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P.R. Wreuster Murder

Have you heard of the P.R. Wreuster Murder of 1911?  It is a legend that has faded with time, but was once the talk of the town.

A Plymouth Rock rooster

Picture of the murder victim from the December 28, 1911, Olathe Mirror

What started out to be a school assignment caused quite a stir in 1911 Olathe.  William “Pug” Ferguson, a student at the School of Journalism at the University of Kansas, was assigned to come up with an actual situation for a murder for his short story writing class.  Several students in this class all lived together in Lawrence.  They were sitting around discussing the class, each hatching their own murder scheme. Mr. Ferguson knew his plan was so good that he claimed it would bring the large city papers running within 4 hours.  He said anyone can write about an imaginary situation, but he wanted to be original.

William Ferguson

William Ferguson, 1911 KU Yearbook
Source: Ancestry.com

senior class portraits

1909 Senior Class from Olathe High School Source: Johnson County Museum Collection JoCoHistory.org

A graduate of Olathe High School in 1909, he found the perfect place for his scheme: the old abandoned Ott’s Mill.  The building was located on Cedar Street, not too far from the water works pond and Frisco Lake.  During Thanksgiving break, he enlisted Jim McKay, a high school friend, to help with his plan.  They took the blood from a Plymouth Rock rooster (hence the name P.R. Wreuster), and smeared it on the second floor of the structure.  Mr. Ferguson had previously snatched his sister Nanette’s hairpins, barrette, breastpin and a gold beaded necklace.  They placed these on the floor beside the blood, along with a blood-smeared pipe matted with hair.  They also positioned bloody handprints on the wall.  Upon leaving, they let the blood drip as they walked back down the steps.  The boys then went to the Olathe Mirror and wove a tale about the bloody evidence.  The newspaper man did not believe them and told them as much.  At this point the boys admitted to their experiment. They thought the matter was over, but later at Christmas, the building’s watchman came upon the blood.  He hurried to notify Deputy Sheriff E.G. Carroll (later known for the Bert Dudley lynching).  In addition to the Deputy, C.B. Little, the county attorney, rushed to the mill.  All Christmas Day, the deputy and a dozen assistants armed with long poles dragged lakes and ponds searching for a dead body.  They waded through icy waters and, of course, came down with colds the next day.   Shortly after the Sheriff’s office was notified, the big city papers, the Kansas City Post and the Kansas City Star, caught wind of the story and headed to Olathe.  Speculation was that the woman road the Strang line from the city before she was lured to the room and killed. She was then dragged down the stairs and thrown into one of the ponds. There was even an eyewitness to an unidentifiable couple walking by the mill at the time of presumed murder.

Ott's Mill drawing

Ott’s Mill depiction of the 1874 Kansas Atlas
Source: Historical Atlases of Johnson County Collection JoCoHistory.org

Within 24 hours the murder mystery was solved.  The story of a murder hoax spread throughout the state.  Newspapers exploded with the story, Headlines read, “Boys Faked Mystery”, “’Murder’ At Olathe Work of U. Students” and “Planned Fake”.  When it was discovered that the blood was from a Plymouth Rock Rooster, the headlines started to get clever: “P.R. Wreuster of Olathe ‘Fowlly’ Murdered” and “Olathe Murdered ‘Miss’ Turns out to be a ‘Mr.’ Rooster”.  As if that wasn’t enough, there was a little newspaper rivalry going on between the local Olathe paper and the big city papers.  The Star claimed that the local newspaperman was deceived also.  The Olathe newspaperman was so incensed by this accusation that he printed a two-column front page story defending himself.  The young men were not prosecuted, but they both experienced notoriety afterwards.  Mr. Ferguson landed a job at the Atchison Champion before moving on to the Dallas Dispatch, the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angles Record and the Los Angeles Examiner.  He was an early WWI pilot, and held a flying license with the army, the navy and the Marine Flying Corps.  While training in Florida it is said he fell 600 feet but sustained no serious injury.  Then he fell again 4000 feet in Tampa Bay, but this time spent four months in the hospital.

Professor Merle Thorpe, head of the journalism department at KU, denied there was ever such an assignment where students were expected to create an actual murder situation, they were only to create one on paper.

-Terri Bostic, Johnson County Library

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Fun with Family at King Louie West

The Arts & Heritage Center’s 1st Anniversary is on Sunday, June 10th. Come and celebrate anytime in the month of June! The Johnson County Museum, located inside the Arts & Heritage Center, is open Monday – Saturday 9:00 am – 4:30 pm.


After visiting the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center last year at it’s opening, I had an episode of dejavu.

I had been to the building before, but it was completely different.  I hadn’t been there for fifteen years when my sons worked at the King Louie Bowling Alley and Ice Rink during their senior year of high school in 2002. They worked on weekends for gas money, and they said it was one of their favorite jobs.

King Louie

King Louie West  Source: Johnson County Museum Collection JoCoHistory.org

One of the boys worked in the snack bar cooking up any kind of fried food you could order and the other worked in the little shop where you could turn in tickets for prizes. They made lots of people happy and were even able to get a discounted bowling ball. The rest of the family used to go over while the boys where working and go bowling.

King Louie West bowling ball

One of the bowling balls the Kazmi boys bought while working at King Louie West. They were smooth balls so the owners could have custom holes drilled to fit their hand. Source: Melody Kazmi

This being near the end of the King Louie heydays I remember it being rather dark and considerably smokey-smelling. I remember it being very large, and usually not very busy when we went. Once my little girl even got to go down in the basement and go ice skating. I didn’t even know at the time that there was an ice skating rink down there!

It was the largest place of that type I have ever seen. Now that is has been renovated, cleaned, and made bright and shiny it has become a wonderful renewed source for the public to visit in a completely different capacity. But to me it will always be where my family and I spent some fun weekends bowling and skating and eating fried foods.

Six members of the Kazmi family

The Kazmi family, ca. 2002 Source: Melody Kazmi

-Melody Kazmi, Johnson County Library

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Buddy the Deaf Dog

Your dog can sit, but can it answer its own fan mail? Can it play piano and wear a stylish cap? Buddy could!

Buddy answering fan mail

Buddy answering fan mail in 1953 Source: Kansas School for the Deaf Collection JoCoHistory.org

“Buddy the Deaf Dog” was a touring stage act put on by Bob Parker and his famous performing dog Buddy.  Buddy and Parker made a splash in the 1950s, touring schools and stage events throughout the metro area and traveling as far as St. Louis. Buddy had total hearing impairment but, with some ingenuity and a lot of practice, the team were able to develop a series of tricks that were based on visual cues given by Parker. When asked how the two came to be, Parker claimed to have found Buddy wandering lonely on the plains of Kansas. He had a mean attitude and tried to bite Parker, but the two quickly became inseparable friends.

Bob Parker and Buddy

Bob Parker and Buddy Source: Kansas School for the Deaf Collection JoCoHistory.org

Buddy was particularly popular at Olathe’s Kansas School for the Deaf, where the duo performed a myriad of tricks meant to show that Buddy’s lack of hearing didn’t prevent him from excelling and learning new things. Some of Buddy’s best-loved tricks involved him writing letters, smoking a pipe, or joining Parker on the piano.

Buddy playing the piano

Buddy playing the piano Source: Kansas School for the Deaf Collection JoCoHistory.org

Buddy "smoking" a pipe

Buddy the Deaf Dog Source: Kansas School for the Deaf Collection JoCoHistory.org

The man behind the dog, Bob Parker, was born in 1899 as Parker B. Melluish in Ottawa, Kansas. Parker was a veteran of both World Wars, dropping out of high school to join the army at age 17. He fought in the Battle of the Argonne and was honorably discharged due to injury, at which time he joined the vaudeville circuit and toured the country as a song and dance man. When World War II arrived, Parker rejoined the service and took charge of theatre and entertainment for his regiment. He arranged USO shows, performed in variety programs, brought in the newest films, and was responsible for keeping up his company’s morale. He remained an active member of Olathe’s American Legion post and Veterans of Foreign Wars throughout his life. After World War II, he returned to Kansas and became a theater manager, touring with Buddy in his free time. He was a lifelong supporter of the Kansas School for the Deaf and continued his support long after he and Buddy had retired. Parker passed away in 1975 and requested that donations be sent to the school in his memory.

Bob and buddy perform

Postcard to Kansas School for the Deaf Source: Kansas School for the Deaf Collection JoCoHistory.org

 

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Dr. Meneilly fights segregration

In the late 1940’s young Reverend Robert Meneilly was charged with starting a new Presbyterian church and assigned the area of Prairie Village. Real estate agreements, however, disallowed church services unless there was a church building in which to hold services. As an experiment, small Presbyterian churches donated $100,000 to start the church.

Village Presbyterian Church, Prairie Village, ca. 1955. Source: JoCoHistory.org

Village Presbyterian Church, Prairie Village, ca. 1955. Source: Johnson County Museum Collection JoCoHistory.org.

Before the Sanctuary was built, the Meneillys went door to door, so that when the first service was held on Feb 13, 1949 there were 282 new members. Today there are over 4000.

Dr. Robert Meneilly, son Robert, and wife Shirley, ca. 1955. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

Dr. Robert Meneilly, son Robert, and wife Shirley, ca. 1955. Source: Johnson County Museum Collection JoCoHistory.org.

Fast-forward to the 1960’s, a time of great unrest. Rev. Meneilly – Dr. Bob known by a few – recognized the need to fight for all people’s rights. He did not accept poor treatment of minorities and stood firm in his beliefs about equal rights. Progressive in his thoughts, he wanted to unite the city with the suburbs. He spoke out in newspapers, at meetings, and from his pulpit.

Dr. Meneilly speaking at the Village Presbyterian's Men Club, ca. 1963. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

Dr. Meneilly speaking at the Village Presbyterian’s Men Club, ca. 1963. Source: Johnson County Museum Collection  JoCoHistory.org.

The Kansas City Star even reprinted one of his powerful sermons on the front page. “I don’t get so much criticism from my own congregation but I get letters and crank phone calls from other people.” The County Squire also reprinted one of his sermons in their March 11 and 18, 1965 editions (see below). He received several threats, as did his children by their classmates. However, his congregation helped him through this period.

Dr. Robert Meneilly, ca. 1947. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

Dr. Robert Meneilly, ca. 1947. Source: Johnson County Museum Collection JoCoHistory.org.

In 1993, along with five others, he started the Mainstream Coalition, a group that believes “people with different points of view can come together to forge good government that benefits all citizens.”

-Terri Bostic

Rev. Meneilly’s sermons in The County Squire:

Part 1: March 11, 1965 (page 3)

Part 2: March 18, 1965 (page 25)

For further research on Rev. Meneilly, see the finding aid for the collection housed by the Johnson County Museum located at the Arts and Heritage Center.

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Breyfogle to Switzer

KCPT approached Local History Librarian Katie Stramel to help research some questions from their site curiousKC. The following family history is in response to a community member’s question posed to KCPT – “what is the proper pronunciation of Switzer Road?” We may not have the answer but we can tell you a little bit of history behind the famous Johnson County road.

Overland Park was developed by a great many families and one such family were the Breyfogles. Moving from Pennsylvania, Israel Breyfogle settled in Johnson County in 1866.

Israel Breyfogle. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

Israel Breyfogle. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

He was a stock breeder and farmer and married Mary Devanney. Together they had seven children and lived on the Breyfogle homestead at 7108 W 86th Street, which was built around 1890.

One of Israel’s sons, Homer, worked as a bodyguard for William Strang up until Strang’s death. He served as deputy sheriff as well and lived at 6416 W 86th Street.

Louis D. Breyfogle farm house. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

Louis D. Breyfogle farm house. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

Another of Breyfogle’s sons was Louis who had two sons of his own – George and Louis Breyfogle, Jr. Louis started the Overland Park State Bank in 1910 with Frank and George Hodges, William Strang, John L. Pettyjohn and five others.

Overland Park State Bank in the 1930s. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

Overland Park State Bank in the 1930s. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

John (Israel’s son) wanted to partner with his nephew George, who worked in real estate development and home building, and expand George’s business. Together with George’s wife Dorothy, brother Louis, Jr. and Louis’s wife Alma, they created the Breyfogle Partnership. They purchased some of the Strang property after it went out of business and built houses on small lots after World War II. Many of the homes were sold to veterans for a $50 down payment. The group also built commercial buildings leading to the growth of downtown Overland Park.

Portrait of Louis Breyfogle, Jr. reading. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

Portrait of Louis Breyfogle, Jr. reading. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

In an interview recorded in 1975, Dorothy Breyfogle described the properties the Partnership developed, including:

  • Chandler Place at 77th and east of Metcalf (prior to World War II)
  • Breyfogle Gardens from 87th and Metcalf, north to 84th, including South Lake
  • Homes Crest from west of Craig to Antioch and 81st to 84th
  • Valley View from east of Metcalf to Antioch and south to 86th
  • Glenwood from Metcalf to Santa Fe and 72nd to 75th

She and George lived at 7700 W 83rd Street.

Patio of George and Dorothy Breyfogle. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

Patio of George and Dorothy Breyfogle. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

The Breyfogles had two roads named after them in the Shawnee-Overland Park area. These roads were eventually renamed Switzer. For more information on Switzer, check out curiousKC.

-Katie Stramel, Johnson County Library

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Mother Nature hits Morse

“Cyclone Kills Grandmother, Son and Grandson” the headlines cried from the Olathe Mirror of June 7, 1917. On this day tragedy struck the small town of Morse and several other Kansas and Oklahoma towns.

Tornado damage in Morse, ca 1917. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

Tornado damage in Morse, ca 1917. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

The tornado’s path was sprawling, first dropping down in the south central Oklahoma town of Marietta, killing three. It continued on to the small area of Drake, killing five. Hardest hit was Coalgate, known for its coal mining, with a loss of eight lives. When it finally reached Kansas the tornado struck Coffeyville, killing three. McCune and Montana were next, but no lives were lost and there was no recorded activity again until it reached just outside of Morse.

People of Morse, Kansas survey the damage caused by the tornado, ca. 1917. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

People of Morse, Kansas survey the damage caused by the tornado, ca. 1917. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

Although many miles separated these towns it is believed to be a continuation of the same storm. The tornado was described as possessing abnormal conditions even bringing snow to western Kansas, with a possible four inches at the Colorado line.

A damaged home after Morse tornado, ca. 1917. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

A damaged home after Morse tornado, ca. 1917. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

Morse, located five miles southeast of Olathe, got its name from the superintendent of the Kansas City, Clinton and Springfield railway, which arrived in 1872. According to the History of Johnson County Kansas by Ed Blair published in 1915, Morse had a population of 61 with a general store, lumberyard, blacksmith shop, creamery, bank, and a grain elevator with a post office on the premises. The Morse Church, established in 1884 as a Methodist church is still standing after 120 years.

Morse Grain Company built in 1908. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

Morse Grain Company built in 1908. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

Prominent businessman J.W. Toynbee served as president of the Morse State Bank. J.W.’s older brother Miles had passed away years before but left a wife Mary and two children, Florence and Albert. Mary, Albert and Florence’s son Clarence were those lost to the tornado. Their home was in the next quarter section over from J.W.

Woman in front of State Bank of Morse. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

Woman in front of State Bank of Morse. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

Albert was found cradling Clarence with Mary not too far away, possibly wrenched away during the storm. Clarence had only just arrived at his grandmother’s for a visit.  His sister had just spent her time with grandma and Clarence now felt it was his turn.

The Toynbee family was a well-liked and respected family of the Morse area. “Mrs. Toynbee was one of the biggest chicken raisers in the country having fine barred rock stock.  Scores and scores were found dead on the farm and the feathers plucked cleanly from many of them, while a half dozen were wandering aimlessly about in their nude condition,” a resident stated in the Olathe Mirror. The twister took barns, chicken houses, and the garage, leaving a Ford roaster perfectly intact minus a head lamp.

Horse drawn buggies lined the perimeter of the Pleasant Valley Cemetery during the service for the tornado victims, ca. 1917. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

Horse drawn buggies lined the perimeter of the Pleasant Valley Cemetery during the service for the tornado victims, ca. 1917. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

Over 1400 people attended the funeral with 175 vehicles and 160 horse-drawn rigs. Three hearses from Olathe, Paola and Kansas City were hired for the somber occasion.

Attendees of the funeral gather near the grave site of the victims, ca. 1917. JoCoHistory.org.

Attendees of the funeral gather near the grave site of the victims, ca. 1917. JoCoHistory.org

-Terri Bostic, Johnson County Library

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Tractors from another time

Driving down a Kansas country road in the fall, you might catch sight of a huge John Deere tractor with an air-conditioned cab. It is a beautiful sight to stop and watch. They move at such a slow even pace and in such straight lines. They are getting the ground ready for the winter wheat seed.

Floyd Moon and Edwin Rice take a tractor out in the snow, ca. 1925. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

Floyd Moon and Edwin Rice take a tractor out in the snow, ca. 1925. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

Today’s tractor has been computerized making it quite the modern convenience! A computer in the cab can do the work without much help from a human. This has not always been the case. An elderly lady who spent her youth farming told me they felt they were “living high off the hog” when her father got a tractor umbrella. Now we have radios, cd players and even TVs. Back then though, they enjoyed the company of their thoughts and occasionally saw wild deer, badgers, raccoons or perhaps an eagle flying overhead. I was also told about a young coyote who followed slightly behind a tractor for quite a time in hopes of a mouse popping up.

Farmall tractor, ca. 1943. Hazel Sharp, Ed Miller and Perry Sharp working in the grain fields. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

Farmall tractor, ca. 1943. Hazel Sharp, Ed Miller and Perry Sharp working in the grain fields. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

Those that grow up in cities may find it exciting to ride along an old country road and see what it is all about, like a carnival ride. So stop and watch while one gets the ground ready to plant the winter seed and imagine what it was like before.

Boys taking apart a tractor. Photo taken from a FFA Scrapbook, ca. 1939-40. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

Boys taking apart a tractor. Photo taken from a FFA Scrapbook, ca. 1939-40. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

-Terri Bostic, Johnson County Library

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