Joplin’s First Photograph

While it is debatable when the first photograph was taken in Joplin, one argument stands for a portrait taken by G.W. Phillips in his New Blue Gallery, located near to the post office in East Joplin in July, 1873.  Phillips’ studio may at least be the first photo studio opened in the newly established mining town.  Featured in the photograph are Nina and Della Chattelle and D.K. Wenrich.  In addition to the honor of being his first patrons, the girls might have even gotten a discount, as Phillips was boarding at their home at the time.


Socialists in Joplin

At the turn of the century, a sizable number of Americans believed that Socialism might prove a viable alternative to the Republican and Democratic parties. Joplin was home to a small community of Socialists who banded together to form an organized body that passed the following resolution:

Whereas, The whole world of so-called civilization, has run mad after political lust and the gain of filthy lucre;

Whereas, The machinery of government in our own beloved land and country, by the cupidity of government officials, the connivance of the emissaries of kings and monarchs and financial filibusters, is given over to the enemies of humane government, thus blighting the homes and fortunes of labor in our land of boasted liberty;

Whereas, All government that is not purely national and co-operative, tends to the final destruction of the interests of the laboring and producing masses, and to the degredation of the intellect and morals of the same; and

Whereas, The Appeal to Reason, published at Girard, Kansas, by one Wayland, ‘The One Hoss Philosopher,’ is an able and efficient exponent of the only true principles of government upon the earth on which we live.


Resolve, First – That each one of us who hereunto attach our names, shall thereby agree and promise to procure at least one annual subscriber per month to the Appeal to Reason, at 25 cents each in advance.

Resolved, Second – That we earnestly request our friends and comrades in every locality, to organize in this way for the purpose of universal diffusion of socialistic literature.

Resolved, Third – That we as a body of individuals agree to meet at such times and places as we may hereafter determine upon, for the deliberation and mutual assistance in carrying out these and other measures that may seem advantageous, from time to time.”

Signed: Hugh J. Raible, M.W. Clark,J. Ristine, Raymond Ristine, E.J. Stiles, S.J. Daily, G.A. Wadleigh, A.H. Adams, D.F. Wood

In any history course on American political parties during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, one will undoubtedly hear the names Appeal to Reason and Eugene V. Debs. First published in Kansas City, the Appeal to Reason was the country’s leading socialist newspaper. Its publisher, Julius Wayland, later moved the paper to Girard, Kansas, where it flourished until Wayland’s death.

Eugene Debs via Library of Congress

During the election of 1900, Socialist presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs received 6,139 votes in the state of Missouri. In 1904 he received 13,000 votes and in 1908 garnered over 15,000 votes in Missouri. The perennial presidential candidate, originally from Terra Haute, Indiana, spent the majority of his life working to bolster labor unions and the working class.

Debs was no stranger to southwest Missouri. He spoke throughout the region and all over the country and appeared in Joplin on several different occasions. On one such occasion he spoke to a large audience at the Club Theatre on labor unions and business trusts. Debs was described by one reporter as “very tall, slightly stoop shouldered man, with smooth shaven face and pierce eyes. His speaking is distinguished by his earnestness rather than any oratorical polish. He spoke rapidly and without effort, but does not present a very easy bearing on the platform.”

He proclaimed, “Labor must organize for this is an age of organization. Let the labor union be preeminently educational. Banish strife, discontent, jealousy, and self-interest from your chambers. Let each member remember that his interests are identical with the interests of all.” As his speech continued, Debs observed that, “All progress is the result of strikes and agitation. It was a strike at Bunker Hill and Concord, Washington, Adams, Greene, Warren, all our revolutionary heroes and patriots, were strikers. It was a strike when our patriot forefathers declared a boycott one England’s tea and disguised as Indians went on board the British vessels and converted Boston harbor into a tea pot.” He voiced his belief that many modern evils were the result of the use of machinery because mechanization displaced men from their jobs.

Debs said of Joplin, “I have often heard of this mining district, but the reality indeed surprises me. It is so busy, so bustling, and so active. Why, the only thing like it I have ever seen were silver mining towns of the old days in the west.” He then remarked, “I am pleased with the labor unions of Joplin; they seem enthusiastic and well organized. I think they will do a great deal of good. I have been surprised at the strength and good will displayed by the various organizations. Labor unionism has a great future in this district.”

After Debs finished, he left for a speaking engagements at Galena and Pittsburg, Kansas. From 1900 until 1920, he ran as the Socialist candidate in every presidential election. In 1920, he campaigned from his federal jail cell after he angered President Woodrow Wilson for speaking out against Wilson and America’s involvement in World War One. He was later released by order of Wilson’s Republican successor, President Warren G. Harding.

Source: Democracy’s Prisoner: Eugene V. Debs, the Great War, and the Right to Dissent by Ernest Freeberg. Various Joplin newspapers. Library of Congress

Joplin Glee

A hundred years and two months ago, Joplin’s gleeks were promised what was said “to be the best musical production ever given by high school students.” Fair enough, the fans of the Joplin High School Glee Club probably never fathomed of the title “gleek”, a term fans of the television show Glee, have given themselves, but there appeared to be a strong following of the high school chorus group. An article which announced the May event noted that last year’s performance, “Julius Caesar” was a “decided success” and that the “house was crowded and interest never lagged.”

While it seems that Joplin High no longer has a dedicated Glee group (please let us know if this is otherwise!), the program in 1911 was a large one with 22 members. It was also considered the oldest organization in the school, established in 1905. The annual production planned for a May Thursday evening was a one act comedy, “Hector.” Preceding the play, the audience was to be treated to an all boy performance of  “solos, duets, quartets and choruses,” the product of several months of preparation.  Mr. L.S. Dewey was credited for preparing the singing, while Miss Edna Hazeltine was credited with the instruction and coaching for the play.

Undoubtedly, for one night in May, Joplin had a glee ol’ time.

Source: Joplin News Herald

Have a Safe and Sane Fourth of July!

Have A Sane Fourth of July

A century ago, Joplin adopted the idea of promoting a Fourth of July that was both safe and sane.  The illustration above offers a glimpse at this campaign and below, a familiar company advertising in Joplin on the Fourth.  The idea of promoting a safe Fourth was supported by an article noting the harm already received by the dangerous fireworks.  One case involved a boy, whose friends involved in a fight, found his hand badly burned when the firework he was getting ready to throw went off prematurely (the boys quickly made peace after this casualty).  Another boy, it was reported, suffered terribly burns on the neck and hands while shooting off “fire crackers” and two men, Roy Loving was shot in the hand by a blank gun cartridge and another, Earl Van Hoose severely burned by a “cannon cracker” which went off as he was throwing it.

Needless to say, have a fun, safe, and “sane” Fourth of July!

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.”

Twisters, Cyclones, and Tornadoes of Joplin’s Past: Part II

This is the second half of our brief history on the cyclones, tornadoes and twisters that Mother Nature has visited upon Joplin in the past.   You can find the first part by clicking here.

In the summer of 1908, a small “funnel-shaped cloud dipped down out of the sky” just southwest of Joplin in the early morning. The tornado swept across an area estimated at a quarter of a mile in diameter and destroyed four mining plants: the Ruth, Eden, and Haggerty plants, plus one unnamed plant. Mrs. Jack Armil, who lived in Joplin Heights, told a reporter that she thought she was going to lose her house to the tornado. Although she and her home escaped unscathed, her landscaping was badly damaged. The twister did not raise much alarm in Joplin proper as the Globe failed to report on the event, leaving the News-Herald to publish a brief article noting the tornado’s brief appearance.

The next few years were quiet until the spring of 1911. On a fine spring evening a powerful rainstorm with heavy winds hit the area between north Joplin and south Webb City. The storm, prior to its arrival in Joplin, had already left a trail of devastation across Oklahoma and Kansas. Fortunately, casualties were light. Mrs. Almedia Shelley was killed when her home on Smelter Hill was destroyed by what was described as a “high wind.” Others were injured, including: T.J. Walten, Charles Vancourt, Claude Hankins, and a man named Adkins.

Several decades passed before Joplin was once again in the path of a tornado. On the evening of May 5, 1971, Joplin experienced its first significant tornado. Tornado sirens reportedly did not go off in time until the funnel was on the ground, catching many residents by surprise. The twister tore through the city causing damage along thirty-seven city blocks and took the life of Missouri Southern student Rick Johnson. Johnson was killed at his residence at the Anderson Mobile Trailer Court on Newman Road. His wife miraculously survived. The event was memorialized in a booklet succinctly titled, The Joplin Tornado. You can view the entire booklet online courtesy of the Joplin Public Library here:

Two years later, on the morning of May 11, 1973, another tornado hit Joplin with winds roared through the city at an estimated 70 to 100 miles an hour. Mrs. Lea Kungle, head of Jasper County’s civil defense, told a Globe reporter, “They say you can’t have a hurricane here, but it was like a hurricane.”

Three residents were killed, over one hundred were injured, an estimated one thousand trees blown over, and at least $20 million in property damage. The West Side Trailer Court on West Seventh Street sustained heavy losses. Mrs. Roger Wisdom, who lived at the trailer court, remarked that “The sky was so black, and it seemed to come to a point and looked like it was coming in on you…it was so big.” A ten year old girl, Chris Day, woke up flying through the air on her mattress. She survived without any serious injuries.

Just as sudden as it had arrived, the tornado quickly moved eastward, not to be surpassed in the history of the city until May 22, 2011.


Sources: Joplin Daily Globe, Joplin News Herald, The Joplin Tornado.

Life in a Railroad Camp

In the fall of 1910, should one have passed through northwest Joplin in the area between Smelter Hill and Chitwood, they would have noticed a large encampment. At first glance one might assume it was a Gypsy caravan, but closer scrutiny would reveal that instead of wagons, the group was made up of railroad cars, including: three bunk cars, two dining cars, one kitchen car, one tool car, one office car, one private car, thirty dump cars, a seventy ton Bucyrus steam shovel, a grade spreader, and four drill rigs. It was described by a reporter as a, “moving city supplied with electric lights and city water.”

The Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, commonly known as the “Katy,” was building a line through northwest Joplin. The Walsh-List-Gifford Construction Company of Davenport, Iowa, was responsible for the completion of the new line. The company had previously been engaged in Stillwater, Minnesota, after completing a railroad grading project. One hundred and twenty-five men were employed, most of whom were Belgians. They were required to work ten hours a day, seven days a week. Very few of the men had their wives with them, save for William M. List, who was head of the outfit.

List, described as a “heavy built young man of 34, with a world of power in his massive shoulders and fog-horn voice that thunders past the long lines of his faithful employees with an astonishing effect.” List yelled at his workers, “Here you —- —— —– lazy devils, get a move on; you’re too slow to catch a cold. Get busy there, damn you; don’t you go to loafing on me or I’ll take you to a cleaning!”

If Mrs. List had any objections to the way her husband talked to his work crew, the reporter did not notice. She traveled with her husband on his work assignments, although they had a home in Davenport, Iowa. The Lists were joined by John O’Callahan, superintendent; J.J. Hallett, engineer; and C.H. Swartz, stenographer. F.C Ringer of Parsons, Kansas, oversaw the operation of the steam shovel, F.R. Johnson served as trestle foreman, Leo Purcell was the official timekeeper, and D. Degal was dump foreman.

The crew was grading a three and one-fourth mile section of road that stretched into a wide curve from a point on the main line of the Katy to the new Union Depot. The reporter who visited the site remarked, “Although seven working days constitute a week’s toll, the laborers seem to like the steady grind. In the evening, they gather in groups and gossip, or visit the commissary car for tobacco or new toggery. Any needed work garment may be purchased at the camp.” Work took its toll as the reporter could see that more than one laborer was “wearing a bandage about his head or his hand.”

To carry out their work, workers had break the ground using power and dynamite. The drill rigs were used to bore holes into the roadbed to ensure the ground was soft enough. Some of the drill holes ranged from five to thirty feet deep in places. When the holes were finished, they were “squibbed,” which meant that light blasts of powder were placed in the holes to open up the ground even further. After setting off the light blasts, large kegs of black powder and entire cases of dynamite were placed into the holes and set off. After the ground was properly softened up, the seventy ton steam shovel was brought in to scoop up rocks and dirt at four scoops a minute. It was estimated that the steam shovel could remove 2,500 cubic yards of dirt in a day. The shovel would then dump the dirt and rocks into cars situated on a sidetrack built alongside what would become the main rail line. When the cars were filled, they were pushed by a locomotive to a spot where spots needed to be filled in with dirt. The spreader would then be brought in to smooth the dirt in place.

The crew estimated that the project would be completed by January, 1911. After that, their next assignment was unknown, but they could expect to travel anywhere from Maine to California.

Twisters, Cyclones, and Tornadoes of Joplin’s Past: Part I

The tornado of May 22 was the worst to strike Joplin, but it was not the first.

In May, 1883, a tornado swept through Joplin and the news accounts of the event appear to echo recent events. Just this past week, a story about Laverne the cat, who was rescued after being trapped in the rubble after sixteen days aired on local news stations. In 1883, Charley Elliott’s dog was “in his store building when it fell. He was dug out next morning pretty badly bruised, but after a few hours he was alright. There were acts of generosity. E.R. Moffett, who would later die impoverished, walked up to an “old friend who he had worked with before he became a millionaire. ‘Crit, I’m damned sorry, I’m sorry $500,” and then gave a five hundred dollar check to the relief fund. Citizens scrambled to help each other. Judge Byers was “constantly busy distributing supplies to the needy who lost their all by the wild winds.” Doctors Fannie Williams and Mrs. Creech did “good work for the suffering ladies who were injured” during the storm. Miss Fannie Hall of Carthage gave her all to assist the suffering at the hospital. Oronogo, also hard hit by the storm, was the focus of a relief committee made up of some of Joplin’s leading socialites: Mrs. L.P. Cunningham, Mrs. J.B. Sergeant, Mrs. J.C. Gaston, and Mrs. Thomas Heathwood. Together these women sought to collect food, clothing, and bedding for those effected by the storm.

For others, the tornado brought excitement and curiosity. The Daily Herald remarked, “Some of the visitors Monday night seemed to regard the occasion in the light of a picnic. Frivolities and flirtations were engaged in that would have been regarded impudent at a circus. No apparent sympathy was exhibited for the crippled, bereaved, and homeless, while silly children took the place of sober sense.” Sightseers came to stare at a “bushel basket that lodged in the top of a large tree near the railroad track.” Telegraph poles at the train depot reportedly looked like “they had passed through a storm of musketry.”

And then there were those that lost their lives. Preliminary reports reported that the bodies of a Mr. Goodwin and his daughter were killed by the tornado. It is unknown how many others lost their lives.

The next significant tornado to hit Joplin was in April, 1902. The News-Herald proclaimed it was, “[The] Worst That Joplin Has Known.” A wind, hail, and rain storm converged upon Joplin around 4:25 p.m. in the afternoon in an area described as covering “Seventh Street on the north and as far as Seventeenth Street on the south” with the worst areas at Moffett and Bird streets from Thirteenth to Sixteenth streets and at Moonshine Hill. Property along Main and Ninth streets received substantial damage.

The News-Herald reporter must have not known about the Tornado of 1883 as they declared, “As Joplin has never experienced a real tornado, the people were unprepared and as it came upon them so unexpectedly, it as a wonder that more fatalities are not recorded.” Telephone and trolley poles were twisted beyond recognition making communication with neighboring communities impossible. Streetcars were unable to run due to the lack of electricity and piles of debris covering the tracks. One car caught at Twelfth and Main, Car Number 41, was struck by a telephone pole. Passengers inside were “thoroughly frightened and several actually said their prayers.” Strong wind was not the only threat to human lives. The pole was described as having fifteen double cross arms with three large cables and several hundred telephone wires. Workers roped off the street to prevent traffic and pedestrians from going near the car. Passengers shakily disembarked and walked home on foot.

Illustration of the damage from the tornado.

A “solid sheet of water, besides some hail” fell, causing people to hide inside their homes. Willow Branch, the Tenth Street branch, and other small streams in and around Joplin began to flood, leaving many to seek dry ground as the streams became “turbulent torrent[s] of water, mud, and wreckage.”

The storm indiscriminately took human lives and property. It was reported that the two room house of William Hunter, who lived on the east side of Moonshine Hill, was carried for a long distance before it shattered. Mrs. Hunter, holding her baby Esther in her arms, was about to flee the house when the storm hit. A plank of wood flew past and hit her child in the head, mortally wounding it, while Mrs. Hunter sustained serious injuries. Her husband, a miner, was at work at the Dividend Mine when the storm rolled through Joplin. A neighbor, Charley Whitehead, came to Mrs. Hunter’s rescue. Other residents of Moonshine Hill suffered the same fate. Will Douglass’ home was obliterated. Lee Whitehead [perhaps related to Charley] and family also lost their home. The Methodist church on Moonshine Hill was a complete loss.

Arthur Cox, owner of Cox Baseball Park, was one of the “heaviest losers.” The storm destroyed the baseball park’s fence, the grand stand’s roof ripped off, and sustained overall heavy damage. The losses were estimated at $1,000. Cox, however, was not one to stand idly by. Within a day, W.J. Wagy was hired to rebuild the park in time for a game just a day after the tornado struck.

The Joplin Miners

The Joplin Miners of 1902 who temporarily lost their home.

At the corner of West Ninth and Tenth streets, several homes were damaged, if not utterly ruined. An African-American family named Smith lost their house and P.B. Moser’s home was demolished. A.J. Stockton was fortunate – he only lost his kitchen.

For the impoverished residents who lived in “shanties” north of the Missouri Pacific roundhouse between Grand Avenue and the Frisco and Kansas City Southern tracks, their impermanent residences were blown away.

White and black churches were not left untouched. The First Baptist Church was “badly wrecked.” The Methodist Episcopal Church’s South Mission location at Tenth and Grand was “completely wiped away.” The African Methodist Episcopal Church on East Seventh street was also destroyed. Despite being a substantial frame structure, the roof was torn off and the walls subsequently caved in.

St. John's Hospital

The nuns at St. John’s Hospital were “buffeted and blown about by the wind as they strove in vain to keep out the sheets of water thrown against the west end south of the building which stands high and unprotected.”

Property damage was estimated at $50,000 and an estimated fifty to sixty houses destroyed. As soon as the storm passed, “ambulances and relief crews found work to do for many hours.” Mayor John C. Trigg released a proclamation that read:

“To the Citizens of Joplin – Authentic information having been received that the cyclone which visited the city of Joplin on yesterday, caused incalculable damage to many of our citizens and has been especially destructive to the poorer classes of our citizens in many instances to the extent of destroying everything they owned, leaving them destitute, houseless and homeless.

Therefore, for the purpose of alleviating the distress which prevails in the city and vicinity and to devise ways and means by the organization of relief corps, or by such practicable methods as may be suggested and agreed upon at a meeting of the citizens is hereby called to be held at the Commercial Club rooms, on the 25 inst., at the hour of 3 o’clock p.m. to consider the premises and take such appropriate action as may be deemed necessary therein.”

Mayor John C. Trigg

Joplin has always taken care of its own in times of need. When the committee met, it was agreed that many of those effected by the storm were impoverished miners who were in badly need of assistance, and a relief fund was created. Thomas W. Cunningham reported that when he checked on his rental properties in the damaged section of town he found that one of the families renting from him had been forced to cut their way out of the house. He decided that they “deserved the house” and “made them a deed for it.” His act of kindness was heartily applauded. It was thought that the family was that of I.W. Reynolds who lived at Thirteenth and Ivy. Mr. Wolfarth of Junge Baking Company pledged free bread to those in need. Arthur Cox and Don Stuart pledged the proceeds of the next baseball game to the relief fund. The Wilbur-Kirwin Opera Company decided to give a benefit performance for Joplin’s tornado victims.

Joplin rebuilt only to face another tornado six years later in 1908. That story and more in our next installment.

[Conclusion of Part I]

Guest Post: Down Not Out – Leslie Simpson


By Leslie Simpson

On a pleasant Sunday evening, May 22, 2011, an EF-5 tornado suddenly raged through densely-populated south Joplin.  It destroyed almost everything in its path for 13.8 miles in distance and up to a mile in width.

The tornado smashed down in southwest Joplin, wrecking residential areas, Cunningham Park, schools, medical offices, and a major hospital complex, St. John’s. It headed east, obliterating untold acres of late nineteenth and early twentieth century houses.  The storm’s wrath intensified as it forged east, razing businesses along Main Street, more neighborhoods, and Joplin High School.  It wiped out much of the lifeblood of Joplin’s economy, the commercial strip on Range Line Road, then rampaged on, demolishing housing, banks, industrial buildings, and more schools and churches.  It finally dissipated east of Joplin, after destroying or damaging an estimated 8,000 homes and businesses.

At the time of this writing, authorities have confirmed 138 fatalities, a number which continues to rise.  More than 1,150 people sustained injuries.  The Joplin tornado, the deadliest since modern record keeping began in 1950, ranks eighth among the deadliest tornadoes in U.S. history.

We are in shock.  We drive familiar streets yet cannot even recognize where we are.  The cruel landscape of endless rubble and shredded trees reminds us of shattered lives and endless grief.  We have lost so much, and we are hurting on many levels.  But our spirit is strong, as evidenced by the person who spray-painted “Down not out” on the shards of his former home.

Leslie Simpson, an expert on Joplin history and architecture, is the director of the Post Memorial Art Reference Library, located within the Joplin Public Library. She is the author of From Lincoln Logs to Lego Blocks: How Joplin Was Built, Now and Then and Again: Joplin Historic Architecture. and the soon to be released, Joplin: A Postcard History.

Joplin Celebrates St. Patrick’s Day


Thomas Connor, an immigrant from Ireland, was one of Joplin's wealthiest citizens.

With sons and daughters of Ireland calling Joplin home from its earliest days, it’s not surprising to know that the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day is more than a hundred years old in Joplin.  The Joplin News Herald noted the events held on March 17, 1908 and claimed that the day began with a “typical Irish fog enwrapping the city,” with every flag pole decorated with the Irish flag.  Thousands of green shamrocks decorated the lapels of Joplinites across the city, the paper declared.

In describing the events, the News Herald noted, “The Irishman lives everywhere, and everywhere has he well-wishers who long with him for the time when oppression and wrong in his native soil will cease to be and the Emerald Isle return to the control of the native son.”  I

Beyond political discourse, the paper reported that the Irish and those who intended to celebrate the day with them, were to attend an observance at a “little old church that was the religious home of Joplin Catholics for so many years.”  The program consisted of a boys’ choir singing “God Save Ireland,” the Catholic priest, Father Clinton singing “The Wearing of the Green,” and a instrumental selection from Miss Margaret Williams, Masters William and John Joseph Hennessey.

Patrick Murphy, also an Irish immigrant, was the benefactor and namesake of Murphy Park.

The instrumental was then followed by a recitation by a Father Lyona, another song, “Then You’ll remember Me” by Miss Anna Toohey, a selection from Mrs. E.F. Cameron, a song from Mrs. Will Moore, another instrumental, “The Irish Dance” again from Ms. Toohey, “The Irish Immigrant” by Mrs. W.F. Maher with another recitation from Father Lyona, “Kathleen Mavourneen” sung by Mrs. Kachelski; a concertino solo and song by D.M. Sayers, and concluded with the boys’ choir singing “My Country Tis of Thee.”


Happy St. Patrick’s Day!


Source: Joplin News Herald