Kansas City's Fairmount Park

by John M. Olinskey and Leigh Ann Little

Chapter 32:  1925
Kansas City's Fairmount Park ~ Kansas City History, Sugar Creek History, Independence, Missouri History, and more
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According to professional historians, 1925 is called, "The Year When Nothing Happened," because there was very little world strife.  Corporal Hitler and his girlfriend, Rudolph Hess, were released from a cushy prison where the Fuhrer wrote a book dry enough to absorb half the water in Fairmount Lake.  The Great Commoner died two weeks after winning the Scopes Monkey Trial.  A debate between himself and Clarence Darrow, who was representing the American Civil Liberties Union.  One of them was heard to say, "We didn't mean to kill the S. O. B."  A Mrs. Darwin, daughter-in-law of Charles Darwin, commented about the trial, "I think men are beginning to make monkeys of themselves."  Former Harry Truman was unemployed, but not for long.

Jackson County had 9,460 head of horses, 3430 mills, 19,800 milk cows, 16,300 hamburger/steak/roast cows, 15,690 sheep, 60,440 hogs and working around the clock for the last nineteen years, the 250 human moles at the Portland Cement plant at Cement City had dug five miles of tunnels and turned three million tons of limestone into powder.  Prohibition of alcohol was a pain.  There weren't many raids because to be busted in Jackson County there had to be a snitch.  On February 7, three houses were raided, two west of Independence and one in Sugar Creek.  The "Whitney Place" on Cunningham Road, when raided, four guys were found throwing craps, four quarts of beer, two bottles of whiskey were seized along with a hypodermic needle.  A young lady and the drunks were taken into custody.  Bond was $100 for the lady, 4 drunks, 300 each, two Whitneys, $1,000.  George Patillo of the Sugar Creek Patillos was visited the same night, because then cops could just walk in, catching George and a still.  He denied knowing anything about the brass knuckle by the still, in fact, claimed to not know what they were.  His bond was $300.

On March 7 deputy sheriffs walked in on Eva Butkovich, mother of young Matt, on Chicago Street in Sugar Creek at 6 a. m.  The washtub and a coffee pot containing whiskey was brewing.  George Butkovich was arrested and bond was set at $1,000.  A neighbor, Joe Spallack, was also busted.  He was found to have four gallons of hooch, 150 empty bottles, and 75 gallons of grape juice that had not yet fermented.  That was given back to him so that it could ferment.  In October the Sandbar that doomed Wayne City was now an island in the middle of the Missouri River, a mile downstream from the refinery, was raided.  A 100 and a 50 gallon still were discovered.  The raid was led by Edison L. Watson, constable, four county cops and two feds.  Big time.  Bottles of finished stuff were found in gunney sack, tied with rope, hidden among vegetation in the river.  Two pressure cookers and a 35-gallon tank; two hydrometers and several funnels were found.  On the island was a dead cow and hundreds of dead rabbits.  Sugar Creek had a rat.

Fairmount Park's mens' bath house was torched on May 6.  The 100 ft x 45' structure, with 3,000 lockers, was badly damaged on the north end.  To the rescue came the newly formed Fairmont/Mt. Washington Fire Department led by chief C. S. Hunning.  The call came in about 1:30 a. m. by C. G. McGinnis, Park Watchman.  The fire was out by 3:30.  Damage to the premesis was set at $10,000.  The area not only had Feds and rats, it had a pyro.

The park opened on Saturday, May 16.  Work was progressing on the new men's bathhouse, bigger and better.  With 5,000 lockers it would be ready by Memorial Day. 

Dr. Carver's 18 high-diving horses and girl riders dressed in red, fresh from working the Southern circuit.  Two plunges daily, 4:30 and 9:30 p. m.

Boys and girls under 16 were offered free season passes if they would register with park management opening day.  They lined up between 10 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon.  The kids were given numbered buttons, which gave them free access to the beach for the season, but they still had to pay a dime to get in.  Was it Mr. Carlilse's idea?  Probably.  Suits extra.

The new attractions at Fairmount Park were a mechanical miniature city.  Minona, Minnesota, a city along the Mississippi River, with scaled buildings, working street lights, and cars that moved about the town.  The new ride was called the "Dodge-Ems", bumper cars.  Aeroship, which Al Carlisle said was probably just one of the old rides re-painted, and a water toboggon.

Electric Park's 27th season began on Memorial Day Weekend.  The feature was a staged Vaudeville review called, "Broadways of 1925."  Some of the cast were, "The World's Specialist Roller Skating" "The Unusual Duo Novelty Dance," "Acrobatic Dancers," "Comedy Dancers," "Prima Donnas," "Juvenile Dancers," and a "Chorus of 18 Lovely Young Ladies." 

Chicken dinners and a "Colored Dixie Land Blues Band".  New features included "Cave of the Winds," "China Town," and "The Kick", soon to go up in flames.  A 500-specie aquarium that couldn't burn, also was the new admission price of twenty cents.

In May the Guinotte Dam on the Blue River, between 12th and 13th street, was dedicated, backing the water to 19th Street.  The project was accomplished by the "Blue Valley Business Association", and the Kansas City Parks Board.  What now is a dry slab of cement then had water, with big plans for its future.  The west bank, or the Kansas City side, was pristine, with a boat house and a path running from the dam to 19th Street.  The west bank was littered with junk. 

On the 17th, because of inclement weather, only 500 spectators showed up for the regatta.   The local Navy Reserve had parked a small steamship there, which led the parade of smaller craft down to the dam, then traversing a large body of deep water.  There were more people in the show than on the shore, almost 100 watercraft.  Races were held and politicians spoke of future improvements; today the area is a disaster.

Fairyland was the last park to open this season.  A high-wire act, working 102 feet in the air, with nothing between the acrobats and the light.  They performed all kinds of crazy things, hand balancing, swinging around on a trapeze, and rings, singly, in pairs, and all four at once, followed by a high-diving act.   New this year was the Crystal Cave and the Missouri Mule.

Back at Fairmount, June brought loads of company and organization picnics, like General Motors, Allied Railroad Employees, Irish-American Society, Montgomery Ward, Proctor and Gamble, Missouri Pacific Boosters, National Zinc Company, Loose-Wiles, Ford Dealers, and Commerce Trust Company.  On Saturday, July 4, America celebrated 149 years of existence.  There was a one-day break in the heat wave that had settled over the town.  Friday was 97 degrees hot, and Sunday would be 95, so 90 degrees and a cool breeze made for perfect swimming weather.  The beach at Fairmount was packed, because of the booming local economy, and the confidence that it would go on forever, how sad.

An ad in the local papers pointed out some of the reasons why, with parks going, everyone should visit Fairmount.  The beach, swim, dive, big natural lake fed by springs, invigorating, cooling, new bath house, water toboggan, and floating pillows.  Dancing in the Venetian Ballroom, there's a real snap to O. A. Smith's orchestra.  You'll slide across the dance floor.  Fun.  A score of thrilling rides and concessions, never a dull moment, there's amusement at every turn, it's a big natural playground; rides a-plenty, attractions galore.  Harvey Kessel sings in the ballroom every Wednesday and Sunday nights.  Club dance every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings.  Massive shade trees, a well kept lawn, ice water, benches, ovens, it's a great place to picnic. 

Dr. Carver and his two girl riders and horses spent half the summer thrilling the crowds.  No one seemed to get tired of it, and everyone took a stroll down the Midway, where you might win a Teddy bear or a Kewpie Doll.  Like any modern park, there was plenty of free parking for a hodge-podge of vehicles.  The place to be on the Fourth of July was the racetrack at 95th street.  Two steam locomotives had a head-on collision.  A lone track a few hundred yards long was laid.  $500 was paid to the engineer who was the last one to jump.  No one died. 

In the first game of a double-header at the Chrisman campus celebration, the Sugar Creek Standard Oil team beat the Knights of Pythians, 14-12.  As soon as the sun went down, a fire fight developed between some white and black boys on Lexington street, just north of the Independence Square.  The kids shot Roman candles, rockets, and threw firecrackers of all sizes at each other.  Some kids left to get more ammo.  It was all in good fun, and when there were no more things to throw or shoot, they met in the street to laugh and jabber.  Next morning, Lexington looked like Bourbon Street Mardi Gras morning. 

The crowd at Fairyland on the Fourth was the biggest ever, estimated at 30,000.  By 9 a. m. the parking lot was already full of autos.  At closing time there were so many people in line for the rides that the park didn't close until early the next morning.

The auto traffic to Fairmount Park was bumper to bumper most of the day.

Many people, though, prefer the open road.  40 and 50 highways were linked coast to coast, and were nearing completion.  The roads in the county were getting better, thanks to future President Truman.  Some families drove until they found a good spot for a picnic.  Some just drove till they had to head back.  Many could now easily visit friends out of town; twenty and thirty miles an hour was fast in 1925. 

In Bonner Springs, the Ku Klux Klan had a Fourth of July picnic.  10,000 people showed up, including many ladies with children.  A preacher spoke about the purpose of the "Man in the Klan", and Mrs. So and So spoke of the women's role in the Klan.  They also swore in several hundred new Klansmen, at $10 a head.  It was lucrative business, with a business model similar to Amway's.

Electric Park also had a fire.  An arsonist was being paid to burn the parks.  Flames could be seen from miles around.  Most everything burned: The Midway; the theater was damaged, but was repaired for Broadways of 1925 and Rory Mack's Summer Show, which featured the Charleston, which was new to Kansas City.  Soon every woman under 30 made it the dance of the Roaring Twenties. 

Shortly after the Fourth, a young man from Kansas City jumped off the 20-ft high dive and drowned after getting stuck in the mud at the bottom of the lake.  His clothes were discovered in a locker after closing time around 10:30.  A search with lights soon found him lodged so tight that divers couldn't budge him.  He was finally freed about 2 a. m with the help of ropes.  After more than three decades silt was filling in the lake.   Nature was reclaiming the land.

On Saturday, July 18, the Allied Railway employees held their second annual picnic at Fairmount Park.  Railroad men came from as far away as 800 miles, they didn't have to pay.  Music was provided by three railroad company bands, the Rock Island, Missouri Pacific, and Frisco.  Athletic events with prizes was held in the afternoon.  Afterwards a baseball game between the Kansas City Terminal and the Rock Island Railroad people ended in the office getting beat 25 to 2.  The Kansas governor was a keynote speaker, but failed to show.  Representative E. C. Ellis and Manager Gordon of Kansas filled in.  Electric Park's picnic were the WWI Disabled Veterans.  One thing that would have been discussed would have been the promise of a bonus; they would have to wait till 1936 when they finally got it over FDR's veto.

On August 1, J. J. Heim and some local VIP's opened a playground at the site of the old Electric Park, Montgall and Rochester avenues.  More than 800 attended the ceremony.  Until recently, the abandoned park was a dump.  Six bathing suits were awarded to boys who had carved dead trees into something.  Wednesdays will be known as "Pet Night."  Prizes will be awarded to children with the largest, smallest, and the most deformed dog.

The next day, Sunday, Dr. Carver, his diving horses, and two pretty drivers, dressed in red, made their farewell performance.  Harry Kessel was now a radio personality, a device that as yet couldn't be plugged into a wall socket.  O. A. Smith's orchestra was still there, and there were fireworks on the lake at 9:30.

After the horses, "Zimmy the Half Man" was booked as the main attraction.  Born with no legs, he held the world's record for staying under water, 4 minutes and 17 seconds.  He could eat, drink, and smoke (?) under water.

While Fairmount Park on Sunday, August 16, was hosting the huge and wet Irish American picnic, with speaker/senator James A. Reed, Electric started its Coin Carnival.  It was also celebrating its swan song.  Electric Park was closing.  Mr. Heim was selling the land.  It would eventually become The Landing, a shopping center, but in its last summer the park became a long, hot party.  Mardi Gras Kansas City style.  Flappers and confetti fights, patrons dressed like people from every time period, and corn stalks six feet tall were everywhere, many covering the area that burned.  Many, many companies and organizations held picnics at the doomed icon.  There was an industrial exposition, showing some of the technological miracles of the early Twentieth Century.  At 10 p. m. September 1, Electric Park ended with a huge fireworks display which rivaled the fire which was the park's demise.  Fairlyland didn't have a fire, and both fires were set, surmises the conspiracy theorist.  On Thursday, September 3, a hot day, with temperatures near 100, the Mt. Washington, Fairmount and Sugar Creek boosters held the second annual Home Community Parade and Picnic.  At 2 p. m. the 150 decorated automobiles, a steam calliope and the Standard Oil Band left at the Independence road and Arlington avenue for Downtown Kansas City.  Once in the city limits of Kansas City the parade got a military escort from the Kansas City Missouri Police Department.  Once downtown the autos were judged, but not told the winners until the parade had wound its way back to Fairmount Park.

Prizes were donated by merchants from Kansas City, Independence, Mt. Washington, Fairmount, and Sugar Creek, to be given out as prizes for the zany contests:  Boys and girls' races, Married Women's dash, Fat Women's dash, Wheelbarrow race, women's Ball Catching event, Boys' Obstacle Race, Roping contests, Monkey Race, Kangaroo Race.  The oldest man and woman present received a prize, along with the oldest resident, person coming longest distance, couple married longest, largest family.  A tug-of-war between the married men and the single men, and a rock-the-boat contest, etc. etc.  A basket dinner was served at 6:30, followed by three comedy films at sunset.

By Labor Day the temperature was in the 80s.  The annual parade downtown by the local labor unions was held, followed by a trip out to Fairmount Park.  Things for now were pretty mellow between labor and management.  The two main speakers were George Berry, president of the Printing Pressman's Union, and Mrs. Harriet Hyland, president of the Railroad Carmen's Union.  Kansas City, Missouri Police Band furnished the music, and the park closed its gates for another long cold spell.

Things at the Standard Oil Refinery were going well.  If you were a good employee and well liked, and always came to work, a person could come and go pretty much as he pleased.  One young man like that was John "Pee Wee" Pavola.  He had a chance to go to Madison Square Garden in New York to indulge in the sport of boxing, where he "held his own."  After he returned to work at the oil plant, he traveled around Missouri and Kansas, beating up guys in small towns for money. His mode of transportation could have been his lifelong friend, my dad, Honest John, who had just bought a 1925 Ford touring car.  They were $350.  He was also a good pinochle player, being on the refinery team that won the championship, beating the smart ones in the office.

In Sugar Creek, the trolley line into the Creek was discontinued by January.  Most everyone working at the refinery could now afford an automobile, since there were no saloons. 

Blair Jones and Charles Wesner, the town radio buzz, filed and received a broadcasting license.  Sugar Creek had a 5-watt radio station, "AWT".  Morse Code was heard in New Zealand, and voice signals were received in several East Coast states, like Massachusettes, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and many southern states.

In May, an new newspaper, "The Jackson Herald," published by John S. Dickey and N. R. Smith, was started.  The object of the paper was to report on small communities like Fairyland Heights, Harrison's Meadow, Harrison's Park, Maywood Park, Mt. Washington, Fairmount, Fairmount Heights, Sugar Creek, Maywood, Englewood, South Englewood, Lawn Heights, Cement City and Courtney.  By now this area had 20,000 people, more than Independence, and Independence would take note.

In Maywood, 150 men volunteered to patrol the area in groups o

Mr. Dickey has lived in Sugar Creek since 1910 and is the postmaster.  Mr. Smith is an old hand at the newspaper business, and once owned a paper in Higginsville, Missouri.

August brought a $16,000 bond issue to Sugar Creek.  Six for a cement road on Fairmount Avenue and Kentucky, and 10,000 for a new city hall.  Both passed, 150 to 50.  Work was started on the building in November and was to be completed by Spring.

"There is only one Sugar Creek." remarked Judge R. L. Bennet, who owned a furniture store in the Creek, and was also the town counselor.  Right after Thanksgiving, 400 letters were mailed to the residents of the town, stating that Uncle Sam was pissed.  These people had not filed an income tax returned for the  year 1921.  Sam wanted $5 each in penalties, even though most didn't make enough to pay taxes.  They were assessed $5 anyway.  The few who didn't show to pay their fine were notified to appear in downtown Kansas City Federal Court.  Sam was really pissed at them.

A ball was held New Years Eve at the Slyman Hall.  $150 was raised to equip six firemen with boots, hats, raincoats, etc.  So much for the year that nothing happened.


Copyright 2008 John M. Olinskey

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