The Ozarks Playground Association

The Ozarks Playground Association (OPA) was founded in 1919 to promote tourism in the Ozarks. Headquartered in Joplin, the association published maps and brochures highlighting towns, resorts, attractions, and points of interest for visitors. The association eventually dissolved in 1979. Several of the maps and brochures have survived, but to this day, it is unknown what happened to the organization’s papers, i.e. minutes of meetings, correspondence, etc.

If you know of a family member who was involved with the OPA or know about any individuals who may have OPA material, drop us a line. Although it is of relatively little monetary value, the papers of the OPA (if the papers still exist) are an invaluable part of Ozark history, and need to be preserved for future generations.

A Car Accident

A sketch of one of Joplin's early car accidents.

“Great Excitement prevailed for a time, but this soon subsided…” In 1906, automobiles were still a new and intriguing sight on the streets of Joplin. The motorized fire engines were still a dream and the road mainly belonged to horse drawn buggies, wagons and trolleys. Thus, it was still quite a newsworthy event when one of the new machines accidentally plowed through the front of A.C. Webb’s automobile establishment at 2nd and Joplin street. A Joplin paper described the event:

“The automobile has always been noted for its liability to do things, but this characteristic was fully demonstrated yesterday afternoon when a runabout of this make crashed…tearing down a large portion of the building, breaking the glass in both windows and doors and not injuring the machine in the least.”

The unfortunate driver was Gus Mattes who had attempted to drive the vehicle into Webb’s shop but instead failed to slow down and completely missed the entrance, but did not miss the brick wall (“with great force.”) Surprisingly, despite the fact that Webb’s shop had suffered damage described alternatively as “demolished” and “splintered” the actual automobile received only a “crack in the glass of one of the lamps.” Before the day was done, the shop was already under repair, and undoubtedly, Mr. Mattes’ vehicle as well.

Incidentally, A.C. Webb’s shop was only a few blocks away from the Joplin Fire Department. When Joplin firemen responded to a fire a couple years later behind a steering wheel, its creator was Webb.

The Architectural Legacy of Garstang & Rea: Barbee Park’s Grandstand

Edward Knell is credited with bringing the first “bred” race horse to Jasper County (as well the “art of embalming”) in 1889. The lucky equine was named “Ben McGregor” and cost Knell an estimated $3,000 dollars, quite the figure at the time. However, as early as 1872, even before Joplin came into existence, a race track was built just south of town that ran a half-mile long. Another race track was built in 1879, along with stables, an agricultural hall, and a grandstand. Gilbert Barbee, one time owner of the Joplin Globe, House of Lords, and Democratic party boss, bought this park and named it Barbee Park. The grandstand featured in both images was designed by Garstang & Rea for Gilbert Barbee’s “driving park” for a price of $6,500.

Barbee Park was home to countless horse races, but also served as the venue for such events like the Firemen’s Tournament that was held on the grounds in 1908. It was at the park where Joplinites got their first real glimpse of the speeding prowess of some of the first motorized fire engines in the nation, as well one of the last fire engine horse team races in the city’s history. Unfortunately for Barbee, in the middle of an April night in 1909, the grand stand caught fire and was a complete loss, despite the best efforts of Joplin’s fire department. The grand stand was never rebuilt and in the 1920s, Barbee’s son leveled the track area to develop a neighborhood.

As Joplin history expert Leslie Simpson writes in her book, Now and Then and Again: Joplin Historic Architecture, “He built the Barbee Court addition right on the old race course, preserving the graceful oval of elm trees that once surrounded it…The outline of the old race track can be traced by looping around from 17th to 19th Streets from Maiden Lane to the alley between Porter and Harlem Avenues.”

Harlem Avenue today.

The Comet Parties of Joplin

A photograph of the comet in 1910 via Wikipedia.

The year 1910 witnessed the passing of one of America’s greatest authors and one of the galaxy’s most famous celestial events. Missourian and celebrated author Mark Twain was born in 1835, the same year that Halley’s Comet made an appearance, and by sheer coincidence, he died shortly after the comet graced the heavens once again in 1910. The comet’s brief appearance sparked interested across the world and Joplinites took note.

The comet, which only returns every 75 to 76 years, was quite the big deal and Joplinites were not going to miss out on enjoying it. Invitations were sent to friends and family that stated, “You are cordially invited to attend a Halley comet party which will be held on the roof of our home tomorrow morning at 3:30 o’clock,” or so the Joplin Daily Globe claimed in the May of 1910 in its coverage of the once in a lifetime event. The same article noted that comet gazers had an extra treat in the presence of a spectacular Venus, the “celestial celebrity.” The paper claimed hundreds of Joplin residents were awake for the opportunity to see the visitor, which became visible around 3:45 am and grew brighter over the next thirty minutes. The Halley’s Comet parties were, the headline proclaimed, “the Latest and Most Popular Functions.”

The last time Halley’s Comet visited Joplin, as well the rest of the planet, was 1986. For those who missed it they will have to wait until 2061.

Take Me Out to Lakeside

Via Wikipedia.

Via Wikipedia.

African American ragtime musician James Scott, who spent his formative years in Carthage, Missouri, entertained crowds at Lakeside Park, just outside Joplin. In 1914, Scott wrote music for a song he called, “Take Me Out to Lakeside.” The words are by Ida Miller.

Take Me Out to Lakeside (1914)

First verse:

Take me to “Lake-Side” that beautiful place,
Where your life seems complete,
Orchestras playing and everyone swaying gives you such a treat,
Dancing and glancing with smiles so entrancing is all you can see
The Waltz hesitation is all the sensation,
Oh come and dance with me.


Take me out to Lakeside Sunday afternoon,
Where the band is playing, Flowers all in bloom,
Boys and girls together happy as a lark,
Take me out to “Lake-Side”
Beautiful Lake-side Park, park.

Second verse:

When twilight draws near and the whole world seems drear,
And you’ve no place to go,
You may sit guessing but no thought expressing The pleasures you love so,
You think of your only while you feel so lonely it all
Seems a dream
So while you are pining there comes a reminding,
A glorious thought it seems.


Take me out to Lakeside Sunday afternoon,
Where the band is playing, Flowers all in bloom,
Boys and girls together happy as a lark,
Take me out to “Lake-Side”
Beautiful Lake-side Park, park.

To listen to a sample of the song, visit this link at Pandora Radio.

Joplin Miners: 1910 Western Association Champs

Our next photograph in the Joplin Miners series is the 1910 Joplin Miners.

1910 Joplin Miners: 1) Richard Rohn, 2) Marc Hall, 3) Ralph Bell, 4) George Watson, 5) Bruce Ross, 6) Harry Ellis, 7) Howie Gregory, 8 ) Ed Hawk, 9) W. Burton, 10) Earl Hamilton, 11) Thomas Harlow, 12) Lowthers, 13)Joe Kelly, 14) Bert Lamb.

In 1910, the Joplin Miners finished first in the Western Association and played their games at Cox Baseball Park. Richard Rohn, aka, Dick Rohn, was a hold over from the 1907 team. Ed Hawk, from Exeter, Missouri, made it to the St. Louis Browns in the Majors. While Joe Kelly went on to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs, and the Boston Braves.

Joplin Miners: 1907

Baseball was an ever present pastime in Joplin, be it amateur or professional. Of the latter, the Miners held Joplin’s attention. In addition to our current series from the portfolio of Alfred W. Rea, we are going to present a short series of four team photographs of the Joplin Miners. Our first is the team from 1907:

1907 Joplin Miners

The 1907 Joplin Miners: 1) Owens, 2) Sylvester Oleson, 3) Charles Flemming, 4) Roy Gill, 5) Dick Rohn, 6) Jack Fillman, 7) Tony Vanderhill, 8 ) Manager Louis Armstrong, 9) Guy Harrington, 10) Abner Persch, 11) Conrad Welsch, 12) William George, 13) John Root, 14) Cecil Bankhead.

The 1907 Joplin Miners played at Cox Baseball Park in the Western Association League. Both Vanderhill and Fillman were “veteran” players who had played on previous Miners teams.

The Lady in the Window

If you have ever lived in  Joplin, you have undoubtedly heard about the House of Lords.  Usually one hears a story that goes like this: Bar on the bottom floor, gambling on the second floor, and a brothel on the third floor.  After reading years of Joplin newspapers, we can honestly say that yes, there is truth in the story. There were slot machines, there were countless rounds served at the bar, and yes, there were prostitutes working the building. This excerpt from a letter describes what one resident saw one day while working downtown:

Joplin Main Street

On the left, the House of Lords, on the right, the Joplin Hotel. Neither quite shared the same clientele.

“Two weeks ago last Saturday night, I, stood in front of the Joplin Hotel, and such a sight as was seen on the opposite side of the street cannot be forgotten.  A drunken, brazen, disgusting prostitute stood in front of a window in the third story of the House of Lords as naked as when she came into the world, in plain view of the hundreds of people walking up and down the street, and not an officer with the courage or decency to prevent it.  Ladies were obliged to turn their faces or leave the street; and I am told that the proprietor of the hotel cannot assign a lady a front room because of the character of the occupants in the building across the street.  Sodom and Gomorrah were never sunk as deep in the depths of infamy and vice as this, and the prayers of the wives and mothers of Joplin will be answered.”

The Way It Was

Once in a while we find a wonderful glimpse into life in early Joplin. One of these is the article, “’Twas Only a Joke” by Robert S. Thurman of the University of Tennessee. Thurman recounts the practical jokes that people played on one another in Joplin at the turn of the century.

Although miners worked long hours in hazardous conditions, they found time to play jokes on one another. Those who suffered the brunt of the jokes were often greenhorns, who Joplin miners dubbed “dummies,” and other outsiders who decided to try their hand at mining.

Thurman recounted the story of two men who went into the mining business together at Duenweg. Their mine operation consisted of a pick, shovel, a windlass and can, some drills, blasting powder, and a dummy to help them. The two partners hired a man from Platte County, Missouri, to work as their dummy. Unbeknownst to them, the dummy was an out-of-work miner with plenty of experience under his belt.

The two partners would explain the dummy’s tasks to him in the simplest terms because “a dummy wasn’t expected to know anything, especially if he came from Platte River.” The dummy would listen intently, nod his head that he understood, and carry out his tasks as instructed.

One day the two men were down in the mine shaft prepping a drill hole for blasting. Instead of returning to the surface, they called out, “Hey, Dummy! Do you see that wooden box over by the wagon, the one with a tarp pulled over it?” The dummy replied, “You mean the one with some red writing on it?” The miners yelled back, “That’s it. Now go over to it and get two of those sticks wrapped in brown paper and be careful. Then in the box next to it, get two of those shiny metal sticks and about four feet of the string in the same box. Bring them over here and let them down to us! But be careful with that stuff!”

The dummy, already well acquainted with dynamite from his days as a miner, was fed up with his bosses’ attitude. Having earned enough money to strike out on his own, he decided to have a little fun. He found two corn cobs and wrapped them in brown paper, then stuck a short fuse into each one. The dummy walked back to the mouth of the mine and called down to the two miners, “Are these the two sticks that you want?” The miners replied, “Yeah, that’s them. Did you get the shiny metal sticks and the string?” “Why, shore. What do you think I be? And I decided to be right helpful to you, too. I fixed them up so you can use them right now.”

With that, the dummy lit the fuses, dropped the corn cobs disguised as dynamite into the can, and quickly lowered it down the shaft to the two miners below. Chaos ensued and the dummy had his revenge.

Another trick that miners often played on dummies was to send them after a “mythical tool” called a “skyhook.” One such case occurred at the Old Athletic Mine. The mine had hired a dummy from Arkansas. Unfortunately for Arkansawyers, they were viewed as both inferior and gullible by Joplin mining men. On the dummy’s first day at work, the miners told him, “Dummy, go up to the toolshed and get a skyhook and hurry up with it.”

The dummy nodded his head and headed for the surface. But when he reached the top, instead of going to the company’s toolshed, he headed for town. Upon reaching a blacksmith’s shop, he went inside and asked, “Mister, can you make a skyhook?” The smithy looked at the dummy in surprise, “What do you want?” The dummy repeated, “A skyhook. Can you make one?” “Son,” the blacksmith responded, “someone is pulling your leg. There ain’t no such thing.” “Sure there is,” the dummy insisted, “Now here is how you make it.”

Two days went by and there was no sign of the dummy at the mine.  The miners laughed and figured he was too embarrassed to return. But toward the end of the second day, the mine whistle sounded two blasts, which meant everyone had to come to the surface. As the miners reached the top, they saw the mine superintendent, the dummy, and the biggest pair of ice tongs they had ever seen.

The superintendent called out to the one of the miners nicknamed Mockingbird. “Mockingbird, this man says you and the boys sent him after a skyhook. That right?” Mockingbird, so named because he whistled all the time, sheepishly responded, “Well, I guess we did something like that.”

The superintendent looked at the miners and said, “Well, he’s got it for you, but since I didn’t authorize it, I guess you boys will have to stand the charges for it. That will be two days’ wages for him, the bill for the blacksmith, and the cost of the dray for bringing it to the job. Now, three of you boys take that skyhook and hang it over by the office so you know where it is in case you ever need it again.”

Miners were not the only ones who played tricks. As was common in the Ozarks, newlyweds were often treated to shivarees. Sometimes the friends of the young couple would surround the house and ring cowbells and bang pots and pans all night long. Other times they would be taken to a nearby pond, stream, or horse trough for a dunking. Or, the couple would return home and find their furniture had been unceremoniously rearranged.

One couple, Dan and Frances, were determined to avoid any such foolishness. They decided they would stay in their house, lock the doors, and not come out. Their friends soon arrived and began yelling for them to come out. Dan and Frances, however, turned out the lights. Soon it dawned on the group of friends that the couple had no plans to come out. But one of the young men had an idea and promised he would return shortly with a solution.

Upon his return, the young man had a stick of blasting powder, a cap, some fuse, a drill, and a hammer. He and the others drilled a hole in the mortar of Dan and Frances’ stone house, put in powder, tamped it very lightly to avoid doing damage, and lit a match. Within seconds there was a small explosion that shook the whole house and made pieces of stone fly. Dan and Frances came flying out of the house to the sound of their friends laughing and yelling, “Treats! Treats” But to make sure there were no hard feelings, a collection was taken to repair the house, and given to the couple.

But not all jokes in Joplin ended on a happy note. There were two rival saloonkeepers, whom Thurman called Jack and Billy, who often fought with each other. A bunch of loafers in Jack’s saloon began to kid him that Billy was out to get him and that he was a crack shot. A few weeks passed and the loafers once again began to tell Jack that Billy was mad at him and was “going to take care of you.”  Jack, believing their lies, began to worry. He told the loafers that he could take care of himself.

The next day, around noon, Billy left his saloon carrying a bucket. He crossed the street and headed toward Jack’s saloon. The loafers at Jack’s saloon yelled, “Jack, better watch out!  Here comes Billy and he’s got something in his hand!”

Before anyone could stop Jack, he grabbed a pistol from underneath the bar, stepped out onto the sidewalk, and yelled “Billy you ——! Try to kill me, will you!” He then fired at Billy, killing him instantly. Jack, realizing what he had just done, slowly walked down to the railroad tracks and sat down, shaking his head in disbelief. He was eventually arrested, convicted, and served a ten year prison sentence. The loafers who had started the unfortunate affair went free.

Thurman noted that practical jokes were rarely carried out in Joplin after the 1930s. One woman told him, “You can’t joke strangers because they don’t know how to take it.” Another person observed, “We don’t have the gathering places anymore where we can think up devilment. When I was growing up, we’d loaf down at the general store and things would just sort of happen. You can’t do that down at the A & P Supermarket.”

Mockingbird, the miner who took part in his fair share of pranks, told Thurman, “People have a lot of ways of being entertained today. They keep busy either watching television or doing something. They don’t have the time to sit around and think of tricks. And I don’t think they would get by with pulling these jokes on the job. Bosses would not put up today with some of the things we did back forty years ago. Work is more business today; if a guy pulled some of these shenanigans on a job today, he’d get fired. But there’s probably a better reason. I think people are now more grown up today. That kind of humor is just out of place now.”

Baseball, Not Just For The Adults

While we’ve discovered the baseball in Joplin played by men who were paid, and by those who weren’t, the sport wasn’t limited to adults. In the below photograph, we’ve a team of boys, perhaps a high school team, who had banded together to form a formidable looking team. Who knows, perhaps one of them eventually found himself donning a Miners’ uniform.

Perhaps a high school baseball team from Joplin's earlier days.





Source: Historic Joplin Collection