Category Archives: Research

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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Frank Wiziarde: Entertainer, Artist, Whizzo the Clown

Johnson County residents who were watching television between 1955 and 1987 will remember “Whizzo’s Wonderland,” a Sunday morning kid’s program. With his exaggerated clown makeup, beautifully eccentric costumes, and magical props, Whizzo enchanted children in the Kansas City and Topeka region for more than 30 years. Frank Wiziarde, the man behind the makeup and under the costumes, was an entertainer and an artist who understood his craft. He had one goal: entertain children and make them laugh.

Frank’s clown costume was a tribute to three or four distinct types of clowns, as well as famous clown characters. Frank knew the history of clowning well, and sometimes gave lectures on the topic..

Frank’s clown costume was a tribute to three or four distinct types of clowns, as well as famous clown characters. Frank knew the history of clowning well, and sometimes gave lectures on the topic. (Johnson County Museum)

Frank (1916 – 1987) was an entertainer from a young age. His father, Jack, was a trapeze artist with Ringling Brothers before starting the Wiziarde Novelty Circus in Westmoreland, Kansas, in 1930. Performing during the warm season, Frank’s father entertained on the tightrope, the trapeze, and as a clown. Frank and his brother, Jack Jr., joined the circus before it closed in 1936. Residents of Westmoreland remembered Frank lecturing in the 1930s and 1940s about the history and the craft of clowning.

When the Wiziardes were not performing in their family circus, they were running a successful bakery in Westmoreland, Kansas.

When the Wiziardes were not performing in their family circus, they were running a successful bakery in Westmoreland, Kansas. (Johnson County Museum)

Following a stint in the military and a shorter stint in Hollywood, Frank next entertained on the radio. His radio shows, first in Atchison, Kansas, and later in St. Joseph, Missouri, featured interviews with listeners on the street. Frank bought a house in Prairie Village with the GI Bill in the early 1950s, and then hosted a radio game show on WHB in Kansas City, Missouri. In 1953, Frank moved to KMBC’s radio station and, later, its television station (Channel 9).

As a director of the KMBC-TV station, Frank was responsible for programming. He pitched the idea of a children’s show, and delivered in September 1955, when “Whizzo’s Wonderland” debuted. In the show, Frank combined his skills as an entertainer with his love of the art of clowning. With his wife, Kitty, the couple made almost all of Whizzo’s props and costumes. They used simple materials and household items, such as a vacuum cleaner for the Bubble Machine and a painted Styrofoam ball with feathers for the Whizzolark. Together, the Wiziardes worked to bring Frank’s vision of a “modern” clown to a television audience each week.

Frank and Kitty were inventive—they used household materials and machines and converted them into special props with specific purposes for “Whizzo’s Wonderland.”

Frank and Kitty were inventive—they used household materials and machines and converted them into special props with specific purposes for “Whizzo’s Wonderland.” (Johnson County Museum)

The Whizzolark was just one of many “Whizzo’s Wonderland” characters, all made by hand from simple components. (Johnson County Museum collection)

The Whizzolark was just one of many “Whizzo’s Wonderland” characters, all made by hand from simple components. (Johnson County Museum collection)

In an interview with The Squire on February 19, 1976, Frank confessed, “I try to entertain. I feel if I can cause more laughter than gloom I’m fulfilling the franchise of a clown.” His passion was clowning, and his artistic expression made “Whizzo’s Wonderland” possible.

Whizzo’s clown feet were similar to the feet Frank’s father used in the Wiziarde Novelty Circus (toes and all!).

Whizzo’s clown feet were similar to the feet Frank’s father used in the Wiziarde Novelty Circus (toes and all!). (Johnson County Museum)

Frank and Kitty made the Whizzo costumes and props in their home in Prairie Village. Similarly, his mother, Laura, and their Westmoreland neighbors sewed his father’s clown and circus costumes during the winter months.

Frank and Kitty made the Whizzo costumes and props in their home in Prairie Village. Similarly, his mother, Laura, and their Westmoreland neighbors sewed his father’s clown and circus costumes during the winter months. (Johnson County Museum)

Frank’s acting philosophy was from the old school: when he was Whizzo, he was somebody else. Once the makeup was fully on, he ceased to be Frank and became Whizzo.

Frank’s acting philosophy was from the old school: when he was Whizzo, he was somebody else. Once the makeup was fully on, he ceased to be Frank and became Whizzo. (Johnson County Museum)

Frank entertained nearly to the end. “Whizzo’s Wonderland” filmed its last episode in May 1987. Within four months, Frank Wiziarde passed away. He left behind a legacy of laughter and simple entertainment. His image in the Johnson County Museum’s exhibit is recognizable for many visitors. The Whizzo the Clown Collection, containing over 100 artifacts, came to the Museum in the early 1990s. Some of Kitty and Frank Wiziarde’s hand-crafted, hand-sewn Whizzo artifacts will be on display in the main exhibit later this summer. We hope—as Frank would have—that they make you smile.

A photo opportunity in the “Becoming Johnson County” exhibit—your chance to put yourself in “Whizzo’s Wonderland!”

A photo opportunity in the “Becoming Johnson County” exhibit—your chance to put yourself in “Whizzo’s Wonderland!”

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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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Long Live the King Louie West

The Arts & Heritage Center is celebrating its 1st Anniversary on Saturday, June 2nd. The Museum, including KidScape, will be open to the public free of charge between 9:00 am and 4:30 pm. The Art Studio will host an Open Studio from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm for just $2 per person. There will also be live music for the Johnson County community in the Commons at 10:00 am. Come and celebrate with us!


 

The King Louie West is one of the most identifiable buildings in Johnson County, Kansas. It was a place that was built for making memories and enjoying the suburban lifestyle. How many thousands of children learned to ice skate there? How many thousands of adults bowled the evening away? How many birthday parties, office parties, or family gatherings took place at King Louie?

 

When Vic and Morris Lerner opened the King Louie West bowling alley in February 1959, they were taking a leap of faith. Perhaps more accurately, the Polish immigrant brothers were buying into the American Dream. The Lerners were hoping to sell suburban families the idea that bowling was fun for the whole family. It was not a sure thing, but it worked. The Lerners opened a major addition to the building in 1964: the Ice Chateau.

Conceptual drawings for the King Louie bowling alley (1959)

Conceptual drawing for the original King Louie bowling alley, with the parking lot along Metcalf Ave (1959).

 

Ice Chateau addition (1964). The King Louie West operated for nearly 50 years, closing in 2009 as AMF Bowling.

Conceptual drawing of the Ice Chateau addition (1964). The King Louie West complex operated for nearly 50 years, closing in 2009 as an AMF Bowling facility.

The huge addition—converting the whole structure to the Googie Style—made the King Louie West building an architectural icon. The undulating roofline line facing Metcalf. The angular stone façade. Gigantic wooden glulam beams (it is a massive building with no interior support columns). The stylized metal spire at the entrance. The Lerners chose the Googie Style because it was eye catching, modern, and downright cool.

Wooden glulam beams soaring over the 1954 All-Electric House in the Johnson County Museum (Photo courtesy of Bob Greenspan Photography).

Wooden glulam beams soaring over the 1954 All-Electric House in the Johnson County Museum (Photo courtesy of Bob Greenspan Photography).

The Johnson County Museum, in need of a larger, better, safer building, proposed the King Louie in 2011. When the County began renovating it in 2015 for the Arts & Heritage Center (AHC), there was no way that those unique features would be lost. It was because of the architecture and the importance of the King Louie in suburban Johnson County’s memory that the site was chosen.

 

The AHC project was not without controversy—big, County-funded projects rarely are. Controversy was not new to the King Louie, either. When the Ice Chateau addition was proposed, it also caused a stir. At the time, Prairie Village was floating the idea of a tax-payer funded, outdoor ice rink. The competition between Prairie Village and Overland Park was fierce, but in the end Prairie Village voters defeated the idea 2-1. The Lerners were free to move ahead on Metcalf. In a similar way, the AHC overcame years of naysayers.

Thematic conceptual drawings for the Arts & Heritage Center, by SFS.

Thematic conceptual drawings for the Arts & Heritage Center, by SFS.

 

Thematic zones within the Arts & Heritage Center, by SFS

Thematic/historic zones within the Arts & Heritage Center, by SFS.

The renovation of the King Louie was completed with a sensitive touch. Subtle but clever, the themes for the AHC’s zones are an homage to their previous use (and their color choices are pulled from a 1960’s palette, too). The art and dance classrooms today were once the billiards and game room—their graphic representation is taken from pool balls. The Theatre in the Park’s black box theater occupies the old bowling alley, and so its theme is taken from the lines and triangles on a bowling lane. The Museum sits on the floor of the Ice Chateau. Its motif are white slashes on a gray background, imitating the skate marks on ice. What’s more, physical slashes remain on the concrete floor of the Museum’s collection storage space, once the site of the ice skate rental!

A portion of a mural, once located in the skate rental, remains behind the drywall inside the Museum Classroom (photo courtesy of Bruce Bandle Photography).

A portion of a mural, located in the old skate rental, remains behind the drywall inside the Museum Classroom (Photo courtesy of Bruce Bandle Photography).

 

Ice skate scrapes on the floor of the Johnson County Museum's collection storage.

Ice skate scrapes on the concrete floor of the Johnson County Museum’s collection storage.

While the use of the King Louie West building has changed, its intent has remained much the same: a place for Johnson County’s families to gather and make memories. Gone are the bowling alley, billiards tables, and ice rink, yes; but here instead is a county museum, community theater, and arts and cultural classrooms for young and old. In fact, since opening in June 2017, the Arts & Heritage Center has welcomed more than 110,000 visitors. During the last year, the Johnson County Museum has served nearly 72,000 patrons, including 5,500 children for educational programming. The arts, cultural, and theater classes offered at the AHC have enrolled 9,200 community members. The lives of 4,880 patrons have been enriched by Theatre in the Park’s black box theater programming. The AHC’s event rental spaces have introduced nearly 23,000 Johnson County and KC Metro residents to this new cultural gathering space in suburbia! How many new memories are being made every day?

The Arts & Heritage Center as it appears today (Photo courtesy of SFS).

The Arts & Heritage Center as it appears today (Photo courtesy of SFS).

The iconic King Louie West building, perhaps one of the most defining structures in post-war suburban Johnson County, is alive and well. It is still serving the Johnson County community as the Arts & Heritage Center. And we at the Johnson County Museum are proud to continue the Lerner brothers’ work engaging the community and helping to make new memories.

 

(For more on the history of the King Louie West, view the digital exhibit “King Louie: The Story Behind the Building” in the AHC Commons, or read a history here:  http://www.jocohistory.org/digital/collection/alb/id/419/rec/1)

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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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“An Ideal Home in an Ideal Location with Ideal Surroundings:” Richard Hocker’s Suburban Developments in Merriam, Kansas

By the turn of the 20th century, industrialization in Kansas City resulted in overcrowding, pollution, and disease. Looking to escape these less-than-desirable conditions, Kansas City’s upper-middle classes sought homes in new suburban developments in northeast Johnson County. The advent of the electric trolley led to “streetcar suburbs,” which made transit into downtown accessible and convenient.

One such suburban neighborhood was planned by Richard Weaver (R.W.) Hocker, who was a banker and real estate developer in Kansas City, Missouri. Envisioning early suburban development in Johnson County, the “R. W. Hocker Subdivision” was platted in 1910 for eight 5-acre lots. One of two houses originally built, the “Walker House,” was added to both the State and National Registers of Historic Places in March 2017.

3-story house with limestone porch

This image from Google Maps shows the Walker House as it appears today at 5532 Knox Street.

The Walker House is a single-family dwelling built between 1906 and 1911 (the Kansas State Historical Society estimated 1910). The home, located at 5532 Knox Street, was built as a “spec house,” short for “speculative,” essentially serving as a model for the neighborhood’s intended development. The home’s first occupant was Mrs. Azubah Denham, the wife of Rev. B.Q. Denham. Rev. Denham was a popular pastor in Johnson and Wyandotte Counties in the 1890s. Between 1904 and 1910, however, he had become infamous for adultery and indecency scandals in Buffalo and New York City. In 1911, Azubah Denham purchased the Walker House in her name only for $5,500 ($137,500 in 2015). In 1920, many working class families lived on less than $1,500 per year, so the home’s price illustrates the intended middle-class nature of Hocker Subdivision.

Architecturally, the Walker House is indicative of the Kansas City Shirtwaist Style, named for ladies fashion at the beginning of the 20th century. Shirtwaist dresses included a seam at the waist where the material often changed. The Shirtwaist influence is evident in the Walker House: a single-floor local limestone exterior, an upper floor and a half of cedar clapboard, and flared gable eaves on the eastern face and one-story porch. Inside, original woodwork, including oak and pine hardwood floors, contribute to the historic character. The Walker House originally sat on a large 5-acre lot, but today occupies just .31-acres.

Hocker Grove area of Johnson County atlas map

This excerpt from the 1922 Standard Atlas of Johnson County, Kansas, shows both of Hocker’s residential developments. The Walker House occupied Lot K, located in the upper right. (Johnson County Museum, http://www.jocohistory.org/digital/collection/atlas/id/138/rec/4)

Hocker also platted “Hocker’s Grove” in 1915. This neighborhood contained 1-acre lots for modest—but still middle-class—Craftsman bungalow homes. Just seventeen were originally constructed. Both neighborhoods were within a half-mile walk from the “Hocker Line,” an inter-urban, electric trolley that was speculated to extend from Kansas City to Lawrence and even Topeka (it reached as far as Mill Creek, to the east of Zarah, or about two miles west of I-435 today). By 1907, the trolley ran the the seven-and-a-half miles between Kansas City and Merriam. Residents could reach Union Station in 35-minutes, the intersection of 12th and Main Streets in 45-minutes, and make connections to Kansas City’s urban trolley line along Southwest Blvd.

Trolley station at Hocker Grove, 1915

The Hocker Line Trolley Station near Merriam. This image appeared in the 1915 Hocker Grove promotional booklet. (Johnson County Museum, http://www.jocohistory.org/digital/collection/jcm/id/5594/rec/25)

Hocker promoted his neighborhoods with the slogan, “The Home For You.” A promotional booklet printed in 1915 testified that buyers would find “an ideal home in an ideal location with ideal surroundings.” The booklet indicated that the “modest, artistic homes in a restricted neighborhood” were equipped with natural gas, fronted on macadamized rock roads, and were located in “natural and picturesque beauty.” Buyers could take advantage of flexible deferred payment plans, as well. The “restricted neighborhood” wording communicated to white, middle-class buyers that the area was reserved as residential for a twenty-five year span, and that no African Americans could purchase or lease the homes there for 100 years. This developer’s tool of racial segregation, often referred to as a “deed restriction,” was used throughout Kansas City and Johnson County’s suburban neighborhood developments, as well as across the nation during the 20th century suburban boom.

Hocker Grove homes located on the southeast and northeast corners of the intersection of Knox Street and Hocker Drive, 1915

These Hocker Grove homes are located on the southeast and northeast corners of the intersection of Knox Street and Hocker Drive. Both streets were called “Avenues” in 1915. Image from the 1915 Hocker Grove promotional booklet. (Johnson County Museum, http://www.jocohistory.org/digital/collection/jcm/id/5595/rec/27)

Hocker Trolley line map

An undated map of the route of the Hocker Line electric trolley. The trolley line followed the Frisco and Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railroad lines. (Johnson County Museum)

Both of Hocker’s neighborhood developments were located near Hocker Grove Park, a 40-acre amusement park that Hocker planned and built with O.M. Blankenship between 1907 and 1908. The park was located on Hocker Drive, north of Johnson Drive today. This amusement park featured roller-skating, dancing under a large pavilion with a Wurlitzer automatic band organ (the pavilion doubled as a basketball gym), and was the site of balloon ascensions, professional boxing matches, and picnics. Families rode the Hocker Line from Kansas City to enjoy picnics in the natural setting. There was also a 2,000-seat grandstand for watching baseball games, an extremely popular sport at the time. A “Trolley League” soon developed with six semi-professional baseball teams.

Picture of the Hocker Grove 'Trolley League' baseball team, 1908

The Hocker Grove “Trolley League” baseball team, c. 1908. (Johnson County Museum, 1990.025.018)

Crowds skating at the Hocker Grove skating rink, 1908-1915

A postcard image of the Hocker Grove Park skating rink, c. 1908-1915. (Johnson County Museum, http://www.jocohistory.org/digital/collection/jcm/id/11817/rec/30)

Hocker was not the only real estate entrepreneur working in the area. Increased real estate competition in and around Merriam at the time of Hocker’s developments may have limited the construction there. After all, despite the beauty and convenience of Hocker’s two neighborhoods, only 19 homes were built between them. William B. Strang’s competing interurban trolley line and his suburban developments, most notably Overland Park, were located nearby and were equally convenient, beautiful, and middle-class in nature. Hocker died in 1918, and his amusement park closed the following year. After more than a decade of financial difficulty, the Hocker Line trolley closed for good in 1934. By then the automobile had become accessible for Johnson County families.

In the century since the construction of the Walker House in the R. W. Hocker Subdivision and the smaller Craftsman homes in Hocker’s Grove, most of the empty lots have been built upon, the large lots have been subdivided, and many historic homes have been remodeled or razed. Yet it is still possible to discern the beauty of the location and, with Interstate 35 following the Hocker Line into Kansas City almost exactly, the convenience remains evident. Hocker’s suburban dreams for his neighborhoods nestled between Merriam and Shawnee have been thoroughly realized today, if not during his lifetime.

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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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