Monthly Archives: April 2014

Ars Moriendi — The Good Death

By Tony Lawson

.44 caliber lead ball found at the Wornall House archaeological excavation, summer 2013.  (Photo by

.44 caliber lead ball found at the Wornall House archaeological excavation, summer 2013. (Photo by

I had the opportunity to attend a planning meeting for the upcoming museum exhibits at the Wornall House Museum.  At the meeting were the director of the Wornall-Majors House museums, the director of Clendening Medical Library,  and the CEO of the Metropolitan Medical Society of Greater Kansas City.  It was one of the first times in my life that all my reading and research paid off a bit in a professional manner and I could speak as an authority on a historical matter.  In this case the topic was death in the Civil War.  I was able to relate the following primary and secondary evidence to make a clear and concise case about Victorian notions of death and dying and tie it directly to the historical narrative we are constructing at Wornall House.

Once again in the Wornall House stories and histories, I have found two different versions of a single tale.  This one involves 9-year old Frank Wornall and his reminisces of the Battle of Westport.  According to Frank’s stories of the Wornall House, at some point a lone wounded Confederate soldier appeared at the back door of the home.  The man had been shot through the jaw and it was nearly removed.  He could not speak, only make wild gestures with his hands and eyes.  Somehow it was communicated to Frank that the man was refused admission at the regimental hospital because he was not a member of the regiment.

Frank had ” the run of the house” to take care of the wounded man and led him to the cistern where he bathed and bandaged the man’s wounds.  The man was most grateful and soon recovered enough to be on his way toward home and family where he could be nursed back to health.  That’s one version of the story.

The other version of this story begins the same, but ends with young Frank Wornall cradling the wounded soldier in his arms on the families lawn near the cistern.  In this version the event occurred as the Battle of Westport was ending and Confederate troops were in retreat from Union troops approaching the Wornall House, which had been converted to a Confederate field hospital.  A Confederate cavalry soldier rode up on his horse and looked down at the scene with Frank comforting the wounded soldier on the lawn.  The mounted soldier removed his pistol from its holster and shot the wounded man dead.

When Frank asked the soldier why he had shot the wounded man in seeming cold-blood, the soldier replied that it was much better for the man to die in the arms and warm comfort of friends than in the hands of the enemy.

While this version of the story shocks modern sensibilities and conflicts with contemporary morals in its violence, it actually epitomizes Victorian Era notions of the ars moriendi–The Art of Dying.  The societies that brought forth the Civil War witnessed death and dying on an unprecedented scale and had to find ways to deal with the unimaginable losses of so many men in the prime of their lives, so very far from their homes.  Hospitals were places for indigents and the homeless in which to die; people in good standing with their God, communities and families spent their last hours and died at home surrounded by loved ones recounting the deeds of a life well lived. That was the concept of a good death and the Civil War destroyed it.

Being blown to atoms by modern artillery was nearly incomprehensible to the Victorian Era mindset.  Inglorious death from camp diseases cheated would be heroes from their deeds. Dying away from home while surrounded by your enemy or strangers flew in the face of the concept of a good death.  That was not cold-blooded murder on the Wornall’s lawn; it was has hot-blooded mercy.  That cavalry soldiers lead ball was a gift; the gift of a good death.

Trucking into the Future

By Whitney Knowles

The tasks of being an intern at The American Truck Historical  Society  has been filled with logging files into the computer and working on the pile of magazines that I have been working on. The logging into the system seems to be going pretty smoothly. I am putting the information from the folders of articles and photos that are located in their reference section. They are wanting to have an easier and quicker way to gather information from their collection and maybe, one day, to be online for their members to look up themselves.  It makes sense since someone who is writing the information for me to input into the system is doing the same work I am doing with the magazines.

The magazines are still taking up most of my time right now. So far I have filled 12 filing cabinets of magazines. Looking through them, I start to see patterns that the trucking world faced over the years. An example is that all the different brands of magazines change art work with the decades from old fashion 60’s to the land of tie dye and mom jeans of the 70’s. I enjoy the big hair and trucker hats of the 80’s the most. Another example is how to help truckers deal with the increase of technology. What we think is old new an out of date, is showcased in the pages as brand new and hard to understand. Crazy to think what future generations will think about our technology and clothing fads.

“Old Hattie” and Foucault’s Field Day

By Tony Lawson

KC Star newsper clipping from the Wornall House archives at the Jackson County Historical Society

KC Star newsper clipping from the Wornall House archives at the Jackson County Historical Society

Since reading Dr. Mutti-Burke’s book, On Slavery’s Border: Missouri’s Small-Slaveholding Families 1815-1865 in my first semester of grad school, I have become interested in power relationships between enslaved African-Americans and their said “masters” in Missouri.  No two relationships were quite the same and they were as varied and diverse as the people and personalities that entered into them.  The only thing that characterizes all of these relationships is that the folks with the white skin were supposed to be the ones in control.

Michel Foucault would have a field day with a study of the following power relationship.

While researching for the Wornall House Museum project, I stumbled across a newspaper clipping at the Jackson County Historical Society that caught my eye.  It is a type of juicy tid-bit of history that displays how easily our society was willing to first, elide the sins of slavery and second, a bit of that dynamic of slave-master power relationships.

Like many of the Wornall stories, I am finding a couple of differing versions.  Here is one version of “Old Hattie.”  This article is undated and clipped from the Kansas City Star and it tells the story of “Old Hattie.”  My research informs me the article is circa December 1927.

At a slave auction in 1855 at Boone’s Store in Westport (now Kelley’s Bar) there was up for bid a 13-year-old slave girl named Hattie.  She was about to be sold to a “cruel” master and begged a “kindly looking” man to purchase her instead.  That man was Westport trader and city father, Charles Kearney.  He was cashing in on the Santa Fe wool trade before the war and apparently had cash to spare.  The bidding became heated until Hattie finally sold to Kearney for $1300.  That was a fortune in those days.

Kearney took Hattie home and set her “free” . . . to work for the Kearney family for the rest of her life.  And she did just that.  She rose two generations of Kearney’s children, became ingrained in the family’s life, and adopted the family name.  Colonel Kearney’s oldest daughter, Julia, married Frank Wornall, and it appears that for a time Hattie lived at Wornall House raising the Wornall children.  She reared children and cooked meals and likely knew those families better than they knew themselves.  In her later years the extended family members would squabble over which family would get the privilege of having Hattie be the live-in maid/nanny.  She lived to be 91 years old and enjoyed “listening in” to the radio in her last days.

Irony abounds in this story.

From our twenty-first century perspective it is easy to see the irony of buying a person, taking them home , and setting them “free” to work for your family until you die.  But perhaps more nuanced in the story is the ultimate power Hattie wielded over the Kearney and Wornall families.  Then again, perhaps not: the headline practically of screams about Hattie’s power.  What do you think?

Puzzle Master

By Natalie Walker

Researching is sometimes incredibly boring. I know as a History major I probably should not say that, but I am sure many of you would agree that it often feels monotonous, tedious, and tiresome. It certainly feels that way when you have been researching something for quite some time and even though you have a few leads, nothing seems to check it entirely.  There are also those rare moments in which something does reveal itself and even if no one else can recognize the importance of the moment, you yourself feel that you are the ultimate puzzle master, fitting the pieces together slowly but surely.

While working on some final research for some of the more illusive churches within my districts, I discovered an entirely new way to research. Well, I would say that it is not new to everyone, but certainly to myself. I started by working backwards, looking at the website of the newest congregation that occupies the church I had been searching for. When that turned up very little I visited the Missouri Valley Room, and again, no such luck. I was momentarily excited because their seemed to be a wealth of information on the church I was looking into, Paseo Christian Church, though the MVSP only had information on the West Paseo Christian Church. Anyways, I finally took the problem to my internship advisor at City Hall and we both attempted to unravel the secrets surrounding the church such as architecture and the original congregation. Unfortunately, we had little success.Eventually, after a LOT of googling I learned a very brief history of the church. That said, it certainly was not enough to write a full paragraph about. While I did have the architectural information and a little information on the first congregation, I still wanted a more complete history of the church’s function in the city today.

Screen Shot 2014-04-11 at 9.54.37 PMSince starting this internship, Google Earth has been one of my best friends. I use it to maneuver around the buildings and try to understand the architectural influences of a structure, etc. Well after circling around the building at least a dozen times, I noticed an engraving on a stone tablet above the back (probably basement) entrance to the church. (the image is not fantastic, but I think it captures the awesomeness that is Google Earth). It read “Carver Baptist Bible Institute.” So now I had my answer, or at least an interesting lead. I quickly learned that the Carver Baptist Bible Institute (CBBI) shares this structure with the current congregation, Grace Baptist Church. Anyways, the CBBI has its historical roots in the “Gospel Ambassadors” which was a teacher training ministry for the inner KC area and was founded by a woman named Mrs. Eva Jantz Blevins, a returning missionary from Africa.

Once I had made this discovery, however small it may be, I felt truly accomplished. Like I had made a real accomplishment, not just as an intern, but as a researcher. Of course, this information is not unavailable to the public so I cannot say that I made some significant contribution to local KC History, but I nevertheless felt excited that I had made even the smallest discovery.

Reflecting on History

By Elizabeth Perry

I have been working on the survivor testimony transcripts for most of my time at MCHE, but last week I participated in something a little different. The MCHE hosts their yearly White Rose Student Essay Contest, which is open to students in 8th-12th grade in eastern Kansas and western Missouri. I got to help judge several of the essays for the contest at the 8th and 9th grade level. The specific topic of the essay changes each year, and this year the essay prompt asked students to describe the Nazis’ work at Auschwitz in preparation for the Jewish deportations from Hungary. The MCHE provides multiple sources for students to use for their essay, including survivor testimonies. The students are also required to relate the experience of a Jewish Hungarian individual or family to their research, as well as discuss how they can demonstrate what they have learned about the Holocaust.

I was impressed with the essays I got to read – successfully meeting the prompt requires a variety of historical research skills, including summarizing information comprehensively, citing sources, relating different sources to each other, and interpreting historical information. The prompt also asked the students to define an action they could take to demonstrate what they’ve learned about the Holocaust, a task that (I hope) makes them aware of how their actions can influence the world around them. The MCHE not only provides resources for Holocaust study, but also encourages discussions about the Holocaust and provides opportunities for students to learn how to use and talk about these resources.

This experience made me think about how we approach studying the Holocaust – often from either an historical or literary standpoint. The essay prompt asked for a little of both, requiring students to give historical context as well as reflect on its meanings. The first time I learned about the Holocaust, I learned about it from a literary perspective – probably like many other middle school students, I read Night by Elie Wiesel in my language arts class. About seven years later in college, I re-read Night for another class, and I was shocked at how little I remembered from such a striking book. Thinking back on it, I think that I did not have the proper historical context to understand the content of the book properly enough for the information to stick. As far as I remember, we had not yet talked about the Holocaust in my history classes, so Night was my introduction. I wish I had known more about the historical context, so maybe the book would have meant more to me at the time. I think the MCHE essay brings these together well, asking for students to research historical context as well as to reflect on the meaning of what they find.

Did You Know?

While the information I will discuss in this post is probably common knowledge, I felt like it was fascinating enough that it deserved some more attention. Most of my posts have focused on interesting bits of information I have found or how my internship has changed my perception of Kansas City, but this post is simply about a site I did some research on and was truly surprised by the results…

Screen Shot 2014-04-11 at 5.05.02 PMIf you are a native of Kansas City or familiar with the local history, then the name Pendergast is probably familiar. He was the political mob boss who, under the dictation of the aptly named “Pendergast Machine,” controlled the politics and other aspects of Kansas City. One of his “associates,” Henry McElroy, served as the City Manager during the tumultuous years that Pendergast was in control. McElroy lived at 21 W 57th Street (to the right is a google map image of his house – blue) with his wife Marie and daughter, Mary. On May 27, 1933, four men drove up to the McElroy residence and kidnapped Mary, holding her hostage for 34 hours at a ransom total of $30, 000 – quite a sum for the 1930s.

photoWhen Mary (pictured left) was finally returned, the four kidnappers were captured and received their sentencing. What I found fascinating about this case is the fact that the ringleader of this criminals, Walter McGee was actually sentenced to death. In fact, a punishment so severe had never been given to a kidnapping offense in US history before! It is compelling that this specific punishment was passed considering Mary’s father had so much influence and was of course, infuriated by the crime. Not to mention, it is a significant judicial decision for KC and the U.S.

I think this might be one of the most interesting stories I have stumbled upon while working on this internship, partly because it was and is so sensational and also because it demonstrates the intriguing local history in Kansas City. Since I began this internship I have found it to be incredibly enlightening and informative on all things KC. I find myself eagerly spouting off new information to my friends and family who probably only feign interest in my newest story. Overall, I think this internship has not only improved my research abilities, but it has made me more aware of the rich history that we drive and walk past everyday.


You can read the full story of Mary McElroy’s Kidnapping at the KC Public Library website:

Some Things are Better Left to the Pros

By Tony Lawsom

One of my tasks as an intern has been to research and write content articles and artifact descriptions that will appear in the exhibit at the Wornall House opening next fall entitled, “Farmstead to Field Hospital: A Family in the Crossfire of War and Modern-Day Medicine in the Making”.  I’m experiencing a total immersion type of education in the history of the Wornall House, Civil War Medicine and the the Battle of Westport. I love my “job.”  Ask me anything. One of the things I am working on are newsletter blurbs for publicity and PR.  Once such article is on chloroform.

There were 1500 casualties after the three day Battle of Westport and the Wornall House became one of six local hospitals to care for the wounded.  I am certain surgeons used a lot of chloroform at the Wornall House and, using the creative imagination of an historian, I wrote a blog type of article where 9 year-old Frank Wornall perhaps caught a whiff of that sickly sweet smelling stuff as he tended to the wounded in his home after the battle.  The article I wrote was well researched and Jason Roe PhD at the Kansas City Public Library provided expert editing advice.  What the article needed to top it off and grab attention was quality photos of a vintage chloroform bottle.

But wait, there’s a catch:  The Wornall House Museum does not posses any Civil War era medical equipment, has no research library to speak of, and must beg, borrow, and ask permission to use nearly every item they are coming up with for the exhibits…including any photos of chloroform bottles.  And…there’s a deadline for the article to make into the April newsletter for the Kansas City Public Library newsletter.  Tonight!  By 5 pm!  

I tried to rescue the last minute situation by contacting Clendening Medical Library.  They have old chloroform bottles.  I’ll drive down there with that high quality digital Nikon camera I bought my wife twelve years ago and take some good pictures my dang self and save the day.

I thought about trying to snag our employee, Bethany, from our restaurant for the job. She runs a successful part-time photography business and takes stunning photos. I stopped by the cafe’ on my way downtown and the place was packed.  The look on my wife’s face let me know to not even ask to take Bethany away, not even for even a minute.  I’d have to take the photos myself.

Once I got to Clendening, I had to use all of my Irish charm to get them to walk across the giant rats maze that is KU Medical Center campus and please unlock the cabinet, take out the bottles and let me snap some shots.  My charm must have worked. They were very pleasant, cooperative, and even became interested in my project.  They even let me take some shots of a pencil drawing of a doctor administering chloroform to a patient.  That drawing gave me the willies.

I was snapping and clicking away with the camera like Jimmy Olson.  I was also blabbering away, schmoozing it up, and piling on my pleasant charms like a used car salesman at one of those we-finance-you-car-lots.  And apparently I was not paying any attention to what in the world I was doing with my wife’s over-complicated digital camera.

I got back to the the car all excited about my work and pleased with my genius and congeniality in the face of short notice.  I scrolled through the pics to see what I got.  I swear that I aimed, focused, and pushed the button twenty times on three or four items from several angle.  I even heard the click and saw a few flashes.  This is the total of what I got.  Two photos that look like this.

Nice shot...of the far wall.

Lesson learned: Some things are better left to the pros.  For the upcoming amputation kit photos: I’m going to shanghai Bethany for the job. On the bright side, The National Museum of Civil War Medicine e-mailed a couple pictures of chloroform bottles along with permission to use them at about the same time I was taking these lovely shots at Clendening Library.  They will accompany the article in the newsletter that you will be able to find here in a week or two.



Summer Internship Opportunity at the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education

The Midwest Center for Holocaust Education seeks a summer intern who will become familiar with local survivor testimony through the transcription of oral history videos. Additional tasks in support of the project may include conducting research to identify hard copy and web-based resources to contextualize and support each survivor story. The project requires a basic understanding of modern European and Holocaust history. A familiarity with European languages and accents is beneficial. Flexible scheduling of hours Monday-Thursday on a consistent schedule.

Interested applicants should send initial inquiries to Jessica Rockhold, Director of Education, and follow the instruction on the How to Apply page. Applications will be accepted until the position is filled.

Finally, a real Historian

Ok… Not really. I am not a real Historian yet, but spending this past Saturday in the Missouri Valley Special Collections sure made me feel that way. It was the first time I have researched there, although I have worked with their website.  I was actually kind of nervous to visit the Special Collections because I have never conducted research in that capacity and while I was confident that they had some of the stuff I was looking for, I could not really be sure until I began researching.

Lib. CardWhen I arrived, I found the staff to be quite attentive and helpful. They had me write down a list of things I was looking for with the collection number or finding aid and then retrieved it for me. I also get an official ‘Research Card’ which I am probably way too excited about.

As they brought me out document after document, I began to feel overwhelmed and hoped that I was finding the right information. Sometimes the documents were filled with all the right information and other times I only found a sentence or two relating to my research. All that to say, I was still impressed with the vast amount of information stored away in their archives in vertical files. I only found a few items that I needed to research that the MVSC did not have any documentation for.

photoPerhaps my best success was with the church histories that are contained in manilla folders in the vertical files. Not only did these contain detailed architectural histories, but also rich detail about the history of the church from its formation (usually in the late 1800s) to its present congregation and location. This information was helpful because some of the other churches I have researched, their information located in Religious Property Surveys, are more about architecture and make it difficult to tease out the history of the congregation itself or religious organization. To the left is an example of one of the churches, Country Club Christian Church, and an opening history that the author provided.

Overall, I found my experience at the MVSC to be helpful an beneficial.  I almost felt like a real Historian as I combed through archival materials. The staff there is great and more than willing to help you research. If you are working on a project about Kansas City or Missouri history, this is the place to go!


Same Project, Different Day

By Caitlin Eckard

Like Whitney said, things at ATHS are fairly the same day to day. I have been working on incorporating their photo catalog into PastPerfect, which is what I do pretty much every day I am there. I thought this work would be very boring and tedious, but I actually really enjoy it. It makes the day go by much faster, and I am learning a lot about how to categorize certain photos. I have only made it to page 21 of the first binder, and there are four more binders full of photo details that I will hopefully get to some day. It seems as though my work is unending, but my superiors tell me I am doing a great job, so that is promising.

I did receive some exciting news a couple weeks ago. ATHS has offered me a part time job through the summer and possible through December. I will be digitizing and uploading the aforementioned photos to the catalog. I am quite excited about this new prospect, because it will be excellent work experience, and I will be pretty much working on my own, which is nice too. I am also going to help volunteer at their annual convention which is in Springfield, Missouri this year. It is the last week of May, and I will be helping with merchandise sales. I haven’t really done anything like this before, and hopefully it will be interesting to see how they raise money for their organization. I also hope to learn a thing or two about trucks and trucking!