The 59 Year Old Newsboy They Called Dad.

On a March day in 1919, a white-haired mustached old man strode into the offices of the Joplin Globe and inquired about a position as a newsboy.  In addition to his age, the right sleeve of his jacket hung limp, his arm had been amputated many years ago.  His name was John Connell and he got the job.

John "Dad" Connell, 59 year old newspaper boy for the Joplin Globe

John "Dad" Connell, pictured here after his return to Joplin in 1919.

Life had not been kind to John Connell.  The son of Irish immigrants, he fell from a tree and broke his arm when he was eight. His father, a wealthy man, hired a physician but money was not enough to save John’s arm. It became infected, the flesh of his arm died, and had to be amputated.  When his parents passed away, Connell received an inheritance of $10,000.  Flush with cash, he operated his own business and soon married.  Life might have been a happy one, but it was not long after that his wife fell ill.  Physicians said an operation would save her, but she died in a hospital after complications from surgery.

Widowed and with his business in shambles, he moved from Columbus, Ohio, to Cleveland, but fared no better there.  His savings were soon depleted. John sought work but few businesses would hire a one-armed man. A position as a restaurant cashier was the best he could find, and such positions he held until he was hired by a Chicago portrait company to hit the road as a canvasser. And so, Fate, which had long been cruel to John Connell directed his path to Joplin.  There, Connell realized he could make more money selling the Joplin Globe than as a canvasser, and convinced the newspaper to hire a one-armed 46 year old man to join the ranks of “newsies.”

Success came quickly.  Not only did Connell excel at selling newspapers; he earned the admiration and love of his fellow newspaper boys.  Such was his success in what he called “the game,” that Connell believed he could make even more money in a big city like San Francisco. Connell departed for bigger cities and hopefully bigger fortunes.  In the larger cities and more competitive markets, he soon discovered that money was not as easily made and he bounced around the West and South, from places like Los Angeles, Denver, and New Orleans.

For thirteen years, Connell traveled the country, but never found a city like Joplin.  He returned to the city and promptly applied for the position he had left so many years ago.  Perhaps wary at first of the grandfatherly figure that joined their ranks, the newsboys soon extended affection to Connell.  He became their mediator in disputes over who had a right to a certain “corner.” Connell also dispensed advice that only a fifty-nine year old man had to young boys who grew up on the streets hawking papers. Every night at 1 a.m., Connell awoke and collected the Globe’s 2 a.m. edition to sell to workers coming off the night shift, and then later sold a later edition at 11 am.  The 1920 Federal Census found him a year older and his profession described as “newspaper distributor.”  He may have been a 60 year old one-armed newspaper boy, but Connell earned the respect of the young men he worked with and upon him they bestowed the fond sobriquet, “Dad.”

Sources: The Joplin Globe, 1920 Federal Census

“Crazy” Jake Griffith

Joplin was full of larger than life personalities. “Crazy” Jake Griffith was one of those characters.  Unfortunately for Jake, his time in Joplin came to an end in the summer of 1904.  Jake, who the Joplin Globe declared had, “graduated from the Nut College on several different occasions,” was found living in a hut on East Seventh Street.  Joplin constables Turnbull and Collier took him into custody and escorted him to Missouri State Mental Hospital for the Insane No. 3 in Nevada, Missouri.

Upon his departure for Nevada, the Carthage Evening Press reminisced about Jake.  According to the Press, Jake had been institutionalized in several different asylums over the years, but “for some reason [had] always been discharged.”

Missouri State Mental Hospital for the Insane No. 3

Missouri State Mental Hospital for the Insane No. 3. Via Lyndon Irwin's informative website on Nevada, Missouri.

Jake, however, had not always been mentally ill.  In the 1870s, he reportedly owned a small farm west of Carthage, but lost it.  He took to the road playing his fiddle at country dances and became one of the most sought after local musicians.  Even then he was “peculiar, absent minded, and eccentric.” Jake often drank, but never to excess.

But as the years passed, Jake became more eccentric and was no longer the “well dressed, sporty figure, always welcome at rural ball.”  Instead, he became a “slouch, wholly dependent on the charity of friends, sleeping in abandoned shanties, and living alone with his troop of half-starved dogs.”  At some point he came into possession of a broken down buggy and a “shambling old horse.”  Together Jake, his dogs, and his swayback horse wandered all over Jasper County, picking up nickels whenever he would stop to play his fiddle for onlookers for, “Jake was a good fiddler even in his degeneracy.”

He lived in his buggy which was festooned with scraps of ribbon, string, and carpet.  The horse and dogs were skeletal for lack of food despite the intervention of old friends who cared for him when he happened to wander past their homes.  Jake was sent to an asylum but subsequently was released.  He wandered back to Jasper County and on to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, but locals there put him back on a train to Joplin.  After disembarking from the train, Jake made his home in an “old box shanty” and scrounged up food from the back of restaurants. He no longer played the fiddle.

His friends, concerned for his well-being, contacted the authorities to have Jake taken to State Hospital No. 3 for his safekeeping.  Jake remained at the asylum until his death in January, 1914 from a cerebral hemorrhage. With his death one of Joplin’s old-time characters faded away, never to be replaced.

Jake Griffith's death certificate.

Jake Griffith's death certificate. As the certificate indicates, much was unknown about "Crazy" Jake.

For more photos and images of the Missouri State Mental Hospital for the Insane No. 3, visit www.lyndonirwin.com/asylum.htm.  In addition, check out considerable creepy drawings by a patient of the mental hospital.

Sources: Missouri State Archives Death Certificate Database, Joplin Globe

A Hello Girl Finds Love

Turn on your television and you’re likely to be bombarded by advertisements for EHarmony, Match.Com, and OKCupid.  Love can now be found on the Internet, but finding love with someone you cannot see over lines of communication is nothing new.  Here is one story that happened over the telephone line, many years ago.

Miss Lillian Imogene Chittenden, a Hello Girl for the Home Telephone Company just over the state line in Galena, Kansas, found love over the wires.  When Alexander Morford, the mining editor for the Joplin Globe, discovered that the Galena line was down, he panicked.  He had to find a way to transmit a story from Galena to Joplin as quickly as possible.  Through the introduction of a friend he met Lillian Chittenden who helped him successfully transmit his story on time.

From that time forward Morford “demonstrated a great interest in the telephone business.  As time progressed, Morford was promoted and transferred to the Globe’s Joplin offices.  It was said of Morford, “as long as the Galena-Joplin toll service continued in operation, he hadn’t talked himself out of range and the romance of the telephone and The Globe went steadily forward.”

The two married at the Christian Church of Galena, Kansas, in December 1905.  Their marriage lasted until Alexander Morford’s death on February 9, 1953, in Joplin, Missouri.

Source: Joplin Globe

A Hold Up at the Silver Moon Saloon

Joplin had the atmosphere of the roughest mining towns in the American West. On the evening of December 8, 1903, the Silver Moon Saloon was the scene of a “bold hold-up.” Located at the northeast corner of Fifteenth and Main Streets, the Silver Moon Saloon may not have been as refined as Joplin’s famed House of Lords, but it served the needs of the countless men who crossed its threshold.

Main Street Joplin circa 1906 or earlier.

Main Street Joplin circa 1906 or earlier.

It was 10:40 in the evening. The saloon was empty, save for Einhart, the proprietor, and an old man who was passed out from a bout of heavy drinking. Einhart was cleaning glasses when two men strode into the saloon. As Einhart later told a Globe reporter, “They were strangers to me and I did not pay any particular attention to them when they started to the rear. I did not take my eyes off of my work. They certainly did not appear to be robbers. Neither of them looked vicious.”

The two men silently approached Einhart with their Colt .45 revolvers pointed at him. The saloon owner confessed, “Without saying a word they induced me to throw up my hands for I could see then that they meant business.” One of the men came around the bar and riffled through Einhart’s pockets. He pulled out Einhart’s watch, but the bar owner protested, saying it was a present from a “very good friend.” The robber laughed and told him he could keep it. Einhart then pointed his assailant to the cash register, secretly pleased he had already taken out most the night’s take earlier in the evening.

At this, the old man who had been passed out suddenly revived, looked at the two robbers, and “ran out the side door and headed down Fifteenth Street as hard as he could, screaming meantime as loud as possible.” Frightened, the two men grabbed money from cash register, dashed out the door, and ran east down Fifteenth Street. For their efforts, the two men pocketed $32.10 out of the cash register, a couple of dollars out of Einhart’s pockets, and some checks.

Joplin Police Officer Snow and Night Watchman Heady began tracking down leads in the case within the hour. By the end of the night, they arrested two suspects, Oscar Orman and C. Ownes, both of whom had come to Joplin from Galena, Kansas, earlier in the evening. Both men were locked up and charges followed the next day.

Source: Joplin Globe

The 1903 Joplin Fire Department Thanksgiving Dinner

The young men and women of Joplin may have not caught a possum on their evening foray in the winter of 1905, but Joplin’s firemen feasted on one in 1903 for Thanksgiving.

The Globe reported, “While the populace of Joplin was enjoying turkey with sage dressing in their dining rooms, the members of the central department were feasting on ‘possum and sweet potatoes.”

Photo of Possum

Some possums may object to the content of this post. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Source: Joplin Globe 1903

Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at the Connor Hotel Restaurant

…only requirement is a time machine.

Of those who lived in Joplin, the city claimed not a few number of sons of Ireland.  Some of the city’s wealthiest citizens, such as Patrick Murphy and Thomas Connor, were the children of Irish immigrants or born in Ireland.  In a tip o’ the hat to Joplin’s Irish, presented below is a menu ad for the Connor Hotel’s restaurant.  The Connor, named after Thomas Connor, was once the architectural centerpiece of Joplin’s downtown.  Not bad for a true son of Ireland.

An ad for the restaurant at the Connor Hotel

A 1923 ad for the restaurant at the Connor Hotel

Source:  Joplin Globe

Review of Now and Then and Again by Leslie Simpson

Historic preservation in Joplin cannot be discussed without mentioning Leslie Simpson.  The director of the Post Memorial Art Reference Library, Simpson is a long established expert of Joplin’s architecture and historic past.  She is credited with initiating the push to preserve Joplin’s remaining historic buildings and homes. Simpson has played an instrumental role in the creation of the Joplin Historic Preservation Commission and Main Street Joplin.  She has produced numerous slide shows on the city’s past and published a pamphlet titled, From Lincoln Logs to Lego Blocks: How Joplin Was Built.  Such is her impact that the city proclaimed a day in her name and the Missouri General Assembly honored her achievements.

One of Ms. Simpson’s most well known works was a fascinating slide show presentation entitled, “Extreme Makeover: Joplin Edition,” that compared historic photographs of Joplin buildings and homes to present day photographs of the same locations.  In December, 2009, she published her latest book, Now and Then and Again: Joplin Historic Architecture Now and Then and Again is the published version of her popular lecture on Joplin’s architectural past.

Any fan of American architecture from the late 19th Century to the early 20th Century will both adore and loathe reading Ms. Simpson’s latest work.  Readers will love it for the photographs of grand old buildings and majestic finely cut stone homes that once populated Joplin.  It will, however, make the reader grimace at the lack of foresight and vision that cost Joplin some of its finest architectural masterpieces.

Now and Then and Again is written somewhat categorically, beginning with photographs of many of its former homes and buildings that represented the first several decades of the city’s prosperous growth.  This may well be the most painful part for those who mourn the loss of Joplin’s finest buildings. as it reveals the devastation of the period of Urban Renewal.  During the 1960s and 1970s, Urban Renewal oversaw the destruction of many of American’s turn of the century architecture under the belief that their replacements would spark economic growth and development. Sadly, such was not the case with Joplin. Downtown Joplin became a vast wasteland of empty parking lots and neglected store fronts.

Despite her passion for Joplin’s lost history, Ms. Simpson maintains a neutral tone, letting the devastation of Urban Renewal speak for itself. Buildings such as the Connor and Keystone hotels, the Worth Block, and other crown jewels of Joplin’s past were lost to the wrecking ball.  By the time the reader finishes with this first part of the book, he or she can begin to dry their tears with the knowledge that some buildings survived, though are now hidden behind more modern facades.   One example is the home of the Joplin Globe whose gaudy outdated facade belies the fact that it still has the bones of a century old brick building underneath.

Now and Then and Again opts for an ending on a happier note.  The last two sections of the book are devoted to those structures still standing decades after their construction, and in a somewhat smaller part, those buildings which have recently been renovated.  Now and Then and Again is not entirely made up photographs.  Each photographic subject is accompanied with a paragraph or two of information which generally consists of the history of the building or house, the architectural style, and the individuals who owned them.  Conveniently, Ms. Simpson provides two indexes, one by name and the other by address.

In the unfortunately limited pantheon of resources for those seeking to learn more about the history of Joplin, Ms. Simpson’s Now and Then and Again is a welcome addition.  It serves as a wonderful reference for both the trained and untrained to a past built by stone, brick, and beam.  Any collection is better for its inclusion, and knowledge of its contents most certainly help to bring alive the Joplin of the past, and to discover its wonder in the present.

The cover of Leslie Simpson's work, "Now and Then and Again: Joplin Historic Architecture."

The cover of Leslie Simpson's work, "Now and Then and Again: Joplin Historic Architecture."

For information about purchasing a copy of Ms. Simpson’s work, follow this link to the Post Memorial Art Reference Library websiteNow and Then and Again consists of 95 pages, sells for $17.95 and is published by the Winfred L. and Elizabeth C. Post Foundation, Joplin, Missouri.

Globe Coverage of the Joplin Supply Company

On Saturday, the Joplin Globe ran an article about the Joplin Supply Company.  The one time location where later on Ford Model Ts were built within and moved within the building by large elevators.  That building is now one of the historic locales receiving the renovation treatment.

The article here.

Below is a photograph of one of the earlier locations for the company on Fourth Street.  The parking lot adjacent to the former Federal building and located behind the library is all one will see if they attempt to hunt down this building today.

The Joplin Supply Company building at Fourth and Wall Streets.

The Joplin Supply Company building at Fourth and Wall Streets.

Source: Historic Joplin

Failure, I call thee Possum.

Back in the winter of 1905, a group of twenty-six young possum hunters flooded the Shoal Creek bottoms in search of the “savory little sweet potato seasoner.” Despite their best efforts to catch a possum, the group came home empty handed. The young men blamed their bad luck on the girls; the girls proclaimed if they were the young men, they’d be ashamed at their failure to catch a possum. Their hound was so ashamed that he reportedly slunk back into town with his tail between his legs.

But the group’s disappointment, if any, was short-lived. They built a bonfire, made hot coffee, and had dinner under the clear, starry skies of winter. It wasn’t until after one o’clock in the morning that the exhausted group made their way back into the city limits.

For those who may be interested, a list of the group’s names were provided: Mr. and Mrs. T.A. Wisdom; Mr. and Mrs. Jas. C. Daugherty; Mrs. James McCool; Misses Nell Cummings, Goldie Mason, Maude Smothers, Margaret Cummings, Belva Looker, Mary Carrithers, Margaret McCarthy, Inez Looker, Jennie Harding, Kate Cummings, Mable Looker; Messrs. Albert Webb of Carl Junction, Thomas Beatois of St. Louis, H.D. Watrous, J.H. Gwathney, Will Malone, Max Paul, Earl Doherty, W.P. Keller, Fred Degraff, and Louis Jones.

Source: Joplin Globe

Growth of A City – Fourth Street Looking East

At the height of Joplin’s boom days, the intersection of Fourth and Main streets was the beating heart of the city’s commercial district.  It was no coincidence that the city’s two greatest hotels, the Connor and Keystone, faced one another from opposite corners, or that Democratic party boss, Gilbert Barbee owned the House of Lords on another corner.  Along Fourth Street, particularly that west of Main, was prime real estate.  One venturing down west Fourth Street found themselves passing the Club Theater, as well the Elks Club lodge and the home of the Miners Bank.  In the next few photos, we’ll examine the change to the street over just a few years.  In addition, with a nod to Leslie Simpson’s latest book, Now and Then and Again: Joplin Historic Architecture, a present day view of the street.

A view of Fourth Street looking east - sometime before 1906.

A view of Fourth Street looking east - sometime before 1906.

In this first view there are several clues to time the photograph was shot.  First, visible to the right is the steeple roof of the Club Theater.  The Club Theater was completed in 1891.  The conical roof further down the street marks not only the Keystone Hotel, built in 1891 and completed a year later, marks the intersection of Fourth and Main.  On the left side of the street, a block down and hardly noticeable is the old Joplin Hotel.  What is not in this photograph is the Connor Hotel, an eight story building that was built where our squat Joplin Hotel now stands.  The Joplin Hotel was razed in 1906.  As such, we know this photograph dates from before that time.  Speculatively, sometime from 1891 to 1906.

View of Fourth Street looking east sometime after 1908.

View of Fourth Street looking east sometime after 1908.

In this view we have some familiar faces.  The Club Theater on the right, the Keystone down the block, and on the immediate right, the once Elks Lodge and offices of the Joplin Water Works.  The main difference is now the reverse of our previous photograph.  Where the old Joplin Hotel stood, now stands the Connor.  Its presence lets us know that this photograph was taken after its completion in 1908.  Note the change in design of the automobiles on the street and the lack of horse drawn wagons or carriages that were present in the previous view.

Fourth Street looking east - sometime before 1913.

Fourth Street looking east - sometime before 1913.

Our third view of Fourth Street.  The Connor and the Keystone are both present.  The steeple roof of the Club Theater is conspicuously absent, though you can see the roof line of the club’s western side.  Incidentally, by this time, the Club Theater, despite a renovation in 1905, had lost its status as the finest theater in town to the Shubert Theater which was located several blocks down to the south.  The vehicles are a little more modern and a subtle aspect is the switch from one set of trolley tracts to two.  Also different, which allows us to place this photograph as more recent, is the addition of electric signs to the facades of the buildings.  Now, we state that this photograph is dated as having been taken before 1913.  How did we come to that number?  In this case, its simply knowing your source.  This photograph came from a booklet published in 1913 to publicize the city, which allows us to place that hard date.

Fourth Street looking east - present day.

Fourth Street looking east - present day.

This photograph, taken on March 13, 2010, is not for the faint of heart for those who love the architecture of bygone days.  All that remains from the previous photographs is our friend the one time host of the Elks and Joplin Water Works building on the immediate right.  The row of buildings on the left are gone, though a few halfway down the block disappeared in the 1920′s when the Connor built an annex further down the block from its Fourth and Main location.  The Club Theater is gone, the front of a car, marks the parking lot that now remains in its place.  On the left down the block is the Joplin Public Library, situated where the Connor Hotel stood until 1978.  The Keystone, destroyed several years before the Connor, is gone.  The building visible beyond the library is the Joplin Globe office, visible only because the Worth Block was demolished (taking with it the House of Lords).  On a bright note is the tall building at the end of the block on the right side.  It was built around 1923 and managed to survive the devastation that was “Urban Renewal.”

If any comfort can be taken from this view of modern day Fourth Street it is that the City of Joplin has embarked on a mission to restore and recognize the city’s remaining historic buildings.  A drive down Main Street reinforces the belief that while a lot has been lost, that which remains will be saved.

Sources: Historic Joplin collection, Missouri Digital Heritage.