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.

The Saloon at 402 Main Street

In our last post, we brought you the unfortunate fate of the owner of 402 Main Street, John Ferguson. Today we bring you the unfortunate fate of Ferguson’s Club Saloon located at 402 Main Street.

The Club Saloon shortly before it was razed.

In the years that followed Ferguson’s death, the heirs to his estate, had promised to tear down the old saloon. It was an old saloon indeed, likely one of the oldest commercial buildings that remained in Joplin by 1916. Though considered by locals as the “Joplin Eyesore,” its history went back to the very founding years of the city when it was brought wholesale from nearby Baxter, Kansas, to the fledgling mining town. For over forty years, the saloon was the home to a bar on the first floor and a gambling hall on the second. As one old timer commented, “There’s where I used to play poker, myself, until I learned I didn’t know anything about the game.” The Club Saloon, a relic of the city’s wilder days, was finally razed in January, 1916, at the order of the city. It was, after all, worth thousands of dollars per square foot. The lot thereafter remained empty, but was used as a place to sell Liberty bonds during the First World War. It was this usage that gave the property the nickname, “The Liberty Lot.” Later, the building which was built and still stands today retained the liberty moniker, “The Liberty Building.”

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.”

Carthage Points Out Joplin’s Wrongs

In years past, Carthage and Joplin have had an unspoken rivalry. Sometimes this rivalry would manifest itself in spirited jibes published in the papers, but more often than not it was the Carthage Evening Press that took swipes at Joplin, rather than the Globe or News-Herald that tried to besmirch Carthage’s reputation. The following article is one of hundreds of news items that the Evening Press ran over the years about incompetent, lawless, wicked Joplin.

“Lawless at Joplin. Many Robberies Occur Between the two towns – Police Protection Needed.

‘Kid’ Holden, who runs a gambling device in the Barbee building [Note to Readers: House of Lords] and lives on the corner of north Mineral and Hill streets, East Joplin, was robbed on Broadway, between East and West Joplin, Saturday night, while on his way home. The robbers were secreted behind the bill-boards on Broadway, between Virginia and Pennsylvania avenues, and as Holden approached he was clubbed into unconsciousness – the robbers taking a gold watch and pocketbook which contained $7. It is reliably reported that an attempt was made to ‘hold-up’ Holden some time ago, but he ran his assailants away with a revolver.

This audacious robbery has occasioned much talk in East Joplin, and has brought out the fact that there have been upward of a dozen attempts at ‘hold-up’ and robbery between the two towns within the past two or three weeks. A citizen of East Joplin says: ‘Crooks are to be seen almost nightly between Main street, on the west side and the bridge and its vicinity on the east side, where they are either skulking about the lumberyard, railway crossing, hiding about freight cars, the dives or shanties in the vicinity, or the bill boards.

‘Not long since,’ he continued, ‘an east town lady, while purchasing groceries on the west side, displayed a rather full pocket book in her rounds, she had not gone far on her way home before a robber approached her. But just then a car came gliding down the hill. She at once ran toward it, and the thief made a hurried break in the opposite direction, and was almost instantly out of sight.’

‘It would be a very easy job to ‘pull’ these ‘crooks’ and break up the robbers roost between the two towns, but no attempt has yet been made to afford any relief whatever. The crooks are actually safer between the two towns than any other part of the city.[Editor’s Note: The area between the two towns probably refers to the area known as the Kansas City Bottoms.] The police, or its chief, evidently consider it the duty of the force to remain about the crowded streets, and protect the saloons, and ‘pull’ those who patronize those institutions ‘too freely,’ and thus swell the city’s funds while leaving the various outlying thoroughfares of the city of Joplin utterly unprotected.’

‘It is claimed that if three picked men were taken off the police force, the remainder would not be worth a snap of the fingers. The force is the most incompetent in the history of the city. The recent east town shooting affair – when two policemen in attempting the arrest of an unarmed crippled boy over a twenty-five cent game of cards in a saloon, shot him down at close range – is an illustration.”

Source: Carthage Evening Press

Death of a Gambling Man

William “Bill” Chenault was a well-known “sporting man” throughout the four state region who made gambling his vocation.  He had lived in Joplin for years, but was living in Oklahoma City at the time of his death.  The son of a judge from Springfield, Missouri, Chenault “was on the border his entire life.”  As a young man, he arrived in Joplin and made “lots of money.”  When the town began to grow old, he moved further west to Dodge City and Wichita, Kansas.  Bill “was lucky” but made sure to look after the less fortunate.  He would reportedly hunt up “some poor stranger who had not been handled kindly by the world and help him, put clothes on his back, or a square meal in his stomach” even though his money was easy come, easy go.  That, according to the Globe, was Bill Chenault.

Photograph of gamblers from turn of the century.

From the same time period, an example of men gambling around a roulette wheel in Reno, Nevada.

He was also remembered for his sense of humor.  One winter in Fort Scott, Kansas, the temperature dropped below zero.  When his friends began to complain, Bill put on a thin linen duster and a straw hat, and then went out in the cold.  “It is said he nearly froze to death, but he had his fun.”  During another cold winter in Wichita, a movement began to try to help the less fortunate, but it was a sham.  When Bill found out, he personally went out and bought a carload of coal and oversaw its distribution to the poorest families of the city.

Bill, like most men, had his share of demons.  He began drinking and his health subsequently went into decline.  Still, the Globe remarked, “those who know him best appreciate the kind disposition he had and the ever willing hand that went out to a friend when something was needed.”

Source: Joplin Globe 1904, Library of Congress