Columns » Studies in Crap

Looking back at the KC -- and the Kansas City Star -- of 1942



Title: The Kansas City Star
Published: Friday, May 22, 1942
Discovered: at a Prairie Village estate sale

The Russians had broken through the German front. The Japanese stood poised to take Chekiang. And reporter William Clapper — a La Cygne, Kansas, native who had grown up to cover Washington and then the war for a great city's great newspaper — warned on the front page of his Kansas City Star that Axis submarines menaced the Eastern Seaboard.

In KC, Clapper's news wasn't the day's biggest. That honor went to the courtroom exploits of the dashing George W. Welsh Jr., of 6109 Rock­hill Road, charged with bashing the skull and cutting the throat of his beauty-queen sister in her bedroom the previous March. So savage a crime at so fine an address shook the city, as did the indictment against brother George.

"Welsh as Glove Buyer" the Star trumpeted in its lead story on a Friday 68 years ago. The great revelation was found in the testimony of George Grover Ehrnman of Mason Hardware and Paint (3222 Troost): "A pair of cotton gloves, similar to those found near the scene of the murder, was sold to Mr. George W. Welsh, Jr., 'three or four days' before his sister was slain in her bed March 9, 1941."

Juicier still, prosecutors had just introduced into evidence the final entry of the murdered girl's diary: the words "broke up," written in the handwriting of George W. Welsh Jr.

Understandably, this caused a sensation in an already sensational case. The excitement is clear in the three-column photograph that dominates the front page: a grinning George Welsh climbing through a courthouse window because police feared that they couldn't get him through the crowd, which was thronging the front doors. Apparently, American life once was exactly like The Front Page.

Welsh eventually was acquitted.

Besides the thrill of the murder case, the excitement of the new war and the rah-rah reporting and editorializing on the subject of "MacArthur and his boys," what impresses most about this old Star is its density and usefulness. There is no richer sampling of American life than mid-20th-century newspapers, which include more than the news of the day or accountings of our shared cultural past. These classifieds, for example, reveal as much about life in the 1940s as any novel could:

GIRLS — Rugels has openings for car service girls; neat and experienced; blondes preferred.

OPERATOR PBX — for hotel; must be experienced and wide awake; prefer married woman; apartment and small salary for services.

PERSONNEL — department of large local firm needs young woman, 20-25, with college training, to assist with employment records; some knowledge of office procedure desired, send letter in own handwriting stating qualifications; photograph required.

WAITRESS — experienced; not over size 16; lunch and dinner; straight shift

COUPLE — to assist in funeral home; $15 week; apartment furnished; no children

NIGHT — desk clerk; middle-aged, sober, reliable

WOMAN — elderly preferred, who would appreciate home for companion to crippled boy. 2461 Troost.

It's difficult to do justice in this small space to all that the Star once contained, just as it's difficult for the Star of today to do justice, in its own small space, to all that is Kansas City. Other highlights include brilliant Dick Tracy, Superman and Lil' Abner comic strips, each with individual panels about as big as a Marmaduke today.

Then there's the photo of Joan Crawford visiting with the beautiful Mrs. Colin C.P. Kelly, "widow of America's first air hero of this war." (Kelly told reporters that she enjoyed her visit to Hollywood but had no plans to pursue a showbiz career.)

Also, a few headlines in that edition would be phrased differently today:

"Gas Cut a Farce"

"Blast at Rubber Mess"

"Italian Subs a Threat"

"Aroused on Subs: Success of Bold Raids on East May Soon Call for Accounting, Clapper Says"

But the item that seizes me is a single paragraph at the bottom of the front page. "Hercules Co. to De Soto," it reads. Turns out, the Hercules Powder Company of Delaware had signed a War Department contract to operate an ordnance plant in tiny De Soto, Kansas. What

the Star didn't report was the government's seizure of roughly 300 acres of farmland from Harold Gordon, who got $25 an acre out of the deal and wound up moving to Gardner and working the scant 40 remaining acres.

Fifty years to the week after that announcement, your Crap Archivist graduated from De Soto High School. The sons and daughters of Hercules' employees had filled my class and shaped my life. As my classmates paraded across the football field to collect their diplomas, I studied the sunlight on the cemetery behind the school.

This week, I happened to meet Gordon's daughter, Jane Connett, who told me that by 1992, Gordon himself had been buried in that very cemetery. The cruel logic of eminent domain meant that Connett couldn't grow up there, but thanks to the schools and developments that went up in its wake, it also meant that we could.

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