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Category Archive: Writing

Feb 16

Like an obvious truth, Kansas City tends to be “discovered” on a regular basis, and I just discovered it again. In a dusty box in the basement, I found this recently: A 1982 magazine article titled ‘KANSAS CITY: The Boom Town That Blossomed’, by the late Tom Ladwig, Mizzou ad/journalism professor.

An introduction to his story:

As writer and ad-man extraordinaire, Tom Ladwig once penned, “Like an obvious truth, Kansas City tends to be ‘discovered’ on a regular basis.”

Kansas City was discovered again by many this past baseball season when the Kansas City Royals took the world by storm and made it to the World Series in October of 2014. For some, they discovered this surprising city for the RoyalsKKfirst time.

When I found the late Tom Ladwig’s story in a box of old magazines, I was delighted. Not only does he create a picture of how this town grew and blossomed, but it’s a timely tale in its own way. When he wrote this in 1982, he spoke of how Hallmark’s Donald Hall made a mind-boggling investment creating the new Crown Center in what was a badly blighted area. Ladwig wrote about the then relatively new Harry S Truman Presidential Library and the “plush” Harry S Truman Sports Complex as well as the Kemper Arena, “a snow-white, pillar less, space age building”.

It was interesting to me that he wrote about these as new, shiny, state-of-the art landmarks in Kansas City that we now consider antiquated. Now, they have either been remodeled a couple of times or are in need of a face-lift. We certainly don’t think of them as new.

Read on and enjoy this 1982 description of Kansas City-The Boom Town That Blossomed. It’s all seems new again.

KANSAS CITY:

The Boom Town That Blossomed

By Tom Ladwig

Published in March 1982 Edition of Ford Times, The American Road, Dearborn, MI

Tom Ladwig

Tom Ladwig and his beloved typewriter

(To read a related column by Kay Hoflander

 about Tom and his typewriterclick here.)

 

Like an obvious truth, Kansas City tends to be “discovered” on a regular basis. Many years ago, Andre Maurois, the French author and no-nonsense intellectual wrote, “Who in Europe, or in America for that matter, knows that Kansas City is one of the loveliest cities on earth? And yet it is true.”

What most Kansas Citians know (and visitors discover) is that their city has more tree-lined “promenades” than Paris, gushes with almost as many fountains as Rome and certainly has more hills. It’s greener than Ireland and is indeed a lovely city.

Kansas-City

French fur trader Francois Chouteau was the first white settler in the area. That was in 1821. When the Missouri River flooded his trading post he left for furrier pastures.

Independence, Missouri, a few miles to the east, had all the profitable Santa Fe Trail business. John C. McCoy, a Baptist minister’s son with a sharp eye for profit, opened an outfitter’s store at Westport, four miles south of Chouteau’s post, and grabbed that good Santa Fe business from Independence. McCoy’s store still stands, now restored as Kelly’s, a popular bar.

While all this was going on, “One-Eyed” Ellis was minding his own business down by the river, selling booze to the Osage and Kansas Indians and picking up a stray horse or cow now and then. He also acted as a sort of justice of the peace when the occasion arose.

A nearby farmer, Gabriel Prudhomme, got himself killed in a barroom brawl and his 257-acre farm (now downtown Kansas City) was put up for sale. McCoy didn’t miss a lick. He and 13 friends bought it for $4,220. They wanted to build a city, or at least, a town.

Because “One-Eyed” had a cabin close by with a hickory fire and booze, and because of his quasi-legal status, the group went there to choose a name for their town.  Besides, “One-Eyed” had a handy reference tool—a blue-backed Webster spelling book. He was named chairman of the group. One fellow who wore a slit-tailed coat wanted to name the town “Port Fonda” after himself. That was voted down. Another suggested “Possum Trot” and another “Rabbitville”. An argument flared. “One-Eyed’s” spelling book was no help.

But in the end, he saved the day, or the city, as it turned out. He suggested, perhaps as a compromise, the name “Kansas” after his good customers. And so the town was named. Later, in 1853, it was officially designated Kansas City.

It became the hottest boomtown on the frontier. It was “wide open” and by 1857 public sentiment grew against open saloons and public drunkedness. There were 1,500 souls there spending $135,000 a year on liquor, a staggering figure in more ways than one. Robert Van Horn, a newspaper publisher, suggested editorially it might be a good idea to start some local distilleries. No use letting that good money go out of town.

With Van Horn promoting, the Missouri River was bridged and a rail link established between Chicago and the West. That did it. Business boomed and Kansas City shed its fur-trapper, Buffalo-hunter, Indian-fighter image and entered a period of opulence and the finer things of life. Gun-fighters Jesse James, Wild Bill Hickock, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday mingled with white-tie wealthy in the opera house, theaters, fine restaurants and gambling palaces. A library, a medical school and an Academy of Science were established, and permanent commercial and public buildings were built. Police and firemen were decked out in uniforms. Civilization had arrived.

At the turn of the century, the city boldly butted heads with Chicago, Cincinnati and Cleveland for the 1900 Democratic National Convention—and got it. No sooner had the award been announced than Kansas City’s new convention hall burned to the ground. The city’s spirit was such that 90 days later the hall had been rebuilt in time for William Jennings Bryan to receive the Democrats’ presidential nomination on July 4.

Newspaperman Henry Haskell, who established the Kansas City Star’s editorial policy (and picked up two Pulitzers along the way), said there were two things that made Kansas City great. The first was the great bend of the Missouri River and the second was William Rockhill Nelson, the Star’s publisher. Another noted publisher, William Allen White, said “Nelson was a traitor to his class, a rich man willing to attack the rich, especially if they were slumlords thwarting his dreams for a beautiful Kansas City.”

Nelson nagged, berated and abused the city into making something of itself. He made possible the William Rockhill Nelson Art Gallery, which along with the Mary Atkins Museum of Fine Art, forms the cultural core of a four-state area. In fact, the Nelson is the largest art museum west of Chicago and is ranked among the nation’s top half-dozen. It houses perhaps the largest collection of Oriental art outside Asia.

In 1907, J.C. Nichols, another fellow with a penchant for quality, bought a 10-acre hog farm and turned it into the beautiful Country Club district. He wasn’t just compulsive about quality; he was downright fanatical about it.

In 1922, Nichols took a 55-acre tract and developed the Country Club Plaza, a Spanish-style marketplace and now the oldest shopping center in the United States. It has become a way of life for thousands, with its waterfalls, tree-lined walks, wrought-iron fenced courtyards, gardens, fountains and statues. But best of all, eight gigantic enclosed parking areas make it a pedestrian delight The Plaza is still the standard by which other such centers are measured.

Joyce Hall, up in Nebraska, heard about that 1900 convention hall rebuilding feat and decided Kansas City was for him. He came down and founded the Hallmark greeting card empire. Donald Hall, a son, heads the firm today and has opened up spectacular new frontiers of his own.

He’s made a mind-boggling investment in the city—building an 85-acre “city-within-a-city” on a once-blighted area, which touches Prudhomme’s old farmstead. Taking its name “Crown Center” from the Hallmark logo, it has two major hotels (one with a 60-foot natural waterfall in the lobby), an elaborate shopping center, restaurants, an office complex and condominium towers.

The late President Harry S Truman learned his way around politics in Kansas City during the 1920s and ‘30s. (The Harry S Truman Library and Museum is located in Independence, just down I-70).

Kansas City never could do things halfway. While all the spectacular growth was under way in the 1920s and ‘30s, a corrupt and well-oiled political machine under Pendergast took over city hall. The Kansas City Star stopped all that in the late 1930s by exposing the Pendergast skeletons in city hall closets.

When Harry Truman decided to run for his first office, Pendergast gave him this advice, “When you are after votes, don’t wear a coat and pants that match.” Must have worked.

The Pendergast period had its brighter side—“Kansas City Jazz.” It developed in the Prohibition-era speakeasies and spawned such stars as Count Basie, Charlie “Bird” Parker, Benny Moten, Mary Lou Williams, Hot Lips Page, Julia Lee, and Baby Lovett.

Walter Cronkite honed his reportorial skills on a Kansas City radio station and in the old United Press bureau here. Ernest Hemingway credited Pete Wellington, the Star’s city editor, and his stylebook for developing the Hemingway style. He worked for the paper before World War II.

Joan Crawford, Burt Bacharach, Ed Asner, Ginger Rogers, Thomas Hart Benton, Jean Harlow, Walt Disney and Goodman Ace were all Kansas Citians who have fiddled with the national psyche at one time or another.

And Lord knows that Kansas City roast beef is the best in the land. And besides the Lord, Calvin Trillin (who writes about food for The New Yorker and Nation) says: “The best restaurants of the world are, of course, in Kansas City. Not all of them; only the top four or five.” Trillin says the best single restaurant in the world is Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque. Bryant’s, a battered cafeteria in the shadow of old Municipal Stadium, has served thousands of ballplayers and newspapermen, along with several presidents, Jimmy Carter, the latest.

Each autumn, the American Royal Livestock and Horse Show take over the city. More than a million people see purebred animals from all over the world pose and prance.

Most of the city’s 1.3 million-plus souls are involved in some way in some sport. Their enthusiasm has produced the Harry S Truman Sports Complex, a plush stadium that is home for the football Kansas City Chiefs and the baseball Royals. The Kings were the roadblock the Houston Rockets had to get by last season to reach the National Basketball Association finals. Their home is Kemper Arena, a snow-white, pillar less, space age building that was the site of the 1976 Republican National Convention.

Some consider Kansas Citian Tom Watson the best pro golfer around. In the winter, while his fellow pros go to warmer climes, he sets up shop on a carpet in the greenskeeper’s shed at the country club, whapping balls through its garage doors onto the snowy hills.

But if sports are big in Kansas City, the performing arts are bigger. A couple of years ago, the nonprofit performing arts groups (theater, opera, dance, symphonic music, jazz, the Starlight Theatre and Theatre League) amassed three times more paid admissions than the football Chiefs and the basketball Kings.

The new International Airport is a marvel, with as little as 85 feet distance from plane to car, and you never walk much farther.

Kansas City has a young look and has the vibrant beat of youth. Young people come with the idea they can do anything they’re big enough to do. And they can—except for one thing.

They cannot tell a Kansas City native that the Gateway Arch of St. Louis is the “Gateway to the West.” That distinction belongs to Kansas City.

 

 

 

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Editor’s Note: Tom Ladwig-authored books available here.

 

 

Mar 03

Reading about a Reader’s Reader: Joe Queenan

Credit: Photo published by The Book Reporter www.bookreporter.com

Credit: Photo published by The Book Reporter www.bookreporter.com

The cover of the Rotarian monthly magazine caught my eye. The magazine, a year old now, was stuck in a rack at a car dealership that I know well and frequent a lot. I glimpsed a corner, saw the title “The Joys of Reading”, and that was all I needed to know.

I rescued it.

Inside was a fascinating story titled “Living by the Book” by Joe Queenan. Subtitle: “Books may be the best way to engage the world. Even if you intend to have an argument”.

I admit I did not know about Joe or his writing, and for that matter his voracious reading.  I do now.

Fascinated by the article, I read it, and then began searching for more information on Joe Queenan. Of course I did.

I am betting you might be interested, as well.

An excerpt from a Wall Street Journal article, “My 6,128 Favorite Books” explained in Queenan’s own view ‘how a harmless juvenile pastime turned into a lifelong personality disorder’.

Here is an excerpt:

“I started borrowing books from a roving Quaker City bookmobile when I was 7 years old. Things quickly got out of hand. Before I knew it I was borrowing every book about the Romans, every book about the Apaches, every book about the spindly third-string quarterback who comes off the bench in the fourth quarter to bail out his team. I had no way of knowing it at the time, but what started out as a harmless juvenile pastime soon turned into a lifelong personality disorder.

Fifty-five years later, with at least 6,128 books under my belt, I still organize my daily life—such as it is—around reading. As a result, decades go by without my windows getting washed.

My reading habits sometimes get a bit loopy. I often read dozens of books simultaneously. I start a book in 1978 and finish it 34 years later, without enjoying a single minute of the enterprise. I absolutely refuse to read books that critics describe as “luminous” or “incandescent.” I never read books in which the hero went to private school or roots for the New York Yankees. I once spent a year reading nothing but short books. I spent another year vowing to read nothing but books I picked off the library shelves with my eyes closed. The results were not pretty.

I even tried to spend an entire year reading books I had always suspected I would hate: “Middlemarch,” “Look Homeward, Angel,” “Babbitt.” Luckily, that project ran out of gas quickly, if only because I already had a 14-year-old daughter when I took a crack at “Lolita.”

Just the other day, my friend Bill and I had an email discussion about “Middlemarch” (see reference above in quote from Queenan).

Bill explained our reservations this way: “I just picked up the book ‘My Life in Middlemarch’ by Rebecca Mead. Whereby she creates her own memoir and literary criticism by showing her life and trial as they mirror the main characters lives. The protagonist Dorothea Brooke marries badly and endures and makes peace. Like I say, I am intrigued, but to take on a 800 p. Jane Austin-ish/ Bronte-ish novel is a heavy lift”.

Incidentally, neither Bill nor I are brave enough to tackle it, to date, that is.

Since it’s Joe Queenan we are discussing, one would expect a plethora of stories about him. If you like to read, it’s worth taking a minute to discover this reader’s reader. Personally, I have no idea how he does it and manages a life at the same time. There are moments, I confess, I could succumb.

After all, it is as Thomas Allen once quipped: “If you have read 6,000 books in your lifetime, or even 600, it’s probably because at some level you find ‘reality’ a bit of a disappointment.”

And therefore, we read don’t we.

Here is Queenan in the news as promised:

From NPR: Reading 125 Titles a Year? That’s ‘One for the Books’ http://www.npr.org/2012/11/01/163949969/reading-125-titles-a-year-thats-one-for-the-books

From The Book Report Network: A Biography and Partial List of Queenan’s Books:

http://www.bookreporter.com/authors/joe-queenan

Full Article From WSJ: “My 6,128 Favorite Books” by Joe Queenan

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10000872396390444868204578064483923017090

And most recently, this entertaining read from The Weekly Standard’s The Magazine: “How Do You Feel? The interrogative mysteries of Deep Space” - MAR 10, 2014

http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/how-do-you-feel_783573.html?page=2

Some of you ‘get it’, this reading ‘personality disorder’. For the rest, well, we are moving on. Happy Reading.

 

Feb 17

The Top 25 Law Novels Ever Written – How many have you read?

Have you read any of the top 25 greatest law novels ever written? Sure you have, but you may not know it or consider some of these novels as ‘law novels’. I know I didn’t.

After reading a magazine story about the supposedly greatest law novels ever written, I immediately began to wonder ‘who says they are the best’. Who decided, what are the criteria, and why was “In Cold Blood” not on the list?

You may have guessed by now that, yes indeed, lawyers decided. I don’t mean that with any malice you understand, because of course, lawyers might view ‘law novels’ with a more critical legal eye than you or me. However, literature, English, and journalism majors might disagree with their choices. Some of the classics they chose surprised me, yet I can understand why they were chosen.

The ABA Journal published its list of the top 25 law novels of all time last year (August, 2013). They convened a panel of experts, well-read lawyers and scholars, (names listed on their website) and asked for nominations. Next, they complied a ballot of 100 novels with storylines that revolved around lawyers or legal cases. The panel then selected the list of 25, which turned out to be 26 in the end (two books tied for the Number 25 spot).

They describe their final choices this way: “These are stories that have endured for years or decades, or even generations. Many of them are familiar; some of them, less so. Among them are stories of life and death, courage and betrayal, loyalty and honor, revenge and redemption—in other words, human existence.”

NOTES:
• “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote was not included in the ‘best ever’ list because: “In Cold Blood was a seminal contribution to the true-crime genre, but it wasn’t a novel. It was written with all the narrative conventions of a work of fiction…but was too deeply identified as journalism to be considered for our list.”

• Three authors have two works on the list.

• My score: 12 out of 26. What’s yours?

25. A Tie.
Old Filth by Jane Gardam (2004)
The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark (1940)

24. The Fountainhead by Ann Rand (1943)

23. Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver (1958)

22. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)

21. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas (1844)

20. The Firm by John Grisham (1991)

19. QBVII by Leon Uris (1970)

18. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston (1937)

17. The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk (1951)

16. A Time to Kill by John Grisham (1989)

15. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1859)

14. The Stranger by Albert Camus (1942)

13. Native Son by Richard Wright (1940)

12. Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street by Herman Melville (1853)

11. The Paper Chase by John Jay Osborn Jr. (1971)

10. An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser (1925)

9. The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe (1987)

8. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)

7. Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow (1987)

6. Billy Budd by Herman Melville (1924)

5. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (1862)

4. The Trial by Franz Kafka (1925)

3. Bleak House by Charles Dickens (1852)

2. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866)

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)

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