Review of “Joplin” by Leslie Simpson

Leslie Simpson, the director of the Post Memorial Art Reference Library, writes in the epilogue of Joplin, “This book is my love letter to the city of Joplin, of which I am proud to be a citizen!”

Simpson’s latest book is a wonderful love letter to Joplin, a fine work that covers the history of the city from its establishment in 1873 to the present day. It is a lavishly illustrated postcard history of the city accompanied by detailed, informative captions. The book provides readers with an understanding of the people, places, and events that shaped Joplin into the city that it is today. Simpson does an excellent job of balancing the past and present so that readers are taken through Joplin’s early years, subsequent growth, Route 66 years, up until the time of the tornado.

The book is helpfully divided into nine sections that cover different topics such as mining, industry, residences, schools, churches, and hotels. Although one might expect that because the book is postcard history the book might be poorly researched, it is not. The captions for each illustration are insightful, well written, and historically accurate. Each illustration has been carefully chosen and offer unique glimpses into Joplin’s social, cultural, religious, and architectural history.

Sadly, Simpson’s work illustrates just how many Joplin buildings and other landmarks have been lost to the ravages of time, benign neglect, or lack of vision. Our advance copy notes that “Profits from the sale of this book will be donated to the Joplin Chamber of Commerce Business Recovery Fund” so you can be assured that your money will go to a good cause. We also recommend that you might consider giving a donation the Post Memorial Art Reference Library.

Those who own Leslie Simpson’s prior works may recognize some, but not all of the images used, however all offer entertaining glimpses into Joplin’s past. For those who have and enjoyed the above mentioned Now and Then and Again, they have a great companion to Joplin.

Joplin is a well written and illustrated history of Joplin, Missouri. It is accessible to readers of most ages and is a enjoyable read for those who enjoy local history, the history of Joplin, and illustrated histories. Hopefully it will leave most readers with an even greater appreciation for the City that Jack Built.

Joplin, $21.99, Arcadia Publishing
Available at Hastings and through the publisher at

The Love Pirate and the Bandit’s Son by Laura James – Review

The Love Pirate and the Bandit’s Son: Murder, Sin, and Scandal in the Shadow of Jesse James by attorney Laura James was published in 2009, but we thought we would mention it because the book contains a detailed look at one of Joplin’s lesser known scandals involving one of the most influential men in early Joplin history.

Zeo Zoe Wilkins was a charming osteopath who also a cunning opportunist. Her prediliction for marrying men, taking their money, and then divorcing them led some to call her a “vampire.”

After meeting 72 year old banker and former Joplin mayor Thomas W. Cunningham, Zeo Zoe sought to marry him and, in the process, seize his assets for herself. There was only one problem: Thomas had a common-law wife, Tabitha Carr Taylor Cunningham. Zeo, however, pushed ahead with her plans and married Cunningham. She kept him sequestered away from his friends, took over half a million dollars in cash, sold his bank to a rival, and disposed of his real estate holdings. Cunningham launched a divorce suit, claiming he was Zeo’s slave. In the end, the marriage was anulled. Zeo Zoe received a generous settlement while Cunningham returned to Joplin and to Tabitha. But Zeo Zoe’s story did not end in Joplin. She continued her scandalous ways until she met a brutal end in Kansas City. Her murder was never solved, but among those suspected of killing her was her one-time lover, Jesse James, Jr.

Despite the campy title, Laura James has produced an entertaining and well documented narrative account of Zeo Zoe Wilkin’s sinful life, and in the process has provided an in-depth look into one of Joplin’s lesser scandals that, for a brief moment in time, captured the nation’s attention.

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.