Smith: Looking back
The New Year, 1911, dawned on a very cold day in the lower Kaw valley. Snow covered the ground, making it a beautiful winter scene. The residents were facing a new year fraught with changes and challenges. They lived in a world that was evolving, and there were many who were fearful of the future.
It was a world that was a far different place than the one we live in today. In fact, if a resident of that time were transported to 2011, they would be shocked and I believe very happy with the high quality and ease of life. On the other hand, I believe that if we were transported back a century, we would find life to be drab and frustrating. I, for one, enjoy living in the 21st century even with its dangers and difficulties.
Bonner Springs was a progressive community with slightly over 1,600 residents, and it had good reason to be cheerful about the future. The cement plant, after being closed down and surviving financial difficulties, was re-opening and about 200 men were being called back to work. Construction was scheduled to start on the new railroad line from Kansas City to Lawrence and running through Bonner Springs.
With all that proposed growth, the Kaw Valley, like the rest of the nation, depended on agriculture. Farming remained big news in The Chieftain, including the dairy business in Basehor and the potato or vegetable farming in Edwardsville.
The Chieftain was a fine newspaper and had expanded in facilities and was using its own press to print the newspaper. Basehor and Edwardsville both had correspondents submitting weekly columns. Most of the news was about who had dinner with whom, which makes finding business news for the “Remember When” column very difficult for me.
Most of us will be enjoying the New Year in our cozy, well-heated homes watching football bowl games. That certainly wasn’t the case a century ago. There were no bowl games at that time and even if there were, radio broadcasts were more than a decade in the future and TV wouldn’t be part of the average home until the 1950s. Oh, sure, school sports were popular and Bonner Springs even leased a hall and converted it into a gym. Both Basehor and Edwardsville High Schools had sports teams, but I couldn’t find where they played their games. Earlier in the fall, Bonner Springs and Basehor girls played an outdoor game in a local park.
Boxing was popular and Jack Johnson was heavyweight champion. Eight years later, Johnson, the first African-American champion, lost the title to Jess Willard of Kansas.
The world was at peace, although there were ominous clouds gathering over Europe. In September, Italy declared war on Turkey, shattering the peace and setting the stage for World War I just three years later. The United States sent troops along the border with Mexico in a show of strength. In general, Americans weren’t concerned with foreign policy and threats of war, although they cast a wary eye on Mexico.
Kansas was a dry state, although every small town had a bootlegger and the law was flouted. Residents of Bonner Springs protested the opening of a pool hall, and the city council rejected the application. Church activities were front-page news in The Chieftain.
It was a time when female school teachers couldn’t be married and women couldn’t vote. African-Americans had no rights and the average work week was 48 to 50 hours, with few holidays.
Times certainly have changed for the better, and it seems that the “good old days” weren’t so good. I have to wonder what people will say about us in a century. Anyway, have a safe and happy new year.