Thursday, May 30, 2013

"An Untimely Death"

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

On May 18, 1904 the Newton Evening Kansan Republican reported the sad news of the "untimely demise" of a local businessman's pet alligator.  The seventeen year old alligator was six feet long and "had just begun to waken from his winter lethargy", when he suddenly became ill, rolling "around in a very turbulent fashion". He died later that evening.

Seventeen years before, Anson B. Conrad jokingly asked Alex Lupfer, a friend who was leaving for Florida, to send him an alligator.  Soon, a package arrived in the mail with two alligators.  One measured twelve inches and the other thirteen.  The larger reptile died a week later, but with careful nursing and frequent baths of hot water, Conrad was able to keep the smaller one alive. The alligator flourished in Newton. During the winter months Conrad kept the alligator in the basement of his home at 209 W Broadway, Newton. He fashioned a pen in his yard for for the summer months.  The reptile also spent time in the window of Conrad's Main Street Store.
Conrad's Drugs & Jewelry, 1901
501 Main, Newton
Western Journal of Commerce, p. 11
HCHM Photo Archives
Hundred of Newtonians have seen the 'gator in the show windows of the Conrad store, where it was placed every summer until it got so large and powerful it could not be trusted outside of its pen."
Interior Conrad's Drugs & Jewelry, 1901
501 Main, Newton
Western Journal of Commerce, p. 11
HCHM Photo Archives
The newspaper article concluded by noting; 
"Mr. Conrad is not grieving very deeply over the death of his pet, for it was becoming quite a burden.  During the summer he feeds it a mess of kidneys every day."
Anson Conrad was a successful jeweler and watch inspector for the Santa Fe Railroad.  He arrived in Newton with his father, Dr. J.D. Conrad and two brothers, Elmer E. and Weir C.* in 1882.  Anson apprenticed with jeweler Charles Mum for three years.  Beginning in 1885, he worked as a jeweler in   his brother's store, Conrad Bros & Dutcher located at 505 Main, Newton.  By 1905, two of the  Conrad brothers, Anson and Elmer E., had moved to their own establishment, Conrad's Drug's & Jewelry, at 515 Main, Newton.

500 Main Block, Newton, 1917
West Side
515 Conrad's Drug's & Jewelry
HCHM Photo Archives
On November 20, 1920, Conrad sold the jewelry business to N.R. Daugherty.  Anson B. Conrad, "a highly respected citizen of Newton"  died January 6, 1926 at the age of 58 years.

*Weir C. Conrad  owned Conrad Bros & Dutcher Dry Goods & Millinery and served as Newton mayor.

  • Newton Evening Kansan Republican, "Death of Mr. Alligator", 18 May 1904, p. 1
  • Newton Evening Kansan Republican, "A.B. Conrad", 6 January 1926, p. 5
  • "Western Journal of Commerce", Newton, Kansas 1901
  • "Newton, Kansas, Past and Present, Progress and Prosperity", 1911
  • "Newton Kansan 50th Anniversary Edition", 22 August 1922
  • Newton City Directories, 1885-1919
  • HCHM Photo Archives

Thursday, May 23, 2013

"So Suddenly Did the Twister Come": The Sedgwick Tornado of May 25, 1917

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

Earlier this week, on Monday, May 20, we again witnessed the tremendous power of wind and how, in a instant, the landscape of a community can be changed forever by a tornado as it did in Moore, OK and surrounding areas.  Harvey County residents well know the challenges ahead for the people affected by this most recent storm.  If you would like to help the people of Oklahoma during this time, please contact the Red CrossMennonite Disaster Service or relief organization of your choice.

May 25, 1917

In the late afternoon of May 25, 1917 one of the deadliest tornadoes in US history tore through Harvey County.  At 4:20 in the afternoon, the Kansan received an Associated Press bulletin "stating that a tornado had struck Andale, 19 miles northwest of Wichita where six people were reported dead. . . . The wires were all down but a special train was made up at Wichita and started to the scene." Power was out in Newton, and the editor pointed out that "the Kansan is handicapped on that account as the linotype machines were helpless." The tornado "ground its way across this county" traveling in a northeasterly direction destroying homes and farms. Initial reports indicated damage and at least two fatalities. Obtaining accurate information was difficult.  The Kansan noted; "there are rumors that it had continued on up as far as Peabody, but definite news of damage done could not be learned."

The May 25, 1917 Newton Evening Kansan Republican:
Newton Evening Kansan Republican, 25 May 1917, p.1

The tornado  was followed by a "terrific downpour of rain, even here in Newton. . . trash  and debris fell in large quantities in the streets."  The Kansan also reported that several automobile loads of men left Newton almost immediately for Sedgwick to help with rescue efforts.

Devastation at Sedgwick, Ks
 The next day, the full tragedy was reported in the Newton Evening Kansan Republican.  At about 3:00 in the afternoon "a terrific tornado struck the southeast part of the town of Sedgwick . . . sweeping away more than a mile of telephone and telegraph lines and the A.V.I. power lines and the Kansas Gas & Electric high line."  

Official tornado warnings were non-existent before 1948 and the residents of Andale and Sedgwick had no warning. "The twister rose in the southwest, roared down upon Andale with a suddenness that prevented any organized escape. . . it swept through what is known as one of the richest farming districts in the state, leveling standing grain and powdering farm houses and outbuildings."

Many rural families were caught in the open. The Norris family saw the storm coming and Mrs. Norris, along with the children were able to make it to a hedge row for shelter. William Norris, the husband and father, was "caught and thrown to the north where he was found with his body crushed" killed instantly. Several members of the Coble family were able to make it into a cellar.  A nephew, Dewey Faw, however, did not make it and was killed. Even those that made it to safety suffered broken bones and bruising.
Coble Farm
HCHM Photo Archives
The L. E. Fife Farm was "one of the finest country homes in the county" and was "equipped in the most modern and up-to-date manner" with heat and a "water plant."  Mr. Fife and a hired hand took shelter in a small shed, which was not touched.  Mr. Fife described his experience for the Kansan.
"So suddenly did the twister come that he first saw debris flying and heard the roar and crash of the buildings as the mighty whirl wrenched them from their foundations and crushed them into kindling wood, hurling them with spiteful viciousness in every direction . . . he saw his beautiful home lifted, first the roof, then the entire structure hurled from it foundation and crushed like a house of cards. Imagine his impotent grief  when he saw Mrs Fife lifted and hurled  through the air then picked up again and thrown against the fence." 
Mrs. Fife was caught in the house.  When she heard the roar of the storm, she went to the door, but could not open it.  She turned back to the room;
 "and the next she knew was when she found herself hung across the front fence.  One of her shoes had been torn off and her ankle severely wrenched and a bad gash had been cut across her right temple.  the house and all buildings . . . a complete wreck. Seven of Mr. Fife's purebred horses . . . killed."
Fife Farm
HCHM Photo Archives
Mrs. Fife, although badly injured, survived the tornado.

The Danner farm was hit especially hard. S.T. Danner had purchased his Harvey County homestead from the Santa Fe Railroad in the 1870s. Married to Anna Harryman, the Danners had three sons, William S., Albert E.S. and Samuel E. (who died at age nine). 

Danner Farm, ca 1910
HCHM Photo Archives

His wife, Anna Harryman Danner, worked along side him to create a beautiful home.    Active in public life as well, Danner served in the Kansas Senate in 1893 and 1895.

Danner Farm, ca. 1916
HCHM Photo Archives

That fateful day, the Danner  family was at home.  Son, Albert (A.E.S.) and his wife took shelter in the cellar, but for some reason his parents did not.  Anna Danner was "killed outright, her head being crushed and her arm twisted and broken in a frightful manner."  Mr. Danner was injured so badly many doubted that he would survive.

Samuel T. Danner Farm
HCHM Photo Archives 
He did survive, but friends noted that "he never fully recovered [from the death of Anna], and put his worldly affairs in order." Danner died two years later on March 20, 1919.

Although the Fuji scale had not yet been developed, it is estimated that the tornado that went through Sedgwick and rural Harvey County on May 25 was at an F5 strength.  There were 23 deaths and 118 buildings completely destroyed in the communities of Andale, Sedgwick, and Florence.  The tornado was over one mile wide at one point and traveled 65 miles

The same storm continued to wreak havoc across the United States.
Newton Kansan Evening Republican, May 28, 1917, p. 1

The May 25, 1917 tornado is listed as one of the top ten Weather Events of the 20th Century for South Central Kansas by the National Weather Service Forecast Office. The tornado that roared through Harvey County was part of a larger outbreak of storms across twelve Midwestern states.  Between May 25 and June 1, 1917 at least 382 people were killed in the eight day tornado outbreak sequence that made it the third deadliest tornado season since records were kept; a total of 551 people lost their lives to tornadoes.  For fatalities related to tornadoes 1925 season was the highest with 794 fatalities; followed by 1936 with 552 fatalities.  

May 25 was also the date of the 1955 tornado that devastated Udall, Kansas where over half of the population with either killed or severely injured.

Newton Evening Kansan Republican, 25 May 1917, p.1
Newton Evening Kansan Republican,  26 May 1917, p. 1
Newton Kansan Evening Republican, 28 May 1917, p. 1
Harvey County Historical Museum & Archives Photograph Archives

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

"A Tool With All the Features Missing in Ordinary Screwdrivers: The Invention of the Screwball Driver

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

Many are familiar with the story of how Lloyd Smith "saved" the Old Mill building from the wrecking ball in 1974. (if not, it will be a story for another time). The Old Mill, however, was preserved to be used and as a result became a success story in rehabilitating historic structures for modern uses insuring preservation.

Before the Old Mill project, Lloyd Smith was a successful Harvey County inventor and businessman.  Recently, the family of Lloyd Smith donated a wonderful collection of artifacts, drawings and photographs related to Smith's work as an inventor.

In 1969, Smith and Dr. Harold Vogt bought Rains Manufacturing Co in Hutchinson, Ks.  Rains produced and sold specialized hand tools designed by Smith.  They renamed the company S/V Tool Co. and moved to a  property on 6th street in Newton. 

At first the business was a part time venture.  Smith still worked at Hesston Corp and Dr. Vogt was a clinical psychologist in Wichita. By mid-1971, Smith resigned from Hesston to devote full time to S/V Tools. He bought Dr. Vogts interest and developed a five year plan.  His first success was the "Ice Breaker", a line of plexi-glass ice scrapers that were virtually unbreakable.

"Ice Breaker"
Lloyd Smith Collection

Promotional Flyer
Lloyd Smith Collection

Due to the successful introduction on a nationwide scale, Smith was in a position to consider expanding. While looking for a place to expand, he became aware of the vacant Warkentin Flour Mill in Newton.  He felt the structure should be saved and had possibilities if remodeled correctly.   

Promotional Flyer
Lloyd Smith Collection

Smith was able to save the structure and it became the corporate headquarters and manufacturing plant for the S/V Tools Co..

One of Smith's most successful inventions was the Screwball Driver.  With the success of the ice breaker, Smith began to look around for a new challenge.  He noticed the screwdriver. There were several things he did not like about the design of the screwdriver; "the handle that cut into your hand; the one-size, one-type-of-screw blade; the lack of a ratchet; plus a non-magnetized tip that failed to hold screws in tight places," Smith went to work.  The result was the brightly colored Screwball, "a tool with all the features Mr. Smith found missing in ordinary screwdrivers." 

First Screwball Driver
The Screwball was made in Newton and became widely popular.  
Promotional Flyer, 1980
Lloyd Smith Collection

Product lists, 1974
Lloyd Smith Collection

Lloyd Smith with a Screwball
Newspaper clipping, Lloyd Smith Collection
Screwball was later purchased by Sears for its Craftsman line of tools.
Smith continued to develop new products throughout the 1980s.

S/V Tool Co./Economy Screwdrivers
Richard Ten Evek Assoc. ltd, Wichita, KS
23 July 1980

SV 904 Economized Ratcheting Screwdriver Concepts/GE
7 July 1983

In the early 1980s, Smith sold S/V Tools Co. to Fiskars Manufacturing Corp., Wausau.  The purchase of S/V Tools allowed Fiskars, known for their orange handled scissors, to expand into the hand tool market.  All 40 of S/V Tools employees kept their positions and the screwdrivers continued to be produced in Newton. Smith served as a consultant to Fiskars on the development of additional hand tools for several years.

Lloyd Smith, "Newton entrepreneur and philanthropist"  died December 29, 2009 at the age of 86.

  • Fisher, James, "Human Angle is Figured In", unidentified newspaper source, Jan. 23, 1984, Lloyd Smith Collection, HCHM Archives.
  • "Fiskars buys S/V Tool Co.", newspaper clipping, n.d., S & V Tool Co Publicity & Promotion, Lloyd Smith Collection, HCHM Archives.
  • S&V Tool Hardware Products, Patents, Etc. Lloyd Smith Collection, HCHM Archives.
  • "'Gem' of community Lloyd Smith dies"Newton Kansan, December 31, 2009.
  • "Lloyd Thomas Smith" Obituary,  Newton Kansan, 13 January 2010.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

"A Trail of Sorrow"

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator
"People with good memories will recall that the small tornado which struck southeast of Newton Thursday, May 1, came on the thirty-fifth anniversary of the devastating tornado which swept thru Harvey County west of Halstead May 1, 1895." 
(Evening Kansan Republican, May 2, 1930) 

Clippings from Newton Kansan, May 2, 1895;
 Evening Kansan Republican, May 2, 1930
Two of the deadliest tornadoes to hit Harvey County struck during the month of May.  This blog post will describe the Halstead Tornado of  May 1, 1895.

May 1, 1895

The forecast in the Newton Kansan for the first week of May in 1895 was sunny, pleasant, and dry.  It had been six months since the county had experienced measurable rainfall and the crops were suffering. Nothing indicated that lives were to be changed in an instant the afternoon of May 1. 

At 4:30 in the afternoon a storm formed over Lake Township in section 22.  As the storm traveled eighteen miles north - north east across the county, "dealing death and destruction," it was at times as much as a half mile wide.
"The storm was plainly visible to people for miles around and it seemed to waiver  first in one direction, then in another.  an eyewitness said traveled not much faster than a man could run." (Halstead Independent, 3 May 1895, p. 2)
"As it traveled it created a great noise and those in its track, as far as possible sought shelter in cellars or tried to get out of reach of the storm."  (Newton Kansan, May 2, 1895)
Most of the damage occurred in Lakin Township starting at the Wear farm six miles southwest of Halstead,  where  "it totally destroyed the fine new home of Joseph Wear, and wrought such dreadful havoc with his family." The Wear family consisting of Joseph, Fredricka and 3 year old George arrived in Harvey County in 1878 and established a farm in section 7 of Lakin Township. They had at least five more children. On the afternoon of May 1, 1895, without warning, tragedy struck the Wear family. 

When the dark clouds formed;
 "Two children went into the cellar; Mrs Wear and babe were in the house and Mr. Wear was out doors,  he laid down on the ground and clasped his arms around a tree, and it was the whipping of the ground by his body, or the tree striking him as it swayed in the wind, or from being hit by debris from the house that wounded him, his head, arms and body being one mass of bruises and one rib being broken.  The bodies of Mrs. Wear and her babe were found about fifty yards southeast of where the house had stood."         (Newton Kansan, May 2, 1895)
 In addition to Mrs. Fredricka Wear and one month old Mathilda, 11 year old Grace and 5 year old Herman were killed in the storm.  Joseph and daughter Alice were severely injured.  The "trail of sorrow" continued to the nearby Armstrong farm where Civil War veteran and homesteader, William C. Armstrong, along with his elderly mother-in-law, Ellen Chapin, were found dead in a cornfield a quarter of a mile away to the northeast.

A few miles down the road, Mrs. Lou Coats and her 18 year old daughter, Daisy E. Neff, tried to outrun the storm.
"The storm overtook them on way and they sought shelter in the poultry house [on the J.A. Commons Farm]; the daughter was killed and the mother so badly injured that she may die.  All of Mr. Commons' buildings were destroyed."
May 1, 1895, Halstead, Ks "Scenes of Devastation" photos taken by John D. Von Riesen.
Photo Courtesy HCHM Photo Archives

Photo Courtesy HCHM Photo Archives

One family that was able to escape the storms fury was the Menno S. Hege family.  Menno "gathered a number of children returning from school, in his wagon with his wife [Katherine] and drove rapidly away from the storm, leaving his property to its fate."

Although the Menno and Katherine escaped with their lives all that remained of their farm was a book. The Hege family suffered the largest financial losses.  A new ten room home with a value of $3,000, a barn, and 12 valuable horses, forty-five head of hogs, all household goods and implements were destroyed in the storm.  The Halstead Independent noted that a low estimate of the total loss would be $8,000.  Hege was insured for $3,500.  

Book that survived the 1895 Halstead Tornado

In a letter written May 5, 1895, Daniel Baer in Summerfield Ill. wrote his daughter Katie Hege to express his sorrow over the events of May 1.
"I received you letter yesterday and with a heavy heart I read of the terrible affliction you had to bear.  When I think about it, I  am depressed by the thought of knowing that a home can be lost in such a short time . . . thank the Lord that you have been so fortunately saved by His mercy, and no one was injured . . . My daughter, I must close, I can't write anymore."
 In all, seven people lost their lived in the May 1, 1895 storm; nine were severely injured and twenty farms were leveled to the ground. The Halstead Independent noted;
"In every instance, where the people went to their cellars, they saved their lives, deaths having occurred to those who were above ground at the time of the fearful violence." (Halstead Independent, 3 May 1895, p. 2)
According to the Newton Kansan, May 2, 1895; "Farm stock suffered terribly all along the route of the storm, and the money loss is estimated at full $200,000." 

Along with the tragedy, there was some hope. The Newton Kansan noted below the account of "Winds Wild Fury!" that "for the first time in six months Harvey county received a thorough soaking from a six hours' rain . . . It was grand and glorious and everybody is happy."

The Halstead Independent also pointed out the bizarre twists of a tornado when it reported that "Mr. Frizzell's buggy was found near Moundridge, about fifteen miles away." In a humorous story, the same paper reported on the misfortunes of  "a gay old bachelor who lives near Halstead."
"He is about 42 years old, good looking, . . . and well fixed financially. . . . Not less than twenty times has be been at the marrying point but always avoided the yoke by some hook or crook.  It is said that his chief failing was love letter writing and no man in the state had more young lady correspondents.  That gay old bird was in the cyclone belt last week.  He escaped himself but the cyclone picked up his trunk . . . the result is that all the people along the line of the cyclone for thirty miles are reading his love letters and the old boy is in a terrible stew over it.  Up in McPherson county the letters have caused a craze among the girls and they are writing to him by the dozen." (Halstead Independent, 10 May 1895, p.2)

May 1, 1930
In a strange twist, thirty-five years later on the same date another tornado "swept nearby Newton." The storm formed three miles south of Newton near Old 81 and "moved rapidly northeast , taking almost the same path that the cyclone of 1917 took in its devastating course."**** Although there was property damage, no lives were lost with this storm.  In fact, the Evening Kansan Republican noted that "hundreds of Newton people watched the storm cloud from the time it first appeared almost directly south of the city until it disappeared almost east of town."

This photo was taken by Walter Beverforden from his home at 315 S. Pine, Newton.
Southeast of Newton, May 1, 1930
Photo Courtesy HCHM Photo Archives

****The 1917 tornado that went through Harvey County was part of a series of storms that made 1917 the third deadliest tornado season in Kansas on record and will be featured in a blog post May 23, 2013.

  • Newton Kansan, May 2, 1895, p. 1
  • Halstead Independent, 3 May 1895, p. 2
  • Halstead Independent, 10 May 1895, p.2
  • Halstead Independent, 17 May 1895, p. 2
  • Evening Kansan Republican, May 2, 1930 
  • M.S. Hege Obituary, newspaper clipping, n.d. HCHM Archives File
  • Daniel Baer, Summerfield Ill to Katherine E. Baer Hege, Halstead, Ks letter dated May 5, 1895; copy in the possession of HCHM Curator Files. The Hege farm was located at N. Halstead Rd and 48th St. West in Harvey County, Ks.  A descendant of Menno & Katie Hege still owns the farm.
  • HCHM Photo Archives

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Newton's Ruthabel Rickman Shares the Page With Bogart and Bacall

by Jane Jones, HCHM Archivist

Today's post is by guest blogger and HCHM Archivist, Jane Jones.  Thank you Jane for researching and writing about a Newtonian who "made it" in New York as an opera singer.  

  The 1945 New York City newspaper headline reads " Bogart and Bacall are free to wed."  Bogart's wife is giving him a divorce.  On the same page is a reference to Newton's Ruthabel Rickman, "Concert Is Given by Altrusa Opera."  One of the aims of the opera company was to  encourage "Negro" musicians and composers.  Rickman is listed as a soprano for the event probably singing Verdi in New York City's Town Hall. 
      Founded in 1921 by Suffragists, Town Hall is now a National Historic Site in the Theatre District near Times Square.  Seating 1500 in red, cushy seats the Hall currently is the location for Garrison Keillor's radio broadcasts from New York and other concerts (Kevin Bacon and his brother will be appearing May 2, 2013), theatre and dance.
      Ruthabel Rickman was talented enough to survive the New York scene. She was a graduate of Newton High School (1938) and Bethel College (1941). While at Bethel, Rickman was a member of the a cappella choir and studied voice, piano and organ.

Ruthabel with 1938 NHS classmates

     She was the daughter of Lloyd Rickman and Hazel Rickman and while going to school lived at 304 W. 12th.  Her father took over a Newton "colored band" in 1920 and made it  quite famous throughout the state of Kansas.
     After graduation from college Ruthabel taught public school for three years and then moved to New York City.  She studied with several prominent teachers in the United States and Europe. Ruthabel participated in oratorio, church and opera performances, as well as teaching in her own studio.  One of her teachers was Tony Amato who with his wife started an opera company in Greenwich Village in NYC. After each performance Tony's wife would cook an Italian dinner for the cast.  Amato offered a venue where talented opera singers could get experience.  The Amato Opera House was an intimate setting downstairs in a old building where you might find yourself sitting on folding chairs! 

       Rickman married Frank Rollins in Chicago.  They moved to Houston where she served on the faculty of Texas Southern University teaching voice until her death in 1982.  In 1979, Ruthabel received Bethel's Distinguished Achievement Award.  At her death there was a memorial service at Bethel College where her choir from TSU sang.  Ruthabel's daughter Hazella Rollins Epps sang at the service.   A home-grown talent, Ruthable Rickman made her mark on the world's stage through a very remarkable career. 

Ruthabel Rickman Rollins

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