On June 17, 1933, four law enforcement officers and their prisoner, Frank Nash, were fatally wounded in a botched rescue attempt outside Union Station. The story of the Union Station Massacre, as it became known, centered on Frank Nash, who had been convicted of three separate crimes of a serious nature: murder, armed burglary, and then assault.
In the midst of a sweltering summer heat wave, the temperature reached a record-high 113 degrees Fahrenheit in Kansas City on August 14, 1936. These high temperatures in the summer of 1936 remain the most extreme in modern North American history. Compounding the problem, virtually no one had air conditioning in their own homes in the 1930s.
On September 23, 1923, the Bennie Moten Orchestra made its first recording consisting of eight songs. By strict musical standards, the songs themselves were unrefined and not much removed from existing blues music. But the Bennie Moten Orchestra would soon build upon its earliest recordings to develop a distinct Kansas City style of jazz that later dominated the jazz scene in the late 1930s and 1940s.
On December 16, 1936, 1,000 employees of the Fisher Body plant located in the Leeds district of Kansas City sat down on the job to protest the recent firing of a worker and demand that General Motors recognize the unionization of autoworkers. What could have been merely a local dispute instead gave early momentum to one of the most significant labor-management confrontations of the twentieth century, the so-called General Motors Strike of 1936-37.
On December 7, 1940, the U.S. Army Air Corps announced that the Fairfax Industrial District in Kansas City, Kansas, would host a North American Aviation B-25 bomber production plant to prepare for the possibility of the United States entering World War II. The medium-sized bombers would eventually prove crucial to the American strategic bombing campaigns in the European and Pacific theatres.
Nightclub owner, raconteur, and aspirant to political office, Milton Morris was one of the great champions of Kansas City jazz. His storytelling skills, wisecracks and foot-long cigars also secured his reputation as one of the city's most colorful characters
Louis Oppenstein was a millionaire who served his community quietly, showing his appreciation for Kansas City. He served as president of the board of public works, city councilman, police commissioner, and as a member of the Board of Education. He was also very active in Kansas City's Jewish community, serving as a trustee of Congregation B'nai Jehudah, board member of Menorah Medical Center, and director of the Jewish Community Center.
Guy B. Park was a rather ineffectual governor bound to Thomas Pendergast's political machine by gratitude for putting him in office. Through Park's connection with the Pendergast organization, a great deal of federal money was diverted to Kansas City resulting in high dollar contracts going to Pendergast-machine owned businesses.
Politician, gambler, night club owner, newspaper publisher, and bon vivant, Felix Payne was one of the most influential African Americans in Kansas City in the 1920s and 1930s.
Judge Albert L. Reeves despised Tom Pendergast and his Democratic machine. He felt that Pendergast corrupted the young men of Kansas City, especially those from the heavily Italian North End. Reeves particularly disdained the machine’s underhanded tactics involving voting fraud and eventually brought an end to Pendergast’s control of the ballot box.
Roy Roberts began his lifelong newspaper career delivering The Kansas City Star as a boy in Lawrence, Kansas. When he retired from The Star in January 1965, he had served the newspaper for 56 years as a reporter, managing editor, president, editor, and general manager. Roberts' 56 years with the newspaper took Kansas City readers through the Depression, the fall of the Pendergast machine, and many elections. He developed a national reputation for political savvy and his close acquaintances included Alf Landon, Dwight Eisenhower, and Lyndon Johnson.
The son of a former slave, William J. Thompkins had a multi-faceted career as a physician, hospital administrator, newspaper publisher, and civil servant. A respected physician, Thompkins was involved in the founding of General Hospital No. 2, which opened in 1908, and by 1924 it was the first hospital in the U.S. to be staffed entirely by African Americans.
Joe Turner had a tremendous voice and a talent for improvising lyrics. He was called the "Boss of the Blues," and during the 1930s—Kansas City's musical heyday—"Big Joe" Turner was the greatest blues singer in town.
Claude "Fiddler" Williams didn't play the instrument for which he became best known until after he had already mastered the guitar, mandolin, banjo, cello, and bass. Born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, on February 22, 1908, Williams began his musical career 10 years later.
In a remarkably productive career that spanned a half century, Mary Lou Williams established herself as a pianist, composer, and arranger, an unprecedented feat that has remained an inspiration to women in jazz.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1901, Walter Elias Disney moved with his family to Marceline, Missouri, at the age of five. In 1910 or 1911 (sources differ), the Disney family moved to Kansas City, where Walt helped his father and brother deliver Kansas City Star newspapers at 3:30 a.m. Disney and his friends created "Laugh-O-grams," which were very short silent animation clips that complemented feature films at the Newman Theater in Kansas City, and by 1922 he opened his first animation studio on the second floor of the small McConahy Building on 31st Street.
On November 8, 1917, Mary Tiera Farrow and 20 other female lawyers formed the Women's Bar Association of Kansas City. Farrow was one of the few women in the United States who successfully practiced law in the early 1900s, overcoming the discrimination women faced in the legal field and society generally. Having been denied the professional benefits of any existing bar association, she led a group of 20 women in establishing their own bar in Kansas City. It was just one of many pioneering acts that Farrow undertook for herself and for women's rights at large.
Dorothy Gallagher was born on January 8, 1894, to a wealthy Kansas City family. Not content to live quietly in affluence, Gallagher gained interest in a Catholic women’s group called the Agnes Ward Amberg Club, which carried out social work in Mexican communities in the west side of the city.