Powers Museum Needs Your Help

The Powers Museum of Carthage needs your help. Recently, the museum’s air condition system had a near catastrophic failure. The result is that only the main gallery and library are receiving air conditioning, while the storage area of the museum, home to many of the museum’s most valuable and climate sensitive items, is not.

As noted in the above linked Joplin Globe article, never in the museum’s 24 years has it requested public help, but the cost of replacing the faltering system is more than the museum’s usual sources of funding can support. Repairs are not an option, unfortunately, as the company which makes the needed parts is now out of business.

The Director of the Powers Museum, Michelle Hansford, stated in the Globe article, “Powers Museum has never solicited the community for operational or maintenance support before, but now we need their help to make this repair possible. Any gift, no matter what size, will be used for this purpose. At this point, anything would be appreciated.”

If you have never been to the Powers Museum, it is definitely worth a visit and a fine example of what a local history museum should be. Please show your support for local history and make whatever donation you can to help preserve Jasper County’s history.

Mining – Progress and Prosperity

An illustration from the Joplin Globe invoking the spirit of progress that pervaded much of Joplin’s history.

Mining - Progress and Prosperity

Source: Joplin Globe

Death of a Soiled Dove

Joplin’s North End was riddled with “immoral resorts” filled with young women.  Mamie Johnson was one of many who walked the streets of Joplin.  Her life tragically came to an end at the age of thirty-three after she abandoned her husband of four years and two children and took up the profession of a scarlet woman.  But her life as a lady of the night must have worn her down, for in the end Mamie’s life was cut short by her own hand.

Mamie, whose real name was allegedly Minerva Rickey, was the daughter of a “well-to-do” farmer from the Kansas City.  At a young age she eloped with John Gordon, a young farmer, and settled down.  After four years and two children, however, Mamie left her family and strolled into Joplin and a life of vice.  Shortly before her death, she had confided to an aunt who lived in Joplin that her husband had mistreated her.  The two had reportedly divorced.

One day life was too much for Mamie to bear and she overdosed on ten cent dose of morphine.  She was discovered in her room by Frank Wilsey, a laundryman for the Empire Steam Laundry, when he dropped off a bundle of clothes at her room.  Word quickly spread throughout Joplin’s tenderloin district and “many touching scenes were witnessed as the unfortunate creatures crowded about and gazed upon the face of their dead sister.” A letter was found in her room addressed to Bessie Blair.

The text of the letter read,

Joplin, Mo.  July, 27, 1898.

Dear Friend Bessie:

I will write this for you and leave it for you.  I may not get to talk to you or see you anymore.  But my bedroom suit you can have for that fine, but give my clothes to my aunt.  That is all I want, but would like for you to come as I want to send word home.  I would like for you to see them as soon as possible, for my clothes, my trunk, and things is all I ask of you to let them have.  Well, I am satisfied and hope you will be.  Tell them to go down to the wash woman’s and give up three dollars for clothes there.  I would like to have my aunt come as soon as you get this note.

Do not think nothing as you know what caused it.  You will not be out nothing as my folks will take care of me.  I suppose you will be satisfied when you see, anyway.  You have been a friend to me and not a friend.  And I hope when the girls see this they will take warning by me.  Bessie, it is hard to do, but I cannot help it.  I hope you will be satisfied with Minnie [Mamie's roommate] as she is a good girl, and will treat you right.  I send my love and best regards and hope you will not take a foolish idea like I have took.  Kiss them all for me.  Tell Pearl she is all right.  Time is drawing near and will have to close.

Good bye.
from your Mamie Gordon to my dear friend Bess, 1,000 kisses to all you I will go to hell tonight.

Interestingly, the letter was dictated by Mamie to her lover, Ernest Boruff, who testified at the coroner’s inquest that the two had quarreled a few weeks earlier after some of his clothes went missing.  They quarreled again after he wrote the letter for her and he subsequently left.  He claimed that he did not suspect Mamie had suicidal intent and swore that she “was not in the habit of using morphine.” Bessie Blair also testified at the coroner’s inquest and stated that Mamie had threatened suicide several times during the past month.

After Mamie Gordon’s funeral, the coroner’s jury issued the following verdict:

“We, the jury, find that Mamie Gordon came to her death form an overdose of drugs, taken by herself presumably with suicidal intent.”

W.M.  Whiteley, Coroner
Dave K.  Weir
Samuel Cox
A.C.  James
J.M.  Graham
Ed Trimble
A.  Malang

Life as a prostitute was not a happy one, and more likely than not, one that women simply fell into due to misfortune and bad circumstance.  At least some had addictions to cocaine or morphine, and as Mamie Gordon’s letter warned, one that could easily end in the death of a soiled dove.

Source:  Joplin Globe

Happy Birthday, Joplin!

On March 23, 1873, the Missouri legislature passed a bill presented by T.M. Dorsey and Judge John H. Taylor.  On that day, the City of Joplin was born.  On that day in March, Joplin counted around four thousand citizens, no paved streets or roads, and only seventeen lead furnaces.  All but a few of Joplin’s buildings were built of wood and many homes were simply tents and small box-houses.  By appointment of the governor, E.R. Moffett was made the first mayor of Joplin.  Joel T. Livingston, in his massive History of Jasper County, republished an article from the St. Louis Globe-Democrat which described the people of Joplin as full of “pluck and industry” and who overcame severe disadvantages through sheer, “abundant nerve.”

Today, Joplin turns 137 years old.  Happy Birthday, Joplin!

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

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

The Bloomer Girls Come to Joplin

In turn-of-the-century America, teams of “Bloomer Girls” traveled across the country challenging men’s amateur, semi-pro, and professional baseball teams to exhibition games. Despite being nicknamed for the loose-fitting trousers that they wore on the diamond, Bloomer Girls were tough competitors. One such “Bloomer Girls” team arrived in Joplin in June 1898, to play a series of seven baseball games against McCloskey’s Giants at Cycle Park. Interest was so intense that promoters added additional seats in anticipation of large crowds of spectators.

Maud Nelson, star pitcher for the team, was hailed as “a twirler of exceptional speed, and it is a common occurrence for her to strike out the strongest batters on the opposing team.” Nelson, a native of Chicago whose real name was Clementina Brida, grew up playing baseball with her brother. As a pitcher, she was reportedly paid $250 a month.

Although the Bloomer Girls engaged in athletic competition with men at a time when women were still governed by stifling Victorian mores, their manager assured the Globe’s reporter that the Bloomers were “refined ladies, most of whom learned the art of ball playing on account of it being a health giving exercise, and only adopted it as a profession after becoming experts and receiving flattering offers to play in exhibition games.”

McCloskey, manager of the opposing team, asserted that the Bloomer Girls came “highly recommended, both as to their excellent playing and conduct on the diamond.” Potential spectators were assured that “the management guarantees that nothing will be said or done but what the most refined lady in the audience will approve.”

In one of their games prior to coming to Joplin, the Bloomer Girls played the Eurekas, a local men’s team in Richmond, Virginia. The Eurekas were warned that the Bloomer Girls “asked no favors, and wanted the game played on its merits.” Captain Boyne, manager of the Eureka team, instructed his players, “to knock the Bloomers silly.”

Whatever preconceived notions the men of the Eureka baseball team may have had about women baseball players were quickly overturned when it was found that it “would be no easy matter” to beat the Bloomer Girls. By the end of the ninth inning the Bloomer Girls led the Eurekas 11 to 5. Maud Nelson was hailed as “a peach, her work in the box alone is worth the price of admission to the game.” She “handles herself like a professional pitcher, throws well, gives the catcher curve signs, and can stop or catch a ball with either hand.”

A 1901 cartoon of the Bloomer Girls from the San Francisco Call.

A 1901 cartoon of the Bloomer Girls from the San Francisco Call.

When the Bloomer Girls played McCloskey’s Giants at Cycle Park, they faced fierce competition from the Giants, who played as if “they had reputations to lose.” Managers McCloskey and Menefee livened up the game by having their men run between bases with the Bloomer Girls in hot pursuit. Unfortunately for the Bloomer Girls, they lost the first game 14 to 1.

Maud Nelson, who was “justly” billed as the “star of the team,” continued to be involved in baseball for years to come as a manager and team owner, anticipating the time when the women of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

Sources: The Joplin Globe, the Library of Congress, www.Exploratorium.edu, Wikipedia: Maud Nelson.

The Pawn Shop on the Corner

The Joplin of today has numerous pawn shops dotting its streets and thoroughfares. Perhaps the most iconic pawnshop is that of Ben Milgram on Main Street. Pawn shops, however, were in downtown Joplin long before Milgram set up shop.

According to one turn-of-the-century account of Joplin pawn shops, people pawned the coats off of their backs for twenty-five to fifty cents. One pawn shop owner reported that a man had come into his store and asked to speak to the owner in the back. Embarrassed, the man asked the pawn shop proprietor if he “could get a loan on a good pair of shoes.”

Another Joplin pawn broker told the story of one of his repeat customers, an elderly African-American woman who often pawned her solid gold dental crown for money. According to the broker, she would enter his shop, take off her dental crown, wrap it up in a piece of paper, and then get her money. She reportedly had done this so often that the store owner rarely ever checked the paper to see if the crown was in it or not. One pawn shop operator on Third Street related the story of a man who burst into his store, pulled out his dentures, and asked “Say, mister, what’ll give me for these?”

A representative view of a pawn shop from the time period.

A representative view of a pawn shop from the time period, though not a Joplin pawn shop.

Men were not the only ones to patronize the pawn shops of Joplin. Women were known to “buy diamonds one day and come back to the same place and pawn them the next.” One woman reportedly pawned her wedding rings in order to pay for the cost of a divorce. Another woman pawned her expensive silk dress to get enough money to pay her brother’s rent after he fell ill and was unable to work. Fortunately she was able to reclaim her dress within a few days. One pawn broker remarked, “Yes, I’ve all sorts of things offered me; shoes, shirts, coats, and hats to diamonds and false teeth, and I wouldn’t be surprised to have a woman come in and want to borrow money on her false hair.”

Thus, a drive down Joplin’s Main street with pawnshops on the corner isn’t a recent phenomenon, but an experience shared with residents of Joplin that stretches back a century.

Sources: Library of Congress and the Joplin Globe.

Joplin’s Hello Girls

In 1905, Joplin residents who picked up the phone to place a call would have heard a cheerful “Hello Central!” Joplin’s “Hello Girls” were said to be a “combination of encyclopedia, dictionary, city directory, blue book, weather vane, atlas, human alarm clock, and bureau of information in general.” Altogether there were thirty-five young women who were responsible for directing calls in the city of Joplin. Twenty-two of the telephone operators were assigned to the main line and answered an estimated 16,000 calls per day.

The Bell Telephone Company of Joplin, Missouri

Some of Joplin's Hello Girls likely worked at the Bell Telephone Company's building.

One night operator on the Bell line of the Missouri & Kansas Telephone Company spoke with a Joplin Globe reporter regarding an average work night. “Oh, they just ask everything,” the operator replied when asked what people asked when making a call. “So many people ring up to ask when the next street car goes to Carthage, or to Galena, and whether the East Joplin dinky is running today. Then there’s the trains. It would be folly for a central operator not to know the exact time of departure from and arrival of every train in Joplin, and if we don’t want to get our heads taken off by an information craving public, we’d better known just how late that Frisco from the west is tonight, and whether the Katy carries passengers on its local freight.”

It was also not uncommon for folks to pick up the phone to find out the time of day. The operator slyly remarked that she believed some folks did so just to save on the price of an office clock. Joplin residents also picked up the phone to find out where a fire was, often ringing up the operator to gasp, “Where’s the fire, Central?”

Although an operator might receive a dozens of calls on a night when the fire alarms rang incessantly, at least one operator did not mind the inquisitive phone calls, telling the Globe reporter, “We all sort of have a mutual interest in fires, and it’s a sort of human weakness, I’ll admit, to realize that we are very important for once in our little lives. It makes us sort of proud, you see, and we just answer away with might and main telling them all where the fire alarm came from.”

Other common questions the operators received were regarding the dates and times of church services, the location of specific mines, the meaning of words, the authors of books, and even “what the sign is when you dream you saw your fellow.”

Operators displayed patience with their customers, especially in the case of the elderly who were often hesitant to speak into a phone and would forget who they wanted to speak to, including one older lady who would call up and say, “Oh, I want to talk to a woman, she lives out on, oh, I forgot the street and I can’t think of her name. She’s a milliner.”

A telephone operator circa 1911.

This unnamed telephone operator from 1911 is representative of telephone operators of the time.

Besides patience, an encyclopedic knowledge of train schedules, businesses, and people, the other essential quality needed in a “Hello Girl” was youth. Acting Secretary H.E. Scovern of the Home Telephone Company told the reporter that, “It’s not altogether an easy thing to secure the desirable sort of operators. We have them here from fifteen years up, but the girl of seventeen makes the very best. She’s quick and alert and readily learns the run of the business and the professional men the line caters to. She must know them all, and there are something like 1,300 phones to keep in mind.” Scovern said a “Hello Girl” had the instinct of Sherlock Holmes and the cunning of an expert in the dead letter department at the Post Office. He praised one operator who, through her extensive memory and ability to analyze voices, could detect “fraudulent use of the toll board exchange” and despite the many “rag chewings and some unpleasantness” proved a “valuable guardian of the company’s interests.”


Sources: Library of Congress and the Joplin Globe.

Joplin, Phone Home

Alexander Graham Bell filed his patent for the telephone in 1876.  Six years later, telephones were considered a rare luxury and this list reveals some of the wealthier citizens of Joplin, as well the most successful businesses.   Even with a population in the thousands and businesses in at least the dozens, only about 51 telephones are listed.  Times have changed.

Jopin Telephone Exchange list for 1882

Jopin Telephone Exchange List for 1882.

Source: Joplin Daily Herald