Fifty Days of Sunday: The Preparations for Sunday

The Preparations for Sunday


While the ministers of Joplin were busy raising the tabernacle in advance of the arrival of Reverend Billy Sunday, other preparations were also underway.  Among those was the organization of women to help reinforce the religious teaching of Sunday’s great revival through “cottage prayer meetings.”  112 districts were created which encompassed the city with at least one woman per district.  While several meetings were expected to happen before Sunday arrived, thereafter, thirty-minute meetings would be held every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday after the Sunday services to follow up on the sermons.

Preparations also were afoot in the office of the mayor, Guy Humes.  At his behest, the chief of the Joplin Police Department, John A. McManamy, issued a notice to the department which read:

“To members of the police department: Gentlemen, I desire to call to your attention to the fact that boys are being allowed to shake dice in pool and billiard halls and saloons.  This must be stopped.  Second, that gambling houses are running in Joplin.  These must be closed or the proprietors put in jail.”

Five days later, under the order of Mayor Humes, the Joplin Police under the cover of night, swept through the district of the city between Eighth and Ninth Streets.  Their orders were to investigate “suspicious houses,” where a newspaper claimed “questionable resorts were being maintained in buildings” on the block.   The investigation netted two women, Bessie Cook and Anna Grimes, arrested on the charge of “lewd conduct.” (Both pled not guilty)  Before the specter of Reverend Sunday’s pending arrival, another raid was executed this time on “joints” on Main Street at nine in the morning on the 15th of November.  Three squads of Joplin Police officers worked their way through suspected locations and by noon had arrested over 68 women (similar arrests resulted in $10 fines and a charge of disturbing the peace).

Guy Humes, the crusading mayor of Joplin.

Since his election, Humes had struggled to rein in the vices of Joplin, but often had met with resistance.  One Joplin daily newspaper (which threw its political support to the party of Humes’ opposition) even made a habit of ridiculing Humes’ morality crusade.  Regardless, the fact that Billy Sunday was coming to Joplin had provided the mayor with a new well of support to achieve his goals.  It was with no surprise that with such a groundswell of backing that Humes selected the most (in)famous saloon in Joplin to personally raid, the House of Lords.

By law, alcohol was not to be sold on Sunday, a Joplin blue law.  It was also a law that newspaper articles implied was routinely flouted.  In his effort to ensure that he could catch the proprietor of the House of Lords in the act of breaking the law, Humes made the controversial decision to hire private investigators to go undercover to alert him of the time and practice of the violation.  Thus armed with said information, Humes personally lead a raid into the famed saloon accompanied by not just police officers, but also a newspaper reporter.  The result was outrage by some and congratulations by others and space on the front page of a Joplin daily.

The city’s crusade was not without violence and bloodshed, either.  In the midst of the prior raid on suspicious women, one police officer was killed and another wounded by William Schmulbach, when an attempt was made to arrest his wife.  Schmulbach escaped and became one of Joplin’s most notorious and wanted men.  High rewards failed to turn others against him and Joplinites claimed to have spotted him at one time or another across the breadth of the nation.  Chief McManamy blamed the municipal judge, Fred W. Kelsey, who had ordered the raid for the officer’s death.  Judge Kelsey, likewise accepted responsibility, but fired back that “No officer should shirk the responsibility of a raid made in an effort to enforce the law…”  The severity of the conflict by Humes against the vices of Joplin soon garnered the attention of the Kansas City Star, which sent a reporter to Joplin to report on crackdown.

In the outsider peering in perspective offered by the article that ensued, the true state of the recent events took on the incredible air of a city government divided.  In one corner was the mayor, whom the article referred to as supported by “those who desire to see the laws enforced.”  In another, the long time and often re-elected chief of police, McManamy, who purportedly was lobbied by the ne’er do wells to simply allow the city to be policed as it had before the pre-Sunday enforcement push.  In the third corner, the municipal court judge Kelsey, who in contrast to Humes, wanted an even stricter crackdown on criminals.  Additionally, the city council of sixteen was also divided along even lines of support for and against the law enforcement effort.

Police Chief John A. McManamy, the target of lobbying by the “open town” supporters.

It all, the paper claimed, was due to the eventual arrival of the Rev. Billy Sunday.  His arrival, “caused a shiver to run through the camp of the lawbreakers.”  Purportedly, such was the concern of those on the wrong side of the law that a meeting was held at the House of Lords where a temporary agreement was made “…The gamblers agreed to leave town for a while and the saloon keepers decided to close their places on Sunday while the revival was in progress.”  Thereafter, as soon as the revival and the excitement it generated ended, the gamblers would “slip back again.”

The House of Lords was, the paper described, “The central point of attack of the law enforcement contingent and the place around which the defenders of an open town are rallying…[It is]…the pioneer saloon, café, pool hall and rooming house in Joplin.  It is the headquarters of many of the politicians, and the stronghold of those who do not like to see old conditions disturbed…”  The House of Lords was a place of “red paint and expensive furnishings” which separated and distinguished the saloon from any similar business in Joplin.  Humes, after the raid, refused to sign the liquor license and vehemently swore the House of Lords would be permanently closed.

Joplin Main Street

On the left, the House of Lords, located at the very heart of Joplin’s financial district and the alleged heart of those who supported an “open town” policy for Joplin.

Rev. Sunday also brought fear to those who indirectly supported unlawful activity.  “Some of those “church goers” who had been renting their buildings for rooming houses of questionable character and for dens of vice, took fright and demanded that their tenants vacate.  The Rev. Mr. Sunday has a way of collecting local information and announcing publicly the names of offending church members.  There was a general stampede for righteousness among that class of church members…”

The Reverend Frank Neff, formerly assistant pastor at the Independence Avenue Methodist Episcopal church in Kansas City, and then president of the Ministers Alliance of Joplin, stated to the reporter, “We expect a great clean up in the city, but it will be in the nature of a religious awakening which will result in a permanent clean up and will come from a sincere desire of the people.”  Neff went on to offer his support for Mayor Humes’ activity and granted him credit for attempting to clean up Joplin since he was elected.

The pending arrival of Billy Sunday shook Joplin to its core.  For some, it was the opportunity to save the city from vice once and for all through an up swell of religious fervor.  For others, it was a direct attack on the customs and habits, if not livelihoods, of a city that had persisted since the birth of Joplin as a rough mining camp in the old Southwest.  While factions fought, compromised and fought even more, all sides waited in one form of anticipation or another for the reverend to arrive.

Children on a Debauch

In today’s society one often hears, “Well, when I was kid we never…”

In the spring of 1900, Joplin police officers Grant Buzzard and John Chester found four young teenagers, two boys and two girls, engaged in a “drunken debauch” on Joplin Creek.  The two experienced officers were shocked by the sight of what the Joplin Globe called, “the most horrible story of youthful depravity yet recorded in Joplin.”  The two girls, Vida McElroy and May Sherman, reportedly the “daughters of women of shame and reared possibly in a brothel” were passed out in the muddy creek bed.  McElroy was fifteen, Sherman thirteen.  McElroy’s mother reportedly kept a “bawdy house in the North End” and Sherman’s mother allegedly worked at the “Red Onion” brothel.

Upon investigation the officers discovered that the two boys, Sam Belstine and George Littler, purchased at least two and half pint bottles of whiskey as well as some bottles of blackberry wine from Nick Christman’s saloon.  They met up with the two girls and headed out to Joplin Creek just off of East Seventh Street.   There they proceeded to split the liquor between them and have a roaring good time until the officers arrived on the scene.

The girls were put in the officer’s buggy while the boys were forced to walk back into Joplin in front of the horses.  The Globe commented, “Nurtured in shame and their minds poisoned from infancy by reason of the influences about them…both girls are wild and young.”  The two boys, Sam Belstine and George Littler both about fourteen, were described as, “men of low character.”  Littler’s father, Tom, was “well known to the police.”  Belstine, who worked as a newspaper boy, was the son of the owner of the Southern Bar at the corner of Twelfth and Main Streets.

Interestingly, while the authorities vowed to send both girls to the State Industrial School for Girls in Chillicothe, Missouri, they did not express their intent to send the boys to the Missouri Reform School for Boys in Boonville, Missouri.  W.A. Root, the bartender who sold the liquor to the boys, was expected to face prosecution for selling liquor to minors.

Image of Missouri State Industrial Home for Girls

Image of Missouri State Industrial Home for Girls from Missouri Digital Heritage

Source: The Joplin Globe, Missouri Digital Heritage

Joplin By Gaslight

On a rainy spring night in 1878, Marshal L.C. Hamilton turned to a reporter from the Joplin Daily Herald and proclaimed, “If you want to see Joplin by gaslight, take a trip with me.” Not one to pass up a promising story, the reporter stepped under the officer’s umbrella, and together the two men set out into the darkness. “I’m going to raid the brothels,” Marshal Hamilton declared, “Many of the inmates are behind with fines and complaints are being made.” Together the two men visited several brothels over the course of the night, most of them “so filthy” that the Marshal and the reporter chose to stand outside on the steps, rather than go inside.

Despite the efforts of the “city dads” and the police, Joplin’s streets and sidewalks remained populated by prostitutes for years to come. In 1902, Josie Seber was arrested by Office Meanor for streetwalking. She pled not guilty to no avail. Judge Walden fined Josie ten dollars for streetwalking, but the jury decided the fine was too low and pushed the fine up to fifty dollars. Her counterpart, Etta Pitts, was fortunate in that she was only fined ten dollars, but because she was unable to pay the fine, was returned to her jail cell.

Section of Joplin's 1893 ordinance against prostitution

Joplin's 1893 ordinance against prostitution

As Joplin Police Matron Ellen Ayers would find out, many of Joplin’s prostitutes were addicted to cocaine, morphine, and alcohol. Flo Banks reportedly had a “police record as long as any woman in the city” but in 1902 she declared, “her intention of being good henceforth and forever.” A Globe reporter noted Flo was a longtime “cocaine fiend” but that soiled dove had sworn she had given up her addiction once and for all.

Prostitution was also a family affair for Flo Banks. She and her sister, Pearl Banks, ran a brothel at 629 and 631 Pearl Streets in Joplin. Although it was repeatedly raided by the Joplin police, Flo and Pearl continued their life of crime.  The rewards were simply greater than the risks.

Not all scarlet women came from impoverished backgrounds. Gertrude Rhodes, who was arrested by Officer Theodore Leslie and Officer Ben May for “beastly intoxication” claimed she was from a well-to-do Kalamazoo, Michigan, family. She had married a man whose “weakness was poverty.” They moved to Pittsburg, Kansas, and although her husband idolized her, she grew restless and angry at their poverty. Seeking an escape from her husband and young child, Gertrude Rhodes left her family and headed to Joplin, and within a few days “became scarlet.” After spending time in the Joplin city jail, Gertrude announced her intentions to return to her parents in Kalamazoo.  If she returned to Kalamazoo, only her parents know.

Other girls were more fortunate. Pearl Bobbett left home to travel to Pittsburg, Kansas, after she was promised a job. Upon her arrival, she found that the job required her to dance in a “hooche-kooche” show. Pearl told a Globe reporter, “I had no money or I should have come home at once. I only had $2 when I started. Afterwards they wouldn’t let me leave.” Joplin Police Officer Cy Chapman, who was dispatched to Pittsburg to escort the girl back home, “had to resort to force to get her away from” the show’s managers but not before she had been hit by the showmen with a stick on her neck, arms, and back.

Joplin's 1903 ordinance against prostitution

Joplin's 1903 ordinance against prostitution.

But many ended up like Annie “Black Annie” Stonewalk, an African-American prostitute in neighboring Galena, Kansas. Annie, who was arrested in early 1902 for disturbing the peace after a fight with fellow white prostitute Jose McClure, died a few years later in 1904. It was at the home of Mrs. James Burton, where the former street walker succumbed to a slow and painful death from consumption. The Joplin News Herald remarked, “She has been giving the officers much trouble since she arrived in Cherokee County four years ago from Alabama. Her life would have been shortened months sooner if it had not been for Mrs. Burton’s kindness.”

By no means sanctioned, prostitution existed outside the law but for occasional attempts to reign in its excesses.  Of the women who by intent or by desperation were drawn into the trade, little is known except when apprehended by the police or sought out by reporters who sought shocking or pitiful stories to draw in readers.  Never the less, any history of Joplin is incomplete without acknowledging their presence and their impact upon the city that Jack built.

Sources: Joplin News Herald, Joplin Globe, Joplin ordinances.