Thursday, July 25, 2013

"Every-day Dignity was Forgotten"

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

An earlier post, included a 1953 photo from "Kid Day" at Newton High School.  Although I have yet to discover when this tradition was started, we do have fun glimpses into the activities it included over the years.

A large collection of photographs belonging to Newton native Myra Utz was recently donated.  Among the photos in an album featuring Myra's younger years was a page labeled "Kid Day '37'".

Myra Utz Photograph Album
HCHM Photo Archives

Evening Kansan Republican, 21 May 1937
According to the newspaper the day featured "knee pants, bashful barefoot boys and proud senior girls with 'little sisters' short dresses and dolls and all-day suckers." 

Jean Trouslot, with an all day sucker
 'Kid Day' 1937
Myra Utz Collection
HCHM Photo Archives

"Everyday dignity was forgotten" as the seniors came to school dressed as children and  performed for a special assembly.  Several  Seniors sang, recited poetry and played the piano.  The program was  followed by a picnic lunch at Athletic Park. The entire school was let out for the event.
The Weekly Newtonian: Senior Edition,
20 May 1937
HCHM Archives
Then the "tug of war at  the tenth street bridge between the two rival classes of N.H.S.".  

Tug of War - 1937
Sand Creek by Athletic Park
Utz Collection

The Seniors and  Juniors faced off with the chilly water of Sand Creek between them.  
Tug of War
Sand Creek at the Broadway Bridge
HCHM 89.30.6

Tug of War
Cook Collection
HCHM 2012.169.049

Tug of War
Cook Collection
HCHM 2012.169.048

No announcement of which class took a dip in the Sand Creek could be found.

End of Tug of War
Cook Collection
HCHM 2012.169.050

Our upcoming exhibit, "Games People Play" will feature group games, like tug of war. What were some of your favorite group games?  Do you have a photo or story to share?  We love to hear it and maybe include it in the exhibit.


  • The Weekly Newtonian: Senior Edition, 20 May 1937
  • Evening Kansan Republican, 21 May 1937
  • HCHM Photo Archives

Games People Play, which will open in February 2014, will  include board and card games.  There will also be arcade and computer games. Watch our blog and facebook for opportunities to share stories about other games.

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Harvey County Flashback: KG & E Fire February 1953

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

Kansas Gas & Electric Co, 512 Main, Newton, ca. 1952
HCHM Photo Archives
Around 8:00 a.m. on Saturday, February 21, 1953, Virgil O. Brumback arrived at  his store, Brumback Paint & Paper Co. at 510 Main in Newton.  He noticed "smoke seeping through the floor at the rear of Gordon's Shop adjacent to his business."  He reported the fire. For the next several hours, both Newton and volunteer firefighters using  four trucks battled the blaze with heat so intense they could not get near the structure.  

One firefighter was "nearly overcome with smoke on two occasions."  William A. Rittstatter attempted to enter the building with a large water hose in an attempt to get at the fire base.  He had to retreat with the help of his fellow firefighters wearing masks.

KG&E Fire, 21 February 1953
HCHM Photo Archives
Fighting the fire was made more difficult by the freezing wind. Several fire fighters had water frozen in their hair due to the "water spray from the hoses."  Volunteers were an important  in fighting this fire.  According to the Kansan they helped "heave hoses and equipment to various places . . . helped police with traffic control . . . and manned large hose nozzels [sic], carrying two and one - half inch lines."
KG&E Fire, 21 February 1953
HCHM Photo Archives

Perhaps the most dramatic action of the day occurred when Newton Fire Chief, Ed Warhurst "personally made his way to the top of the blazing building and cut a hole in the roof so that the fire could 'get air'."  Warhurst later explained that if the pressure became too great in the building, "it might have exploded, spreading the flame. The hole in the roof was necessary to keep it from doing so." 

The Kansan editor credited the seventy-one year old Fire Chief with saving the surrounding businesses with his actions.

KG&E Fire, 21 February 1953
HCHM Photo Archives

The back portion of the block  long building collapsed about 10:45 and firefighters were able to get the upper hand.  Surrounding businesses, including Gordon's Ladies Wear Shop, Graber's Hardware and Brumback Paint & Paper Co.,  suffered smoke damage.

Throughout the morning "an estimated throng of over 2,000 people trampled the watery street and alley behind the building, witnessing the fighting procedure."

To thank the firemen, policemen and highway patrol officers that helped get the fire under control, a local restaurant, the Coffee Cup, gave them "the run of their dinners for their efforts . . . when they can find the time."

The Kansas Gas and Electric Company had been in the 510 Main building since 1935.  Damage was estimated at $50,000 the KG & E building alone.

Those familiar with Newton history will note that the 500 block of Main was also the site of the devastating fire on August 4, 1914.


  • Newton Kansan, February 21, 1953, p. 1
  • "E.C. Warhurst, Fire Chief, Dies" Newton Kansan, 2 November 1956, p. 1.
  • HCHM Photo Archives
  • Newton City Directory,  1952, 1954.

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

"That Fly-Free Look!"

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator
"Fly Eradication Program . . . Stop and think what it means.  No more arming yourself with a swatter and pursuing flies around your home all summer.  No flies in your restaurant or stores where you shop.  No flies if you want to sit in your yard this summer."  -Ad placed by the Junior Chamber in the Newton Evening Kansan Republican, 8 July 1949.
On a hot and humid summer afternoon, nothing is more annoying than a fly buzzing around.  Over the years various techniques have been tried to control flies and even eradicate them completely.  The Newton Junior Chamber of Commerce envisioned a "life without flies" in their 1949 ad and they asked for money to help in the cause.

Newton Evening Kansan Republican
8 July 1949

The ad offered tips for fly control from disposing of manure from livestock twice a week to maintenance of the outdoor toilet.  The use of DDT was also encouraged to control flies. 
"The most effective way is by the use of a spray gun or hand-sprayer with a DDT solution."
 At the time of the above ad, DDT was considered safe and used  regularly on farms and in homes. The Junior Chamber of Commerce's Program was even "sanctioned by Harvey County Medical Society."

DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) was first developed in 1873/74.  The chemical compound was a colorless, crystalline solid that was tasteless and almost odorless.  DDT did not gain widespread use until 1939, when it was discovered to help in the control of mosquitoes.  DDT was used throughout World War II to combat malaria and typhus among soldiers and civilians.  After the war, DDT was used extensively on American farms as a pesticide.  At one point, the annual production of DDT in the U.S. reached 220 million pounds.

In 1962, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring and called into question the indiscriminate use of the pesticide DDT.  She identified the threat to humans, wildlife, and especially birds.  DDT was banned in the US for agricultural use in 1972.  One result of the ban is the increase in the population of the bald eagle and the return from near extinction of the peregrine falcon. 

Without pesticides, people have to rely on the old fashioned way of killing flies.  Dr. Samuel J. Crumbine was an early advocate for healthy habits in Kansas. During his time as secretary of the Kansas State Board of Health from 1899 - 1924, he encouraged disease prevention through the use of simple slogans. 

Boys! Girls! kill the flies - Page
September, 1914
One of his more well-known campaigns  had the slogan, "Swat the Fly".  In 1905, Crumbine attended a Topeka softball game.  The chant of the crowd, "swat the ball", inspired his slogan of "Swat the Fly".  At about the same time, Frank H. Rose  constructed an object from a yardstick and a piece of screen and called it a "fly bat", but Dr. Crumbine renamed it "fly swatter" and the term stuck.   

Homemade Fly-swatter
HCHM  #91.15.12
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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

House of Steel or "Why Am I Living in this Lunchbox?": Lustron Homes

by Jane Jones, HCHM Archivist
You have heard of the "Man of Steel," the new Superman Movie now showing. Have you ever heard of the House of Steel?  Hang a picture? Use a magnet.  Instead of just your refrigerator filled with magnets your whole house could become filled with magnetized reminders.  Not only would you water your outside plants, but you could lift that hose slightly and wash down your outside walls! No need to paint the house. The all-steel, pre-fab Lustron home provoked one owner to say, "Why am I living in this lunch box?"

From Luston home ad
     Newton has one Lustron Home at 408 Mead.  In 2001 it was featured on the Historical Society's Home Tour.  The house was built by M.R. Stauffer, Wichita contractor, in 1949.  The local overseer was Jean Coleman who was Stauffer's son-in-law and the person who persuaded Stauffer to build this unique home.  In fact, Coleman put down money to bring this project to fruition.
      An open house was held September 10, 1949 in Newton showing this rather unusual home.  It was all steel, insulated and heated, and erected on a concrete platform.  The home had built-in plumbing, electric wiring conduits and was equipped with all utilities.  An article in the Kansan described the house as having a "large" living room, dinette, utility room, two "commodius" bedrooms, a "large beautiful" bathroom and a "world" of closets and "built-in" fixtures.  Everything was as complete and handy as a "pocket in a shirt" which is probably real estate jargon for small and compact!  All Lustron homes in Kansas are now on the National Historic Register.
Lustron home, 408 Mead
     According to Elizabeth Rosin of Historic Preservation Services, LLC of Kansas City, MO from a letter received in December, 2000, 2500 Lustron homes were built nationwide between 1948 and 1950.  Of that number 100 existed in Kansas as of the year 2000.  Lustron home manufacturing was part of the suburban house building boom in America after World War II.  Due to the wartime economy there had developed a housing shortage. Returning GIs starting families wanted affordable housing.
     Carl Stradlund, a Swedish immigrant was a self-taught engineer and the founder of the Lustron Corporation.  These pre-fab homes were thought to be the future for middle-class home ownership.  Costing $8,000-$10,000 depending on the model, they were to be manufactured on an assembly line like automobiles.  In fact, automobile workers were first hire-es at the Lustron plant in Columbus, Ohio.  Most models had at least 30,000 parts and could be loaded on Lustron trucks, taken to the building site and put up in 72 hours. 
     Financial problems dogged Stradlund, as well as, Washington politics. Backed by the Reconstruction Finance Corporation Stradlund received an initial investment to start manufacturing his steel homes. But the company found itself in the middle of a tug-of-war between the idealistic Stradlund who just wanted to build affordable homes and Washington bureaucrats who wanted to skim money from the project. The RFC tried to get their cronies to become major stockholders in Lustron even replacing Stradlund.  Carl refused to fold and ended up losing the company. He "went bust in 1950, leaving millions in debt and thousands of factory workers unemployed."
      Now Lustron homes are special historic oddities representing a different time in American housing.

 Historic Preservation Services, LLC December 26, 2000.
Lustron Home is Open to Guests.  Newton Evening-Republican Sept 10, 1949
Man of Steel: 2008 Farmers' Almanac
Lustron Luxury
E-Mail from Gini Johnson, daughter of Jean Coleman June, 2013
Lustron: The House America's Been Waiting For: A Documentary Film by Ed Moore, Bill Kubota & Bill Ferehawk 2002. (loaned by Gini Johnson) 
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