Monthly Archives: May 2014

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.

Renaming and Truck Logs

By Whitney Knowles

With the start of this work week, I have been deep in truck logs. I am writing them down so that we can input them for future use. The American Truck Historical Society  has been busy with finishing and connecting the loose ends for the show. So I am doing the work that still needs to be done, even if we are unsure about how it will come together in pass-perfect. I have two walls of files that need to be written down and it only took me 3 days to finish. Pretty proud of myself for it. The logs of bodies, mud flaps and colors are important since truck lovers need the information for upkeep and restoring old trucks. They call the ATHS for help when they come to dead ends in their research.

The rest of the afternoon I have been redoing the names in the data base. Pass-perfect needs to have information inputted the same way or the data gets mixed up. I was told to look over all the names in the data base and make sure that last names go before first names. It took awhile since the data jumped all over the list but I think that I have gotten all the names redone.


By Caitlin Eckard

The past couple weeks at ATHS have been centered around their convention at the end of May. Every year this is their annual event, where people can hear about new events happening at ATHS, and it helps attract new members. I am learning a lot about the many tasks that need to be done in order for things to run smoothly. Meaning- everybody wears many different hats at ATHS. This is a phrase that I have heard repeatedly working there, and at other institutions. I have really come to understand it at ATHS, because everybody pitches in and does whatever work needs to be done. This has been especially true the past month.

I will also be helping out at the convention, luckily it’s in Springfield this year, so it’s relatively close by. I hope to learn more about the organization there, and hopefully meet some of the members, and ask them where they would like to see ATHS go in the future. Fundraising is such an important aspect of working in a museum or an historical society, (unless of course it’s the Smithsonian)  so I plan on learning what works, what doesn’t, and possibly new things to try. I am taking a fundraising class next year, so hopefully this will give me a good background to start from.

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 Ready for a Show

By Whitney Knowles

So I know that its been awhile since I last blogged but the Truck Show is coming up at the end of the month!! Things have been really busy getting shirts in, the WIFI up and running and getting members signed up to show off their babies (trucks I mean). The American Truck Historical society has had me counting truck bumper plack. They are really nice metal ones with a lovely blue truck on it. I would slap one on my car if I could. I guess they give them to all the visitors that come display their trucks. Also we are moving around the back area for the visitors that are coming early for the show.

Also I have been writing down the truck logs for future use. We are not sure now we are going to enter the information that I gathered into pass-perfect. I am going to finish writing down the logs when I come back. The logs are purchases and parts from different companies. They still have the information since the most asked questions are about restoring a truck or maintaining one. The logs help keep us informed on trucks that are rare and hard to find.

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

Chief Interest

By Natalie Walker

Since this is my last blog post for my internship, I decided to do a little reading in an attempt to find some overarching quote that would inspire people to think more deeply about Public History and its importance. Suffice it to say, I found myself pouring over the pages of Freeman Tilden’s Interpreting Our Heritage because his concepts are so simple and brilliantly obvious.  At the same time, his words remind me why I have a passion for Public History and why I know I want to pursue a career in the Museum field.

So, what does this have to do with Historic Preservation (where I have been interning the past semester)? Well, in the past four months, I have found myself to be exactly the kind of person that Tilden describes in his book. I, like anyone else, require some sort of a connection to whatever I am learning, reading, writing, or viewing.  Not just any connection, but a personal connection that allows me to relate to something through my own life experience. Tilden describes this as “the visitor’s chief interest” which is “whatever touches his personality, his experiences, and his ideals.” Essentially, if a museum, a national park, or, even a guidebook to Kansas City’s historic buildings and neighborhoods does not establish a personal connection with the visitor/reader then it will not keep their interest.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetI can look back on my time of research and writing and distinctly remember moments when I began researching a site and realized I had driven by it a number of times or even been to the location.  Knowing the history of a place automatically made it seem important to me, not to mention the fact that I had written about it, so I was personally invested.  As I wrote the sites, I tried to remember that I was not the only one who would potentially develop a chief interest in some part of the guidebook based on its relevance to their own life. It was thoughts like these that made me want to pull out as much history as possible so that someone reading the site description might find a personal connection with the location because they live near it or drive by it, or any other myriad of reasons.

Kansas-City-Missouri-Downtown_at_TwighlightI am truly grateful for my internship experience. Of course, it was definitely a challenge to learn architecture terms and to write about them with confidence, but I now feel connected to Kansas City in a way I never thought possible. Moreover, I was fortunate enough to take part in making real, public history.  My underlying goal during this project was to latch onto the reader’s chief interest by reminding future readers of the rich history in their backyards that will hopefully spark a personal connection because of the relevance of Kansas City History to their own lives.

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.