The Whip, Miniature Railway, Ferris wheel, Fairy Swings, Merry-Go-Round and the Motor Dome.  Fifty new boats were on the lake. 

The disco ball in the Venetiani Ballroom was removed in favor of more dignified lighting.  Music will be furnished by Ray Stinson's Orchestra.  Last, but not least, were the hundreds of newly-built picnic tables throughout the park.  The following people were responsible for the good times had by all visitors to Fairmount Park:  President A. R. Goetz, Vice President M. L. Goetz.  These men were the sons of M. K. Goets, a St. Joseph, Missouri beer brewer.  Even during Prohibition they brewed Goetz Country Club Malt Liquor and Country Club Pilsener.  J. C. Houseman was the Treasurer, G. C. McGinnis, General Manager; John Wunderlich, Public Relations, Carl Carlisle owned the water.  Fairmount's first major picnic was the Jackson Count Oddfellows' eighteen lodges and twelve auxiliaries = 12,000 people.

The first week in June brought the Shriners back to Kansas City.  The Shriners liked Kansas City, beer was cold and came in plain brown bottles to go.  Lots of movie theaters, pretty girls, and three first-class amusement parks.  Fairmount announced that Thursday, June 5, was official Shriner Day.  Anyone wearing a fez or any Shriner paraphernalia was admitted free.  Sam at Fairyland went one better, anyone with anyone that even looked like a Shriner was admitted free.  He knew that once a Shriner came in contact with fun, price was no object. 

At Fairmount the picnics at the "Home of Picnics" continued through June.  A record of sorts was broken when a dozen picnics were booked for one day.

As the season progressed, the warm temperatures drove the people from the city to the parks and water, and soon it was time to celebrate the Fourth of July. 

The three amusement parks, as was the custom, had the best fireworks in town, and thousands attended.  While the Blues were on the road many attended the 250 mile race at the Kansas City Speedway.  Many church congregations held picnics.  Swope Park was full of people too cheap or poor to attend a real park, where you could spend a lot of money.

Independence, Missouri, finally got with the program and had a fine Fourth of July.  At 10 o'clock sharp, the Boy Scouts held a parade around the town square.  After Mayor Sermon gave a speech on the "American Flag", followed by a double header at the high school campus.  The second game was won by Excelsior Springs beating Independence 9 - 2.  Races for the girls and boys followed, prizes given.  Political speeches and a D. W. Griffith movie ("Orphans of the Storm"), then fireworks.  Taps was blown at 11 p. m.  Earlier, the Chief of Police, John S. Cogswell warned juvenile delinquents to discontinue small bombs under or in the back seats of autos, as they drove slowly through town at 15 miles per hour, a tempting target.  1,400 autos were counted by somebody, probably a reporter.  No fires and no fingers blown off.

At Fairmount, Sunday evening for the rest of the summer would be capped off by set-piece fireworks, a different kind of idol.  The first were Barney Google and his race horse "Spark Plug", cartoon characters whose popularity still is with us as one, a very large number, two, the search engine.  Wednesday night would be Surprise Night:  Mrs. H. L. Davis of Sugar Creek drove home in a new 1924 Ford Model T.

Towards the end of July Ford Motor Company held its picnic at Fairmount Park.  Five autos were given away to employees, black Model Ts.  Many autos, especially Model Ts, were called, "Flivvers," slang for a lemon, which is slang for a piece of junk.

A few weeks later Fairyland Park and the local Ford Dealers' Association opened the park free to anyone driving in a Ford.  Prizes were given for the oldest Ford, the Ford coming the longest distance, fattest man in a Ford, tallest man and woman, most people in a Ford, prettiest woman, and largest family.  Dealers participated in contests consisting of cranking, i. e., starting the Ford, slow race, tire changing, driving fast in reverse, and towing away any flivvers.

In late August the Fairmount/Mt. Washington communities held a parade and picnic at Fairmount Park.  The parade snaked its way to the Independence Square, and then on to Fairmount Park.  Soon after, Independence held a city picnic at Fairmount Park.  3,000 free admittance tickets were given to children in the Independence parade.

Electric closed the season with "Auto Polo", which might have been the precursor to the "Demolition Derby". 

Once again the Labor people of Kansas City picked Fairmount Park as the place to hold their annual picnic.  The main boulevard was gentleman who came all the way from Cleveland, Ohio, to make a pitch for Senator Robert T. LaFullette, Sr., running for President as a Progressive Socialist, a third party started in 1912 by Theodore Roosevelt.  It went down hill after.  The Progressive Party was pro-Labor and pro-Farmer.  It was also a leftist organization with a bunch of peaceniks.  LaFullette voted against going to war in 1917, mainly because Wisconsin had a large German population.  He received 17% of the vote, but he didn't last much longer, dying in 1925 of a heart attack.

Fairmount closed at midnight on Sunday, September 7.  The final group to enjoy the "Home of Picnics" was the "Knights of Pythians" and the "Knights of Khorassan" of Greater Kansas City, holding their annual picnic, after which the leaves would fall from the trees and the lake would freeze.

On September 1st, the Feds raided a drugstore at Linwood and Main.  By now, Prohibition was a joke, and a Carnival atmosphere prevailed, attended by a thousand citizens, twenty deep.  They hurled verbal insults as the Eighteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America was enforced.  The local cops, whose job was crowd control, smiled at some of the insults, since it wasn't aimed at them.  Cries of "I want my Coke!" followed by laughter rippled through the large, angry crowd.  Sixty-seven half-pint bottles of prescription whiskey was loaded into the Federales' vans, along with the 18-year-old soda jerk, and two pretty good-looking Flappers who were drinking Cokes with added ingredients.  Ten minutes after the raid it was business as usual, without mixed drinks. 

On July 27, the Standard Oil Refinery at Sugar Creek held its Second Annual Picnic at Fairmount Park.  The September Stand-o-Line Magazine had eight photos on five pages.  The author was not the same fellow who put together the monthly plant gossip.

On that day, the people with the goodies started arriving around 7:30.  Tubs of lemonade and tons of ice cream were furnished by the company.  Employees brought the rest.  Food prices, thanks to overproduction by farmers, were stable.  Smoked hams, 12.5 cents a pound; hamburger, 3 pounds, 29 cents; bread, 9 cents; butter 37 cents a pound, and brisket 18 1/2 cents.

By ten o'clock the horseshoe pits were ready.  Thousands of free admission tickets were given away, but the kids from the Creek didn't need tickets.  They never paid anyway.

Various games and races were held on the athletic field by boys and girls, men and women.  Virgil Lynch, the 14-year-old future Police Judge, won two contests:  first by running in the sack race instead of hopping like everyone else, and the three-legged race.  A trick was played on some women in the "Bottle Blindfold Race".  Before the blindfolds were applied, the ladies stood facing dozens of empty beer bottles.  After the blindfolds were on, the bottles were quietly removed while instructions were loudly given, and they proceeded to walk through what they thought were bottles, when there really weren't any bottles there.  Everybody got a kick out of that.  Then it was time for chow, followed by a baseball game, the highlight of which was when one of the sluggers hit a home run over the right centerfield fence, missing some patrons and sticking in some mud, well over 300 feet.  The Standard Oil Band gave a concert in the band shell.  As the sun set on the horizon, the crowd dispersed, looking forward to the third picnic, which would have far fewer employees.

It wasn't all roses.  A week after the picnic George Moffett, the refinery's General Manager, announced a huge layoff.  At least 250 men, 40% of the work force, would get pink slips.  The reason given  was overproduction, but Standard Oil was involved in another scandal, the Teapot Dome.  Standard owned a large piece of Sinclair Oil, now under investigation.  Shortly after the announcement 100 men, Standard Oil employees from Sugar Creek, crowded the City Council meeting, concerned about their jobs and the future of the city.  They were assured by Mayor Bohemer that the company would not fire Creekers, as there were no unions and seniority didn't mean squat.

Judge Harry Truman was doomed.  On Groundhog Day the "Regualar Democratic Club of the Eastern Judicial District of Jackson County" endorsed Robert Lee Hood (a Rabbit) to run against him.  Hood, for years, was Chief Deputy Tax Collector for Jackson County.  Soon Judge Truman was approached by fellow "Goats" to appoint all the road overseers Goats.  To do so would have gone back on his word.  To his credit, he gave the Rabbits nine positions, the same as last year.  The Goats got 36.  Fairmount Park was accosted by the "Rabbits" on August 1st, a few days before the primary election.  Judge Truman caught hell from Judge J. K. Wallace.  Truman was called a crook, denying that he had a surplus.  Truman ran on his record.

Meanwhile, Truman gave a speech just east of the Jackson County Courthouse, exactly where there is now a statue of him.  He gave his usual speech of his accomplishments.  In the primaries, the Goats beat the Rabbits, Truman winning by 2,000 votes out of 12,000 cast.  The Rabbits hated Truman.  In November the Republicans swept the county on Calvin Coolidge's coattails.  Henry W. Rummell, banker and former Independence councilman, beat Truman, 9,679 for Rummell, 9,061 for Harry.  Truman was most cordial after the defeat, sending a letter to Rummell congratulating him and offering any assistance his two years on the bench would be of any help.  He would now just fade away.


Copyright 2008 John M. Olinskey

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