Tag Archives: Kansas City

Almost done!

Hello all!

My last post I talked about how I am almost finished with entering the entire collection into the museum’s collections management software. I can safely say that next week that will finally be finished. It is a bit relieving finally getting this task accomplished. When I first came to the American Royal almost two years ago, I had no idea the amount of work that was needed. After my first couple of weeks I quickly knew that I could not complete the task within the ten weeks I was initially hired for. I was working off a Microsoft Access database that was created in 2003 and was horribly outdated and was missing over 400 entries. I decided the only way to accomplish this task thoroughly was to go through each file individually and to ignore the Access database. Now I have entered just over 500 artifacts and when I am finished it should be closer to 525.

When I am finished with this I will start writing the action plan and organizing the collections storage areas available to me now. The end of the semester is quickly approaching, but everything is finally coming together.

Thanks for reading!

Philip Bland

Moving a Museum

Hello, my name is Philip Bland and I am the Collections Intern at the American Royal Association. Most people know the American Royal for its barbecue contest, livestock shows, or horse shows and few know that the American Royal has its own museum. For the past year and a half I have been working under the Director of Education, Kristie Larson, to help digitize the museum’s collection catalog and implement some best practices in collection storage. This semester though, we are pivoting from addressing current needs to looking towards the future.

Last October, the American Royal Association announced the relocation of its events and offices to a brand new facility located in Kansas City, Kansas. With it, the American Royal plans to incorporate an education center in addition to its current museum. With the prospect of a brand new museum at a new location, one of the first questions posed to me was how do we move the collection? This semester I will be working on developing an action plan for how to move/store the collection to the new museum. Also, I will provide a list of collection storage needs and options for the new museum. While working on this plan I will be reaching out to other museum professionals in the area that have also recently gone through moves or facility upgrades that required their collection to be moved and/or stored.

I am excited to take on a project that will expand my knowledge of collection management and also provides an opportunity to network with other museum professionals in the Kansas City area. I hope to pass on some of the knowledge to you as well throughout the process.

Philip Bland

LaBudde Special Collections Transcription: Learning to Hear

Today I began two transcriptions which, though similar in focus, couldn’t have resulted in more diverse work experiences.  One was an individual monologue about the gay scene in Kansas City since the 1960s.  The other was a round table discussions of the different experiences of a group of lesbians in Kansas City.  While the monologue flowed fairly smoothly and demanded more focus on grammatical form, due to the narrators use of pauses and vocal delivery, the round table require more nuanced attention.  With frequent interruptions, laughter, and joking among the narrators as they seamlessly flowed off of and into each others conversations, I found myself needing to stop and learn the narrator’s unique voices.  While the first project demanded I try to understand the rhythm and meaning of the narrator’s delivery (to know what should be a period or comma), the other demanded I listen for distinct voice markers.

In both cases I needed to hear the individual quality of the narrator’s voice, but in different ways.  I couldn’t simply type out what I heard.  In the monologue, without first hearing the narrators rhythm and broader topic, I could very easily structure the statements incorrectly.  In the round table interview, the general lack of names being given before speaking and the boisterous free-flow of conversation, left me confused without better context.  Though both required topical context, the round table drove me to become familiar with the voices themselves.  In both transcriptions I needed to start orienting myself a few minutes into the recording, not at the beginning.  This was a new experience compared to those stories I had heard since childhood which start at, you guessed it, the beginning.  I needed to not only hear the rural style to “Pat’s” Midwestern voice as opposed to the higher pitched, New Jersey fast pace of Giselle’s voice; but I also needed to hear the more nuanced differences between the rich tones of Sue’s Davenport voice  and Bev’s Kansas City voice.

The longer I listened, over and over, I started to hear the vocal tones of different laughs and the patterns of different speakers.  I began to become familiar with their voices, to know them.  I began to really hear them.  Sometimes foreign to the historical voices of monographs and journal essays, the recordings brought be into a more challenging and more personal type of history.  It was challenging, disorienting, and a little unsettling.  But it was also beautiful.  The struggle to discover the voices of the historical agents was present, just like in other forms of research, but in new ways.  It wasn’t enough to hear the narrator’s voice, to get their words, but I had to discern their voice for its distinct qualities.  It wasn’t enough to know the words and actions of the historical agent, but what makes them different from other historical agents.  Today was a wonderful example of literally learning to hear the voices of those in the past who I had never heard before, and I can’t wait to hear what they will say next.

LaBudde

GLAMA

End Games and a Dead End

By Tony Lawson

I finally made it over the the Steamboat Arabia Museum to look for a chloroform bottle to at least get some good photos of our own for the Civil War medicine exhibit at Wornall. The bottles at Clendening Medical Library were nice, but I could not positively date them to the Civil War.  They looked more 1872 than 1860s to me  Esoteric, I know, but its my job.  I knew I had seen a collection of medicine bottles at the SAM and their provenance was flawless.

When I finally saw the collection again this week, I learned a few things.  First, the labels on many of the bottles were paper and were destroyed by the mud and water.  We have no earthly idea what some of those bottles contain.  At one point, the SAM sent some sample bottles to a lab for testing.  The lab called back to confirm the order and had a conversation that went something like, “Yeah, some of the medicines that we do know that were widely used in this period of history contained opium and if we find opium in this stuff we have to notify the DEA and you guys are going to have to spend some money to keep it secured and inaccessible from the public.”  Umm…okay box it up and send it back. Click…brrrrr.

Second thing learned was, they do not know whats in the bottles and they do not want to know what is in the bottles.  So, no chloroform bottle yet, however, I did meet a man who offered to loan us a Civil War saber and bayonet.  Unfortunately, those items accounted for only about 2-4% of Civil War battle wounds.

Unfortunately, my work here at UMKC History Makers is at its end.  I have enjoyed writing these blogs and I hope anyone that read them found some of that joy too.  I hope we meet this way again in the future.  In the meantime, the the search for artifacts and archives continues, the dream lives on, and I have many miles to go before I rest.

Cracking the Architect’s Code…

By Matthew Reeves

Every research subject has its own peculiar problems. Much of my previous research focuses on mental health issues in the nineteenth century America, and the records sometimes fall under the jurisdiction of federal health care privacy laws. Those laws impose certain restrictions on personally identifiable healthcare information, which in turn affects what types of sources are open to the public and what sources require special permissions. Our HistoryMakers internship project’s peculiar problem was my architectural literacy – as in, I didn’t have any!

Graduate students tend to have fairly solid vocabularies, but it didn’t take me long to realize that I did not know how to describe, classify, and write about buildings. Sure, I knew about roofs, floors, and walls, and could even differentiate between brick and stone. What I could not do was talk about architecture’s finer points – cornices, entablatures, hip-roofs, muntins, and fenestrations were all a mystery to me. Clearly, I needed to keep my dictionary handy!

A Chicago School Skyscraper diagram from the excellent Chicago Textures architecture blog

A Chicago School Skyscraper diagram from the excellent Chicago Textures architecture blog

The best part about learning to describe architectural flourishes in technical terms was that my everyday life got much more interesting. Kansas City is full of complex, compelling, and diverse architecture. With my newfound lingo, I was able to read the City’s buildings in new ways, noting the architectural styles and thinking about their historical and visual context. Instead of seeing a building with a decorative front, I noticed its a structure with a façade; whereas before I saw a ledge-thingy, I now know that the decorative elements visually dividing the wall from rooftop are an entablature. Both façade and entablature came up a lot during my research: they’re common elements in Chicago-school neoclassical high rise design, a common style in downtown Kansas City.

Like a foreign language, learning a new professional lexicon is time-consuming. But my novice architectural vocabulary has expanded my world view by unlocking new and exciting elements in my everyday life. Buildings that I had passed without noticing now speak to me. Or, to put it another way, through my newfound architectural vocabulary I could hear the buildings for the first time.

Mixing an Architectural-Historical Cocktail for Public Consumption

Trying to find the right balance... it's rarely the ideal 50/50 split.

The right balance rarely an ideal 50/50 split.

By Matthew Reeves

For our internship, Natalie and I were tasked to research local historic buildings and write about them. The individual entries are going to aggregated and published in the revised version of A Place in Time, a guide to historic buildings in Kansas City. Beyond the research, which I’ve documented in previous posts, there’s the difficult task of writing the entries. This post will walk through the entry writing process, following my decision making process for striking a balance between historical information and architectural analysis.

Most writers — not just HistoryMakers — should start out by considering their audience. For the revised A Place in Timeour assumed audience is the general public. That phrase sounds good, but what does it mean? What information should we assume our reader will already know? We certainly don’t want to come off as condescending, but at the same time we don’t want to alienate readers by assuming that they are familiar with local history or architectural terms. So, writing for a general audience, I tried to excise all jargon from my entries, sometimes using less precise words; after all, it’s much more important to convey the appropriate idea than it is to show off a huge vocabulary. We also provided brief introductions and historical background when needed.

Bobby Greenlease

Bobby Greenlease

Finally, as a book on the history of architecture, we had to decide how to split up each entry between historical information and architectural analysis. Each entry was like a cocktail, and we had to find a reasonable blend of historical and architectural information for each entry. While I generally tried to split the information evenly, the decision varied for each site. Some buildings, like Notre Dame de Sion’s Midtown campus, were connected to compelling local stories like the Greenlease Kidnapping. Naturally, that story plays a part in the Sion entry. Other buildings were much more architecturally interesting, or maybe lacked a notable historical anecdote. In those cases, the entry focused on architectural description.

Ultimately, our authorial choices reflected the needs of our presumed audience and the strengths of each particular site. Or, at least, that’s the hope!

Getting Un-stuck

Research Vacuums Suck

Research Vacuums Suck

By Matthew Reeves

Every now and then, you’re going to hit a research wall. All HistoryMakers have experienced it. And now that I think about it, the wall metaphor is not exactly a great one. It’s really more like a research vacuum. You’ll know the question that you want to ask, and perhaps you can even imagine the type of sources that you’d like to find. But like oxygen in space, the sources aren’t there, and don’t seem likely to present themselves anytime soon.

At times like these, even the most experienced researchers reach out to their dear friends, the archivist. Archives are wonderful places – most that I’ve visited bubble over with resources – but they are often a bit like a junk-yard. No, you’re not likely to find a spare side-mirror for a 2003 Corolla at an archive, and they usually don’t have large dogs guarding the documents. But what you are going to need, at either a junkyard or the National archives, is help finding the right item.

My own particular research vacuum was the White Oak School, a modest country school that operated in rural Jackson County from the late nineteenth century until the middle 1960s, when it was annexed into the Independence School District. My largest research trouble was that the nature of small school and its county locale meant that there was literally no information about the school at the Missouri Valley Archives. Dr. Wolf, the Kansas City Historic Preservation Officer and erstwhile internship, suggested that I contact David Jackson at the Jackson County Historical Society.

The Old Jackson County Courthouse

The Old Jackson County Courthouse

Located in the historic (and recently renovated) Old Jackson County Courthouse, the Historical society had a wealth of information about the White Oak School. There were some primary source accounts of the school’s creation that David Jackson found in a well-worn county history. The historical society even had a vertical file dedicated to Jackson county schools, which contained several yellowing newspaper articles from 1960s that covered the White Oak School’s annexation and eventual closure. David even helped me find some additional information on Little Blue, a rural Jackson County community that had previously proved difficult to locate. Without David Jackson’s knowledgeable and capable assistance, I would still be stuck in that research vacuum.

So, get to know your local archivist — they are your best friend in the archive.

On Knowledge, Networks, and Notches

By Tony Lawson

I would not be in my internship position at the Wornall House without my solid academic background.  For years, I have worked hard in school, earned good grades, and received a few honors and accolades from academia.  My knowledge of historiography, American History, and specifically Missouri history, has paid off in getting me into this choice internship at Wornall House.  I have loved every minute of it.  Now that I am in this position and have accomplished a few things, I look back and recount what it took, beyond this background knowledge and education, to get things done thus far.

The first thing I was able to do was “hook up” the Wornall House with Dr. Matthew Osborn at UMKC for a planned “Whiskey as Medicine” cocktail party/fundraising event in the fall.  At an early meeting I learned of the planned party and suggested that Dr. Osborn would be an excellent guest speaker at the event.  Dr. Osborn has specialized knowledge in the area of the consumption of alcohol and drugs in early America and teaches a popular course at UMKC called “Getting High in America.”  My connections at UMKC through the History Department made that possibility a reality.  I look forward to hearing Dr. Osborn’s short speech about the topic of “Whiskey as Medicine” while enjoying shot of whiskey at a cocktail party in the fall.

My second accomplishment was to connect the professional photography work of Bethany Wears to the project.  Bethany took the photos I have used in these blog entries about Wornall House and the more formal blog entries I am posting at the Kansas City Public Library’s Civil War on the Western Border website.  Bethany’s photos inspired me.  They really did.  The muse visited when I wrote the piece on the .44 lead ball for the library and I am proud of that work and most fortunate to get the opportunity to network with Jason Roe PhD at the library.  He is an editor with the mostest!  The thing is, Bethany does not work cheap.  She is a full-blown professional and charges around $175 an hour for her work.  So far, I have been able to get her work donated to the museum.  Will I be able to get Bethany to donate more of her time and work?  Stay tuned!

The six planned blog entries at the KCPL website coincide with the planned exhibit at the Wornall House.  Those blogs and my encyclopedia entries there are my best “published” work.  Each of those pieces are like notches on my pistol grips.  I’m a sure shot Border War history writer and those articles and blog entries are a record to prove it.  I look forward to adding more notches over the summer.

One other accomplishment, and I’m still holding my breath on this one, is in obtaining artifacts for the exhibit. The original theme of the project was Civil War Medicine.  As I have mentioned in previous blogs, the Wornall House does not own any artifacts that can be directly related to Civil War medicine.  Through my own creativity, I managed to connect the .44 caliber lead ball to medicine, but other than the bullet, the museum owns nothing medically related.  We have to come up with that stuff on our own.  Through my network of personal acquaintances at our restaurant, The Bean Counter Cafe’, I have an inside track with the folks that own the privately owned Steamboat Arabia Museum (SAM).  The SAM has  quite possibly the largest collection of antebellum artifacts in the world.  What they have medically related and what they may loan us for the exhibit remains to be seen.  It is a project in the works that may work out well and I owe that to my network–and the fine food and congenial atmosphere of our business.

I had a fair part in choosing the topics for the upcoming Wornall House exhibit and and I am taking on the responsibilities of researching and writing for the project beyond the terms of my internship.  I will be working over the summer because it so many ways the planned exhibit has become my baby.  With Anna Marie Tutera accepting a new position at the Kansas City Museum the Directors job at Wornall/Majors will be open.  I plan on throwing my hat in the ring if I get even half a chance to do so.  I know it is long shot, but if I were to get that gig, I would credit it to my personal network and the proverbial notches on my gun as much as my hard-earned and respectable MA in US History from an R-1.

Networks and Notches

Treasures of the Missouri Valley Room

Sweeney Automobile School Post Card, Courtesy MVSC.

Sweeney Automobile School Post Card, Courtesy MVSC.

By Matthew Reeves

As part of our internship, Natalie and I are researching historic buildings in Kansas City and writing brief architectural and historical summaries for each property. Finding information about historic structures has been challenging, especially for structures that have been repurposed several times. Churches proved to be particularly difficult to track down if the original congregations moved elsewhere. My hunt for these ephemeral histories led me to the Missouri Valley Special Collections.

The collections are accessible primary two ways: one, online via the digital galleries, and two, by visiting the Missouri Valley Room. There are some distinct advantages to the online sources. They are accessible from anywhere with an internet connection, and they available 24 hours a day. Even better, if the material is old enough to be in the public domain, then you can usually make digital copies for free. Nothing like downloading a series of books and carrying a library on your thumb drive!

But really, there’s something to be said about sitting down at a desk and leafing through tangible documents. That, and despite the wonders of Google, there’s an unbelievable amount of information that has not been digitized. So, if you really want to get into the historical nitty-gritty, you have to go to the sources.  And if you are researching a Kansas City or regional history topic, you should do yourself a favor and check out the Missouri Valley Special Collections. The collection’s catalogue is available online, and they have shocking breadth and depth – check it out for yourself!

Located on the fifth floor of the Kansas City Public Library’s Central Branch, The Missouri Valley Room is a free, open to the public research and reading space. You do have to sign up for a researcher card and store any bags or backpacks in lockers, but the process is easy and the staff are helpful and welcoming. Some books and manuscript sources are readily available for perusal, but you will need to request the bulk of the materials at the desk. They’ll buzz back for the item and it will be brought out to you. I found the collection’s extensive vertical files most helpful for our internship. For those that haven’t used them, vertical files are collections of articles, pamphlets, and other documents pertaining to specific topics. The library curates the files, saving items of note to the collection. I had the hardest time finding information about the Sweeney Auto School Building, but the vertical file had all sorts of informative goodies. The contents can be a bit haphazard, but like gambling, the uncertainty is part of the adventure.

One of the great things about historical research is that it takes all sorts of wonderful places.  Well, if you’re reading this blog, I assume that your definition of wonderful places at least somewhat overlaps with mine. Libraries, archives, and other knowledge repositories certainly occupy a spot near the top of my list, making the MIssouri Valley Room is a new favorite haunt for making history in Kansas City.

 

Rumors of Murder at the Wornall House

Frank C. Wornall's memoir of the Wornall House is missing a few pages. Do the missing pages point to murder? (photo by bethanywearsphotography.com)

Frank C. Wornall’s memoir of the Wornall House is missing a few pages. Do the missing pages point to murder? (photo by bethanywearsphotography.com)

By Tony Lawson

When I first became familiar with the Wornall House history, one of the stories I heard was the tale of wounded Confederate soldiers recuperating in the second floor children’s bedroom.  When the Union troops moved in and pushed Shelby’s troops back south they found the Wornall House being used as a regimental field hospital and the wounded Confederate soldiers inside.  Local lore claims Union troops came into the bedroom and bludgeoned to death several wounded Confederate soldiers to make way for their own comrades wounded in the Battle of Westport.  I was told that that plaster on the first floor ceilings had to be replaced from the blood that had oozed through from this event and that there still remained blood stains on the bedroom floor. Someone suggested we call in the police department forensics team to spray Luminol and whip out the black lights.

As I dig through the primary source material I have yet to find hard evidence that these murders occurred at the Wornall House.  I did find that all the floorboards in the home were replaced sometime in the early twentieth century when plumbing, gas and electricity were installed.  So, cancel that call for Luminol.  There is nothing in Frank C. Wornall’s papers that explicitly tells this story, however, he does cryptically say that after the battle the Missouri State Militia officers had to use their sabers and other means to prevent the less disciplined troops of the Enrolled Missouri Militia “from killing them all.”

Frank apparently repeated this story several times in speeches that he gave over his long lifetime.  In those cases, Inflection and tone would have been provided, however, in text form, that statement is perfectly vague.  Does he mean some were killed and others were not?  Or, does it mean, the EMM troops wanted to kill them all.  It hints at the story of murder, but it is not conclusive of anything other than there was a confrontation between MSM officers and EMM troops over the handling of wounded Confederate prisoners at Wornall House. The confrontation nearly became violent at the least and at most it was the violent and cold blooded murder of wounded prisoners that has been obscured and forgotten by the general tumult of the war and its aftermath.

Additional evidence of this event is hinted at in the Wornall’s recounting of the battle.  Both Frank and his father, John, mention the presence of seven dead Confederate soldiers on the southwest lawn.  One of these was a colonel and a makeshift rail fence had been constructed around his body.  There were surely lots of Confederate dead lying around the Wornall farm; why do they both mention those seven? Were these the Confederates bludgeoned to death in the bedroom?

(As an interesting side note, I discovered that the officer left in charge of the Confederate prisoners at Wornall House was Colonel John F. Richards who later headed up the firm of Richards and Conover Hardware Co.  The building they built still stands as prime loft space in River Market area of KC.  http://www.kcloftspace.com/richardsconoverlofts/)

Adding to the frustration of getting to the bottom of this story are several pages missing from Frank C. Wornall’s typed manuscripts at both the Wornall House and the Jackson County Historical Society.  On top of that, the memoirs are the recollections of a nine-year-old boy writing some 70 years after the event.  Everything should be taken with a small grain of salt.

Despite the paucity of hard evidence, my research tells me this story is completely believable.  Troops under the Enrolled Missouri Militia were often locals with long standing scores to settle with Missourians.  This region was the scene of the bloodiest most violent civilian insurrection in American history.  Bushwhackers and Union troops regularly tortured, hung, scalped and defaced one another’s corpses and neither side was known for taking live prisoners.  Regular army troops in pitched battles were different though.  At least they were supposed to be.

I did find evidence of Confederate prisoners being executed at the Battle of Westport, but that event did not occur at the Wornall House.  That happened after McGhee’s charge to capture Union cannons in what is now north Loose Park.  That charge marked the high point of the battle and Price’s 1863 Missouri “expedition.”  (During that charge there occurred an event rarely recorded in Civil War battles; two opposing officers shot and wounded one another with their sidearms.)  The first charge initially failed, a later second charge captured the Union position and Confederates discovered the bodies of comrades who had been captured and then executed in the first charge.  Were these the seven dead on the Wornall lawn and the source of the story of murder at Wornall?  Are there motivations for stories such as this, true of not, to be propagated after the war?

I do not know the answers to these questions.  I do know I will keep researching to learn what I can with the knowledge that a true mystery can never be solved…it can only be made a better mystery.