Missouri’s first air mail

Email.  Snail mail.   Remember AIR mail?

At least one generation has never known a time when someone would pay extra for a letter to be stamped “Air Mail” when it had to get a long way away, fast.  Every now and then we still see a now-ancient attempt at humor—a mail box on a tall pole above the regular mailbox. The upper box is labeled “air mail.” But an increasing number of people passing by have no idea what it’s all about.

We got a snail mail letter a few days ago from Elvin Smith in Macon, who had heard our Across our Wide Missouri radio program story about the nation’s first air mail flight, suggesting we look into the story of the nation’s first air mail flight by airplane (as opposed to hot air balloon), which he said happened in December, 1912 on a biplane flight between Callao, Bevier, and Macon.

The problem with writing something was the “first” is that different people have different interpretations of “first.”

Some say the first air mail fight in this country carried one letter in 1793—from George Washington in Philadelphia to whomever owned the property where the balloon came down. That was all of thirteen miles.

The first official airmail flight is considered to have been another balloon flight that began in Lafayette Indiana in August 1859, but was terminated by weather at Crawfordsville, thirty miles away. The mail went to New York by train. The National Postal Museum put out a stamp several years ago commemorating that flight.

But we Missourians know the postal service was wrong. Six weeks before that puny little hop in Indiana, four men in St. Louis climbed into the basket hung below a balloon of varnished Chinese silk, carrying a bag of mail, and headed for New York.  They suffered from the altitude (two miles), went through a frightening storm over Lake Erie and Niagara Falls, and eventually came down into a tree near Henderson, New York, almost one-thousand miles from St. Louis. They had averaged about fifty miles an hour.

A lot of folks know that Charles Lindbergh flew the mail from St. Louis to Chicago for a while, crashing a few times along the way—which didn’t discourage him from thinking he could fly from New York to Paris.  The Postal Service says the first regularly scheduled airmail service in this country was a route linking New York City, Washington, D. C., and Philadelphia in May, 1918.

Elvin believes the three cities linked on the first REAL air mail flight were Callao, Bevier, and Macon, Missouri on December 4, 1912.

Young aviator Ralph E. McMillen (shown with his wife about 1909)  was flying a Curtiss Model D pusher plane that he had purchased from Glenn Curtis, himself, after graduating from the Curtiss Flying School, a competitor to the Wright Brothers school, when he arrived at the United Aviators field in the northern part of Macon, Missouri on November 29, 1912.  He flew from there, over Bevier, and landed at Callao, about nine miles west.

He was flying with one leg tightly strapped into an iron “trough,” the result of a crash in May while giving flights in Perry, Iowa.  His passenger that day panicked when they were up about 125 feet and grabbed the control wires. McMillen was unconscious for four days with two broken legs and busted ribs among other injuries. The passenger also survived.

The Macon newspaper praised him as “a skilled bird-man,” a man of “splendid courage and self-confidence.”  His historic airmail flight came a few days later, on December 4 when he flew from Callao with a “large package of letters” addressed to Macon residents.  He dropped a package at Bevier. He didn’t get all the way through to Macon on the first flight.  Clouds forced him to return to Callao in the morning after package-drop at Bevier.  But the afternoon turned clear and he flew straight to Macon in about half an hour, the last five minutes spent circling the town.

The accounts say he set a record by climbing to 8,000 feet although he cruised at 2,000. “By travelling at great elevation it gives the aviator better control of his craft, should the engine balk or anything happen; he could pick out his place to alight, and descend slowly, while at an altitude of 100 or 200 feet the craft would select its own place to light,” said the Macon Republican.

The next week, on December 10, he made a successful twenty-mile flight north to LaPlata.  He decided to follow a Wabash passenger train between the two towns so he couldn’t get lost, which excited the train passengers, who got off at stops in Axtell and Love Lake to watch him flying overhead.  Passengers wanted the train to pause in LaPlata so they could watch McMillen land, but the trainmaster was afraid such a stop would put the train off-schedule.

Maconians who thought they were seeing, and reporting on, the first airplane-mail flight didn’t know, however that a pilot named Fred Wiseman had carried three letters from Petaluma, California to Santa Rosa on February 17, 1911.  And the first airmail delivery under the authority of the postal Department had been made by Earl Ovington in his French Bleriot XI on September 23, 1911, when he flew from Garden City, New York to Mineola, two miles away.  He pitched the mail bag filled with 1,280 postcards and 640 letters out of the plane at an altitude of 500 feet.  It burst on impact, scattering the cargo all over the place, but at least it was delivered. One of the letters in the bag was addressed to Ovington.  It was from the Post Office Department and it christened him “Official Air Mile Pilot #1.”

In fact, it appears there were a lot of air mail flights in 1912.  A webpage (http://www.aerodacious.com/PIO1912.HTM) has photos about numerous flying exhibitions throughout the nation, almost all of them involving mail.

So Ralph E. McMillen wasn’t the first in the nation to make an airmail flight in a plane.  But he was ONE of the first, and his flights from Callao to Bevier to Macon is the first such flight IN MISSOURI—until somebody comes along with information to the contrary.

Many of the stories of those early aviators and their accomplishments that fired the imaginations of their witnesses and led to the airline industry we know today are lost to history. Elvin’s note has enabled us to bring McMillen out of the lost pages of our past and recall him as part of an important era in our country.

And we have found there’s quite a bit more to his story.

McMillen was born in Perry, Iowa. He was one of the first speeders on the early dirt roads near there before he headed to San Diego to the Curtiss School.  His Curtiss pusher arrived in Perry on a train, disassembled on May 11, 1912.  Gerald Meyer reports McMillen put it together and took it up for the first time two days later for a fund-raising promotion for the city fire department.  The crash that left him with broken legs and ribs was the very next day, May 14. He didn’t fly again until September 5 when a huge crowd at Grinnell watched him stay in the air for 24 minutes and reach 5,000 feet.

He barnstormed during the next couple of years before joining the Nebraska National Guard where he became the only pilot for the new Aviation Corps, the first such outfit in the country. (The photo dates from that time)  He practiced bombing with fake bombs on the state capitol (this was six years before Billy Mitchell proved bombs from airplanes were good tactical weapons) and once hit a moving street car.  He also made night flights, practiced early aerial photography, and developed reconnaissance and aerial delivery systems. Some took to calling him “World’s Greatest Aviator.”   Others have referred to him less grandly as the “One Man, One Airplane National Guard.”

He wanted to fly air support for Pershing’s troops on the Mexican border but the Army refused to let him go because of his 1912 injuries. He continued to make exhibition flights in the four-state area until September 2, 1916 when his plane lost power 1,200 feet above a crowd near St. Francis, Kansas.  Captain Ralph McMillen was 27 when he died that day.

The Nebraska Adjutant General’s office remembered two days later, “His service has been of most unusual value to the Guard of this state, being characterized by ready tact, unfailing courtesy, and indefatigable willingness to work.  He was universally liked and respected by his brother officers and comrades who will greatly miss his ready wit and sunny disposition.”

Meyer has written that the Nebraska Aviation Corps was disbanded soon after that.  The state didn’t have a National Guard air unit for another thirty years.

So Elvin’s tip about a piece of history didn’t turn out quite the way we thought it would. But if not for his snail mail, we wouldn’t have discovered a broader piece of our national past.

At least, we have the story about MISSOURI’S first air mail flight by plane. And we’ve remembered the courageous young man who died creating a significant part of our lives today.

Thanks, Ervin.

(photo credits: Mailbox, carmaro5.com; McMillen and wife and picture of people holding back his airplane before takeoff, earlyaviators.com; McMillen and friends in front of airplane, DOMmagazine.com; headon view from 1916, Nebraska State Historical Society)

Signs of our times

Two geezers were having lunch the other day at a local restaurant/craft beer emporium and the conversation turned to the Five Man Electrical Band.   Right away, you know these two brilliant conversationalists had to be geezers because they immediately remembered the group’s biggest hit, Signs, which reached number three on the Billboard chart in 1971.

Metrolyrics has this version of the lyrics (which we are using because it cleaned up one line):

And the sign said “Long-haired freaky people need not apply” So I tucked my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why He said “You look like a fine upstanding young man, I think you’ll do” So I took off my hat, I said “Imagine that. Huh! Me workin’ for you!” Whoa-oh-oh

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

And the sign said anybody caught trespassin’ would be shot on sight So I jumped on the fence and-a yelled at the house “Hey! What gives you the right?” “To put up a fence to keep me out or to keep mother nature in” “If God was here he’d tell you to your face, man, you’re some kinda sinner”

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

Now, hey you, mister, can’t you read? You’ve got to have a shirt and tie to get a seat You can’t even watch, no you can’t eat You ain’t supposed to be here The sign said you got to have a membership card to get inside Ugh

And the sign said, “Everybody welcome. Come in, kneel down and pray” But when they passed around the plate at the end of it all I didn’t have a penny to pay So I got me a pen and a paper and I made up my own little sign I said, “Thank you, Lord, for thinkin’ ’bout me. I’m alive and doin’ fine” Woo

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

Five Man Electrical Band—uh—disbanded (add that to the list of old jokes such as “Old doctors never die, they just lose their patients,” and other puns about the ends of careers) in 1975, so you know that these two guys still without hearing aids but still WITH most of their teeth, quit being young in every place but their own minds a long time ago.

One geezer hauled out his pocket encyclopedia/camera, a device usually marketed as a telephone but which he seldom uses that way, and showed the other geezer a picture he took of a sign at a tourist junk shop in Limon, Colorado a few days earlier and suggested there are many venues where this sign should be posted:

Both geezers reflect that the sign is highly reminiscent of the four-way test of the civic organization, Rotary International, which is:

Is it TRUTH? Is it FAIR to all concerned? Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS? Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

But then, Geezer one did the two-fingery thing on the encyclopedia/camera screen to widen out the image to show two other signs on either side of the “Think” sign.  The expanded image seems to capture the contradictions in our social dialogue, which too often take the shape of individual diaTRIBE.

To save you the trouble of doing your own two-fingery thing to expand the image, we’ll tell you that the sign on the left says, “If you can read this you are in range,” and shows an apparent double-barreled shotgun, and the sign on the right says “The average response time of a 911 call is 23 minutes. The response time of a .357 is 1400 feet per second.”

The other two signs might be true and helpful—somehow. We suspect they are seldom necessary. They aren’t real inspiring except in a pretty anti-social sort of a way.  And forget about kindness.  But in years to come they will provide fodder for sociologists, psychiatrists and other “ists” studying the American mind in the late Twentieth and early Twenty-first Centuries.

Geezer One saw another sign a few days earlier at Dot’s Diner, a sandwich place in Nederland, Colorado—a few miles above Boulder—where the proprietors think the music of the Grateful Dead is appropriate background for a meal.  The sign wasn’t mean or threatening.  It just asked people to respect other diners who were having their sandwich with a Touch of Grey, or their omelet with Sugar Magnolia.

Maybe Geezer One was just feeling mellow during his lunch because he’d just ridden a pig on the 1909 restored carousel that is Nederland’s biggest attraction.  A fellow named Scott Harrison had rescued the carousel from the scrap heap and had spent more than twenty-five years carving all of the creatures for it.  The Carousel of Joy, it’s called.  And you are NOT too old to enjoy riding it and listening to the original Wurlitzer mechanical band organ as you go.

The discussion reminded one of the geezers of the kindly little signs that vanished from our roads about the time the interstate highway system came along.  The last Burma-Shave signs went up in 1963.  You might find a few in museums here and there today.  Some thought they were distractions to drivers and made the two-lane roads they populated less safe.  But now in these days with the pleas for drivers to ignore the distractions of Facebook, or Twitter, or the telephone itself—-at the same time that cars all have video screens in the middle of the dash loaded with all kinds of information—the concerns about Burma-Shave signs seem mild.

Some of the signs, in fact, promoted highway safety.  Frank Rowsome, Jr., put out a little book in 1965 that contained all of those messages, The Verse By the Side of the Road.  It has all of them, including the first ones in 1927. All had the company name at the end of each series and most promoted using the product when you were shaving with a blade.  But some were highway safety messages:

Don’t Lose/Your Head/To Gain a Minute/You Need Your Head/Your Brains Are In It

Or:

Dim Your Lights/Behind A Car/Let Folks See/How Bright You Are.

Then there was:

Thirty Days/Hath September/April/June And The/Speed Offender 

Would signs like those do as much good, or more good, on our highways than the electric signs telling us how many fatalities we’ve had each month, or reminding us to buckle up?   Or maybe they’d make some good light-hearted but meaningful reminders.  And monotony-breaking moments on the crowded, straight-as-a-string interstates.

Perhaps something such as:

Buckle Up/Don’t Be Silly/Don’t Be Under/A Stone With/ ACarved Lilly/MODOT.

If you have some Burma-Shave inspired signs that you think would be useful for MODOT, or that would meet the four-way test for general civil discussion, send them along in the “comments” section below.  If they meet our standards of civility (as we outline on this page) we’ll post them.  And then you can tell your friends YOU are a published poet!  A Roadside Laureate!

(Burma Shave sign image by G. D. Carrington)

Walls, doors, and a big creepy thing: Notes from the road, June edition

We’ve been on the road, observing places and meeting people, poring over old newspapers, talking to groups, reading things.  Stuff like that.  It’s good to get away from the political center of things for a while.

Spoke to a convention of state geologists in Branson the other day.  Never talked before to so many people with rocks in their heads.

For those who think there’s never anything new, we offer this note from the Jefferson City Capital News of September 11, 1910:

“The government is planning to build the longest fence ever constructed in the world.  It will extend from El Paso, Texas to the Pacific coast, more than 1,000 miles and will divide the United States and Mexico.  The fence will be of barbed wire.  Work will begin in a few weeks.”

Speaking of walls, we were looking through a recent edition of Archaeology magazine and its article on Hadrian’s Wall, the wall built by Roman Emperor Guess Who.   Trivia question:  How many miles long was (is) Hadrian’s Wall?

The Great Wall of China is 5,500.3 miles long.  Just saying it is impressive.  But let’s put it another way.  If the Great Wall of China were straightened into one segment and moved to the western city limits of Jefferson City and we started driving on it toward China, we would be able to get 82% of the way there

Hadrian’s wall would stretch from Jefferson City to Lamonte (between JC and Knob Noster).  73 miles.

Here’s a nice place to eat in Cape Girardeau.  But it would not be wise to become too enamored of its fine adult beverages while you are there and wait until your bladder was sending such urgent messages that you don’t have time to read some signs and your mind is no longer agile enough to understand them.

Katy O’Neill’s Public House in historic downtown Cape, is at the bottom of a hill. If you go there and your thinking is not as acute as it was before you began to socialize, make sure you read and comprehend the signs.

(They’ll get bigger if you click on them, at least here)

We do wonder, however, why it’s not still St. Patrick’s Day in both rooms.

—–

We’ve checked out the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art on Bentonville, Arkansas.  We were told that some of the snooty art folks on the east and west coasts have their noses out of joint because Alice Walton, who dreamed up this place, had the nerve to keep so much great art out here in flyover country, and particularly in such a Podunk place as Bentonville.  We were reminded of a comment made by Dr. John Pickard (for whom Pickard Hall is named at the University of Missouri), the chairman of the commission that hired the artists to decorate the capitol.  He complained that lot of eastern artists weren’t big enough to see over the Allegheny Mountains.  This was in the days well before we were flyover country.  But Doc P. and Alice W. had it right.

We recommend a trip to Crystal Bridges which is, itself, a work of art.  And it has a very nice restaurant.  If you are a little jittery about arachnids, you might want to close your eyes and have someone lead you into the museum….

The sculpture is by Louise Bourgeois and it’s called “Maman.”  Linda DeBerry, writing for the Crystal Bridges website, says the thirty-foot-tall spider carrying 26 marble eggs is a tribute to her mother.  After you get over your initial shudder at that thought, understand that, as DeBerry writes Bourgeois claimed “The spider…was not an ominous or frightening figure, but rather a representation of the protection and industry of her own beloved mother, who repaired tapestry for a living and died when the artist was 21.” Bourgeois said, “The spider is a repairer. If you bash into the web of a spider, she doesn’t get mad. She weaves and repairs it.”

Uhhh-huh.

Hold up your hand if you ever thought of YOUR mother this way.

Spider-mom aside, don’t be afraid to go to the Crystal Bridges museum.  It’s spectacular.  You are likely to spend enough time looking at the art and sculpture in the museum’s galleries—and at the Frank Lloyd Wright house that was moved there piece-by-piece that you’ll need lunch or dinner. We thought the food was good.  And before you leave town, fill up the car at a gas station in Bentonville.  It was a buck-98 the day we were there, seventeen cents less than the stations in Jefferson City, where gas prices tend to be suspiciously high most of the time.

Bentonville is an okay place.  Pretty much a company town, as is Jefferson City.

Chatting at the Y the other day about baseball’s desire to shorten the games.  Curtailing visits to the pitcher’s mound.  Requiring pitchers to throw the ball in a certain amount of time.  How about restricting the number of adjustments to batting gloves?  Limiting the amount of time batters can excavate a place for their back foot?

All of that is just playing games with the game. Here’s what would shorten games: Limiting the number of commercials between innings.  And during pitching changes.

Not likely to happen, of course.  The Game, whether it’s baseball or basketball or football—any game that is not continuous, long ago abdicated its right to its own clock when it decided to accept big broadcasting fees.

I think I just nibbled a little bit on the hand that used to feed me.

Didn’t get to see any of the Congressional baseball game on the in-room teevee while we were gone.  Wonder if the Cardinals had any scouts in the audience looking for bullpen help.

A t-shirt, a tweet, and history

Seen at a truck stop in Effingham, Illinois:

A grey T-shirt with the pictures of former Illinois Governors Rod Blagojevich and George Ryan and the words, “Illinois, Where our Governors Make Our License Plates.”

For historical accuracy, future t-shirts might include Governors Otto Kerner, Jr. (mail fraud), and Dan Walker (bank fraud) among those whose careers took them from having license plate number one to a place where they wore a number stitched onto their clothes.  Walker capitalized on his name by walking the state during his 1971 gubernatorial campaign, inspiring Jackson County, Missouri, prosecutor Joseph P. Teasdale to become known as “Walking Joe Teasdale” during an unsuccessfully 1972 primary campaign for governor.  Teasdale didn’t walk as much during his successful 1976 campaign, but supporters wore lapel pins showing a shoe with a hole in the sole, an idea borrowed from a pin used by Adlai Stevenson in his 1952 Presidential campaign.  Stevenson was a Governor of Illinois who did NOT go to prison. Instead, he went to the United Nations as United States Ambassador during the Kennedy/Johnson administrations.  He is remembered for the dramatic moment when he unveiled aerial photographs of Russian missile installations in Cuba and directly asked Soviet Ambassador Valerian Zorin if the country was installing nuclear missiles there and proclaimed he would be waiting “until hell freezes over” to get an answer.

It was Stevenson who proposed the agreement that ended the Cuban Missile Crisis—our removal of Jupiter missiles from Turkey (they were obsolete anyway) if the Soviets took their missiles out of Cuba, a deal that did not become public for many years.  He knew that some of President Kennedy’s advisors would consider him a coward for making such a suggestion, but he commented, “Perhaps we need a coward in the room when we’re talking nuclear war.”

Wonder how many people who see those t-shirts ever think about all the real history behind the sardonic message on them and the resonance some of that history might have in today’s world.

We stopped for fuel in Effingham on our way back from watching the first Japanese driver win the Indianapolis 500.  By then, a Denver sportswriter had taken to Twitter to say he was uncomfortable with a Japanese driver winning the race on Memorial Day weekend because of the death of one of his father’s Army Air Corps colleagues in the Battle of Okinawa.  He later issued a public apology and noted his father had flown many missions including unarmed reconnaissance missions over Japan during World War II.  But the Denver Post has fired him.

We resist today writing of Twitter’s capacity to bring out the worst in us—and the best although your observer considers it generally to be “The Theatre of the Inane”—and others have written about the decency of Takuma Sato (who is celebrating at the “Kissing the Bricks” post-race ceremony at the start-finish line) who has spoken of his concern about a quarter-million people in his homeland who are still suffering from the earthquake and tsunami a few years ago.  Instead we refer you to an entry in the old Missourinet blog that we posted three years ago about a place 225 miles or so southeast of Denver that tells a different story from the unfortunate Denver tweets.

http://blog.missourinet.com/2014/09/30/summits-sewers-and-students/

History has many parts.  As we see in this year’s story of the Denver sportswriter and in the 2014 stories of high school students and a high plains historical site, there often are shadows over it.

There is danger lurking whenever any of us try to distill the past or the present into 140 characters.

 

The emerging crisis

Analysis of any number of mass events in human history will turn up any number of causes but beneath the surface motivations, the root cause is often—in one way or another—resources.

Exploration is often motivated by a search for resources: silk, gold, oil, slaves.  Wars often are the result of a search for resources or access to them.  Religious activity is often motivated by resources or the lack of them.

Our social and archaeological visits to the Southwest that have generated those evaluations and have exposed us to a coming crisis is shaping up there today—and there are signs that the crisis is not in that part of the country alone.  There are worries in Missouri already.

Our work in finding and recording ancient pueblo societies in the Four Corners area has involved an exploration of their movements and the reasons for their movements as well as the apparent reasons for some of their behaviors.

The ancient pueblo people who created the cliff dwellings and their fates appear less mysterious than popular culture portrays when the archaeological evidence is examined.  Your correspondent has no scholarly credentials to offer to this discussion, but we have listened to and read numbers discussions by scholars.  (Kind of like, “I’m not an archaeologist but I stayed at a hotel full of them once” type of thing.)

One line of thought is that those people a thousand years ago left the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings area and the great cities such as Chaco Canyon’s communities because they used up the resources.  A combination of increased population produced by improved diets and a 45-year drought forced people to abandon their river-valley dwellings and move to alcoves in cliffs that were more secure in increasingly troubled times and offered better protection for the food supplies they harvested in the valley and on the cliff tops.  As things became more desperate there seemed to have been a rise in religious activity, some of it sacrificial, in an effort to please the gods that had withdrawn the means of survival for some reason.   At the same time, the various competing societies became more militant and combative in their quest for the limited resources available.

It’s a human story repeated many times throughout the world.  The availability of resources motivates us as a species, often in ways that overcome reason and humanity.

There are those who think a crisis that could produce conflicts at various levels is shaping up with water. We already are seeing skirmishes.  You might have noticed some already.  Some old-timers will recall the upheaval that was caused by a proposed South Dakota plan to pump water from the Missouri River to Wyoming’s coal-producing areas where it would be mixed with coal to produce a slurry that would flow in another pipeline to powerplants in the southeast.

The issue is growing serious in the Southwest again.

The newspaper in Casa Grande, Arizona that we read a few days ago carried an Associated Press story that the flow of the Colorado River, “the most important waterway in the American Southwest,” is almost twenty percent less than it was before a drought now in its eighteenth year.

Researchers Brad Udall and Jonathan Overpeck, in The Journal of Water Resources, note seven states and part of Mexico are served by the Colorado’s 246,000 mile basin.  The area includes forty million people and 6,300 acres of farmland.  But the two great impoundments from which water is drawn by various communities and other entities are stressed.  They find water storage levels at Lake Mead, behind Hoover Dam, and at Lake Powell, behind the Glen Canyon Dam is  forty-two and forty-six percent.  There are fears that Lake Mead could drop so far that cuts will soon have to be made in water deliveries to Arizona and Nevada, the first states to feel the shortage under multistate water use agreements.

(How far has the water level in Lake Mead dropped?  Consider the town of St. Thomas, Nevada.  It was flooded in 1938 by water backing up behind Hoover Dam.  At one time, water about sixty feet deep covered the tallest remaining structures on the site.  Today, you can walk the streets of St. Thomas, Nevada again.  It’s on National Park Service Land.)

What’s causing this?  Udall and Overpeck say precipitation was 4.6 percent below historic averages in the fifteen years through 2014.  The temperatures during that period were 1.6 degrees above historic averages.  That, they calculate, amounts to about two-thirds of the decline.  They think most of the rest is the result of a warming atmosphere that causes more evaporation from the snowbanks, plants, and soil.

The long-term outlook:  Rain and snowfall will have to increase by FOURTEEN PERCENT FOR THE REST OF THE 21st century to offset the effect of anticipated rising temperatures.

Arizona is considering what to do.  Reporters Ethan Millman and Morgan Wheeler of the Casa Grande Dispatch wrote in the same issue that Arizona leaders have started a push to abolish a 2001 prohibition against letting some people drink recycled wastewater by the end of the year.  A state regulatory council has to approve the plan to turn toilet, shower, and other treated water used for drinking. Officials know a substantial change of public perception will be needed and the recycling is more likely to be used in smaller towns rather than the major cities of Tucson and Phoenix.

Reclaimed water already is vital to a major part of Arizona’s popularity.  They write that eighty million gallons of reclaimed water is used on the golf courses of just one county, Maricopa, home of Phoenix, EVERY DAY.  A ski area near Flagstaff makes snow out of it.  One vineyard uses it to irrigate the grape plants that ultimately produce wine.

Not a worry in Missouri?  Oh, but it is.

And if it were not for federal laws four or more decades ago there would be major, major problems.  The Clean Water Act forced cities to stop dumping sewage directly into our rivers and their tributaries.  So, in truth, Missourians already are drinking former sewage that was processed before it went into the rivers and is processed when it is drawn out of them.  We who live along the river cannot collect enough rain water nor drill enough deep water wells to sustain our homes, our businesses, and our health without those processes.  Or our golf courses.

The Corps of Engineers worries about the inflow of water from the Missouri River upstream mountain-snowmelt and precipitation—but those areas also are dealing with long-term drought.  The impoundments on the Missouri not only provide commercial value in the Dakotas and Montana, they also provide the water needed to maintain navigation on the Missouri and, ultimately, on the Mississippi Rivers that is vital to a major segment of our economy.

Then there is this:

We started seeing news reports in August 2009 that the Ozark Aquifer is drying up. A United States Geological Survey report that month that a four-year study at Missouri Southern State University indicated the aquifer could go dry in places “if demand increases by as little as one percent annually over the next 50 years” and that it could be emptied near some cities.  Among the first to feel the shortage: Carthage and Noel, towns with industries that use a lot of water.  Joplin and Miami Oklahoma would be next, then Pittsburg, Kansas.

The study covered 7,340 square miles in Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, and Oklahoma. As of 2006, eight-seven percent of the water drawn from the aquifer was used in Missouri—

8,531,520 cubic feet per day. There are about 7.5 gallons in each cubic foot of water.

A year later, John Goldsmith at Emporia State University reported groundwater in the

region’s aquifers was being polluted by coal beds in the Tri-State area and other factors. But industry and state government actions were slowing the contamination.  Remediation and cleanup, he said, is expensive and difficult.

John Thomas, who bills himself on his website as “The Mad Hedge Fund Trader,” wrote in 2010, “If you think that the upcoming energy shortage is going to be bad, it will pale in comparison to the next water crisis.”

We spend a lot of time discussing this or that crisis here or in another nations. But we have one developing right under our feet.  And unlike those ancient people of the Colorado plateau, we can’t just walk away to another place.

(photo credit: raisethestakes.com)

Dirt, burgers, and sheep-shearing: Notes from the road

We have snowbird friends who invite us to their cottage in Arizona for a week or so every February so we can become reacquainted with sun and warmth.  That’s normally a good thing although this year Arizona was in the 30s at night and barely cracked sixty during the day while Missourians were doing at least as well or better.

We find that road trips like these give us a chance to ruminate on various things we encounter along the way and ponder some differences and similarities beyond weather conditions at home.

Seen on the back of a gravel truck near Bowie, Arizona: “Keep back at least 200 feet. Not responsible for broken windshields.”  We were about thirty feet away before we could read it.

Most jarring message on another truck: “Catholics aren’t Christians.”   We sensed it would not be prudent to stop the driver and ask what that was about.

From columnist Argus Hamilton in the Albuquerque Journal: “Late Monday night, President Trump woke up in a cold sweat after a nightmare involving the most serious crisis of his presidency. He dreamed that Twitter had resigned.”

Something in Casa Grande, Arizona that we will not likely see in Jefferson City: Four gas stations in two blocks selling self-service regular for $1.95, $1.98 $2.14, and $2.44.   It made us recall the time we were in a Missouri gas station one night and the clerk at the cash register told the clerk at the next register to go out and change the sign because the station across the street had hiked its price by two cents a gallon and they wanted to keep up.

Looking for a hobby or maybe a second job?  Be in Claremore, Oklahoma April 13-15 for the sheep shearing school.  Among other things you will be taught how to catch a sheep, a fairly essential element to learning to shear one.

Checked my horoscope on February 22nd—well, it was actually “Horoscopes by Holiday”—in a newspaper and it sounded like a long version of a fortune cookie message.  But it probably works for everybody and every day: “When things get more colorful and dramatic and life is uncomfortable, be grateful for it.  Were you to be limited to a very confined and unvarying society, you would be quickly bored to tears.”

A thought at a lunch stop in Lordsburg, New Mexico:  Would we have been better off getting our food at the drive-in window and then going inside to eat it than going inside, ordering, and waiting while several window deliveries were handled before we got our order?

Lordsburg and Bowie, Arizona reminded us of what happens when the interstate replaces the highway through the town. When you see an antique store boarded up, you know things have gone bad since the stagecoaches of today bypassed towns like Lordsburg.   Incidentally, there’s nothing that we saw in Lordsburg noting that it was the destination of the Ringo Kid, Dallas, Buck the stagecoach driver, the alcoholic Doc Boon and others on the stagecoach (that started out in Tonto, Arizona Territory, by the way) in the famous “Stagecoach” movie.

Sometimes when you are travelling you see a sign that you must photograph.  This was just outside Deming, NM

Somewhere in our photo collection we have a picture of the scariest intersection in Missouri.  Roads EE and K.  The sign on I-70 east of Kansas City kind of looks like EEK.  Wonder if anybody ever thought of going out one night and spray-painting an exclamation point on it.

They call the New Mexico capitol “The Round House” because it’s round, like the kivas in the ancient pueblo communities.  A House committee has recommended a $6.1 billion dollar state budget AND a $285 million tax increase to pay for it.  Governor Susana Martinez calls the bill a “political ploy” and threatens to veto a budget bill that raises the money to pay for the things in it.  She apparently has not been reading Missouri newspapers about something called “withholding.”

There were a couple of times when we were reminded of Missouri while driving across country on Interstate 40.  There are two places between Albuquerque and Tucumcari that reminded us of I-70 across Missouri, America’s ugliest stretch of highway.

For a few hundred yards approaching a couple of places that sell all kinds of touristy stuff there are billboards shoulder to shoulder.  One big difference is there’s more distance between the big trucks.

It is hard to drive across Oklahoma and not be conscious of its red earth, so red that some lakes or ponds are red.  Cows don’t seem to mind but we’re not sure we’d want to spend a day swimming in that water and we sure wouldn’t want to see it coming out of our kitchen tap or our shower.  The observation allowed us to reflect that Oklahoma has a state symbol that Missouri has not adopted yet—although we fear that we might inspire somebody to do something silly by commenting. Oklahoma has an official state dirt.  It’s not called “dirt” (it’s Port Silt Loam, or in Latin, Cumulic haplustolls) but that’s what it is.   Missouri has manufactured more than two dozen official state symbols but so far we haven’t decided what our official dirt should be.

A television station in New Mexico was reporting on efforts to create there another state symbol that Missouri does not have. Again, we have some trepidation about bringing this up.  A proposal would designate the green chile hamburger as New Mexico’s official state hamburger.

We hope no school teacher in Sedalia decided to teach their young students about how government operates by having their state legislators introduce a bill designating the Goober Burger as Missouri’s version of the New Mexico official patty.

And that brings us to the story of the cone, the kid, and the reporter.

In 2008, a thirteen-year old Ballwin schoolgirl induced her legislators to introduce the bill designating Missouri’s Official Dessert—the ice cream cone.   When the bill passed and I wrote a story saying the legislature had designated a crumbly and tasteless piece of pastry as the state’s official dessert, the fearless Elise Kostial fired back.  I was wrong.  I was ignoring the ice cream component!!!   No, I wrote back, read your bill.  There is no mention of ice cream.  The bill just specifies the cone.   She and I traded messages a few times including once a year or so later after the bill had been signed and had gone into effect.  In the closing weeks of the legislative sessions, there are times when ice cream is served in the rotunda by some group wanting to curry last-days favor with lawmakers.  After one of those occasions, your ice-cream-–affectionate correspondent sent Elise an email telling her that I had enjoyed the state’s official dessert that day—and I had even put some ice cream in it.

Umbrage was taken.  And noted.  To this day, our differences remain unresolved and, I fear, mediation is out of the question.  In May, 2011, when we were doing a book signing in the rotunda of the Capitol art book, Elise happened to be in the building, too.  She came over and said hello.  But we continued to suffer, I fear, from good-natured but irreconcilable differences.  Perhaps if I had buckled and accepted her position, she would have bought a book.

Elise, by the way, was and is an extraordinary person.  She’s a grownup now, a college graduate from Stanford. She’s been active in a number of conservative political organizations and is, as she was in our ice cream fight days, a very sharp lady.

But our official state dessert is still a crumbly, tasteless pastry—-the bottom of which has a tendency to get soft and mushy and leak the ice cream that is put into the top of it if the consumer waits too long to consume the ice cream.  Always have at least one napkin when you are having one of our official state symbols with ice cream.

There has been voiced from time to time in the Missouri legislature that students and teachers who think the way to teach and learn how the legislature works is to get a new state symbol bill introduced should learn words such as “filibuster” and “defeat.” Failing those two things there is always a third word: “veto.”   And a fourth: “override attempt.”  And “failed override attempt.”  But the key word some legislators think should survive is “defeat.”   Enough is enough, and no, we don’t need a new state symbol that is a hamburger made with peanut butter.

To set the record straight

For years, there have been incorrect stories told about the original name of Jefferson City, the capital city of Missouri.   Our research has confirmed the original name of Jefferson City was:

                               The City of Jefferson.

Not Howard’s Bluff.  Not Lohman’s Landing.  We’re not sure where those ideas originated but they are not true. 

When Missouri became a state, Congress passed a law giving the state four sections of land on which to locate the permanent seat of government, the temporary seat being in St. Charles where you can visit the building that was the first state capitol.   The legislature appointed commissioners to select a location that was on the Missouri River within forty miles of the mouth of the Osage River, as specified in state law.

The commissioners looked at three sites: Cote Sans Dessein, a French village located in then-Montgomery, now Callaway, County; Howard’s Bluff in Moniteau County; and an unnamed area that was available but was considered a poor possible site because the land was not good for farming.   Cote Sans Dessein, across the river from the Osage River mouth, was favored by the commissioners but rejected by the legislature because of questionable land ownership caused by significant land speculation. 

The second site, Howard’s Bluff, was about where the community of Marion is in western Cole County. It was Cole County’s first county seat before the western half of Cole County became Moniteau County. That area, however, already had settlers on it with legitimate land claims.  So it was out.   

That left the least acceptable site.  When the legislature ordered a town be laid out there, it said in the law that the town would be named the City of Jefferson. There were only two or three cabins in that area at the time.  

We came across a map in an 1823 Gazeteer of Illinois and Missouri that pretty clearly shows Howard’s Bluff was not the original name of the City of Jefferson.

 

As far as Lohman’s Landing is concerned—-the Lohman family wasn’t among the early settlers of Jefferson City and did not become a prominent name in the town until it bought what had been known as Jefferson Landing in the early 1850s. By then the City of Jefferson had been in existence for a quarter-century. 

By then Cote Sans Dessein had been washed away by the Missouri River.  By then, Moniteau County had been split away from Cole and the county seat had shifted to the City of Jefferson and Marion today is mostly an access point to the river.

Jefferson City wasn’t much of a city when the seat of government moved to it—only about thirty families.  It survived several political and legal attempts to move the seat of government or to claim the community for private ownership.  But it is still what it was designated to be in 1822—the City of Jefferson, the permanent seat of state government. 

Just had to get this off the chest after running across the Howard’s Bluff/Lohman’s Landing thing too many times in recent days. 

Big government comes to Missouri

The State Planning Board in 1937 did a study of office space requirements for state departments in Jefferson City.  Your specialist in the archaeology of forgotten information uncovered it at the State Archives during research on the next Capitol book and thought it offers context for the discussions about what government should be these eight decades later.

In this era when “big government” has become a charged phrase, this report does at least three things:

  1. It gives us a history of big government’s early development.
  2. It explains why the phrase became a necessity.
  3. It explains why shrinking “big government” is easier to say than it will be to do.

We offer this to you as a prelude to later discussions of Donald F. Kettl’s Escaping Jurassic Government: How to Recover America’s Lost Commitment to Competence, a book that says big government is here to stay but today’s political approaches to it might be only  aggravating its shortcomings at a time when enlightened, practical steps should be taken to bring a 19th century system that worked for decades into a workable system in the 21st century. It can be interesting for those of us who are served by government programs but it might be even more useful for those who determine the directions those programs take.

The 1937 study concluded, “A new building is necessary for economy and efficiency in the operation of the State government.”   Here’s the history lesson from that report:

When the Capitol building was still under construction, the state government functions were increasing and the demand for office space likewise increased.  During the last fifty years or more, great changes have taken place in our social and economic structure.  Extensive alterations have occurred in transportation, communication, means of production, trade and commerce, and manners and customs.  New standards of civic and social responsibility have arisen and state government in Missouri, as elsewhere, has been affected and has had to keep pace with the influences of the changing world.  Today, the state occupies a different place in society than it did fifty or even twenty years ago.

Gradually, the emergency of railroads, the industrial system with its thriving cities, the automobile, corporate financing, public utilities and other products of the period confronted the state with problems of regulation and control which it had never before known.  An increase in the material wealth of the population produced a rising standard of living which, in turn, demanded a greater number and better quality of governmental services in the field of education, health, sanitation, and hospitalization of the insane and tubercular.  The awakening of a new social responsibility established institutions for the blind, the deaf, and the delinquent minors.  The automobile placed the state in the road-building business.  Problems arising from industry and urban life demanded that the state inspect mines and manufacturing plants and establish health and sanitary standards.  Decade by decade, as our society has grown in size and complexity, new services and functions have been demanded of our state.  In short, then, the state has developed into an agency for promotion of the well-being of its citizens.

The report noted the number of permanent administrative government employees in Jefferson City (excluding the legislature and the Supreme Court) had grown from fewer than 100 in 1900 to about 1,400 in 1936 because of that half-century of change in American, and Missouri, society and economy.

The first state agency to reflect that trend in an obvious way was the Highway Department. In 1907, the office of Highway Engineer was created within the State Board of Agriculture (not a department yet).  The position became that of State Highway Commissioner in 1913 and just four years after an entirely new department, the State Highway Department, was created—all in response to the rapid growth of the use of automobiles and the need for the roads for them.  In 1920, Missourians approved a $60 million dollar bond issue that started the Missouri Centennial Road Program, the state’s first major effort to create a coherent highway system.  The report reminds readers that in the space of less than fifteen years, the agency for developing the state road system had grown from one person in the office of another state agency into a “huge department” that finally had to move out of the Capitol and into its own building in 1928.

When the 1937 survey was done, twenty-two departments or parts of departments (not including highways) were housed in the capitol.  During legislative sessions they had to find temporary quarters in other buildings in Jefferson City.  Two agencies—the Public Service Commission and the now-Department of Agriculture’s laboratory, had moved full-time into the old post office/federal building that was across High Street from the present main post office.

By 1937, government had so outgrown the capitol that office space on the building’s first floor occupied 48% more space than the building’s designed capacity, the study commenting, “This has been accomplished by using as office space the cafeteria, vestibules, vault space, etc.  The second floor is seriously overcrowded.  In some rooms typists are working in such close quarter that they cannot freely operate their machines.  In one case, the fixtures in a toilet were removed and the space converted to offices.  The need for office space is so acute that it is planned to make use of other toilets for offices in the near future.

“While the legislature is not in session, certain departments expand their activities into legislative committee rooms and the Senators’ private offices.  Each time the legislature convenes, it is the same story. Departments occupying legislative quarters have to move, and each time the legislature adjourns the persons occupying rooms are besieged with requests to let this or that or other departments use the space.”  In those days, the legislature met every other year, not annually.

The Federal Works Progress Administration occupied “extensive space” on the legislative floors, including the Senate balcony.

About 2,600 square feet of space in the basement was improvised into offices that had no ventilation and no natural light.  Between sessions, ten departments or parts of departments rented space elsewhere in town.  During sessions, fifteen departments had to rent space.   More than 200 employees worked in a basement that became so polluted by exhaust gases of delivery trucks that many workers developed “sick headaches” that force them to take time away from work.

Missouri was not alone in dealing with the development of big government.  The Oklahoma State Planning Board had reported late in 1936 that Missouri was just one of 28 states considering new office buildings.

Big government had arrived—out of necessity.  It remains and it is a fact of life.  The result of that 1937 study was the Broadway Office Building.

In later entries we’ll review Kettl’s call for realistic thinking about the focus  of discussion about the direction of government.  In short, he argues without saying it: The goal is less about making government smaller than it is about making American government competent again.

Stay tuned.

The stripes

We’ve been thinking more about our Missouri Bicentennial license plate, particularly about the wavy lines at the top and the bottom of the plate.  As the designers have noted, they represent the rivers that have been and remain important to our state.

The Mississippi River that became the eastern boundary of Missouri was for many years the western boundary of the United States, the line that separated the nation from Spanish territory.  Failure by the British to gain control of the river during the American Revolution (thanks in no small part to the 1780 Battle of St. Louis) was key to the nation’s survival and development.

The Mississippi and its tributaries—the Wisconsin, the Illinois, and the Ohio, for example—brought the first explorers and settlers to Missouri.  Father Jacques Marquette and his voyageur partner Louis Joliet followed the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers in 1673 to the Mississippi and followed the it until they encountered a “dreadful” river flowing into the Mississippi, “an accumulation of large and entire trees, branches and floating islands issuing from the mouth of the river Pekitanoui with such impetuosity that we could not without great danger risk passing through it.”  It was the Missouri, of course.

LaSalle and Tonty came down the Mississippi in 1682. It was LaSalle who envisioned a string of French settlements that would control trade with the Indians and exploit the land with mining.  He took control of the area and named it for his monarch, Louis the Great, Louis XIV.  In 1720, Phillippe Renault set up lead mines and brought the first slaves to Missouri to work them.  Etienne de Bourgmont (sometimes spelled “Bourgmond”) built the first fort in western part of the state when he put up Fort Orleans on the north bank of the Missouri a few years later in response to French concerns that Spain was coveting the territory and might mount an expedition from Santa Fe.

The Ohio brought George Morgan and his settlers to New Madrid to establish the first American settlement in this area—on the Mississippi.

Another Mississippi River tributary, which defines our northeast corner, caused thirty years of disputes about where the line should be separating us from Iowa.  The northeast corner was defined as a line that reached the rapids of the Des Moines River.  But nobody knew where those rapids were. Or are.   The dispute triggered by that search almost led to Missouri going to war with Iowa, the famous “Honey War.”   The U.S. Supreme Court finally decided the issue.

The St. Francis River, which flows from Iron County into the Mississippi about 425 miles south, was instrumental in shaping Missouri’s southern border.  When John Hardeman Walker wanted his farm in Missouri, not in Arkansas Territory. the St. Francis River became the eastern border of the Bootheel created to include Walker’s land.

Missouri’s original western border was the western side of Worth, Gentry, DeKalb, Clinton, and Clay Counties until 1836 when the federal government convinced the Indians living in the area between there at the Missouri River to move west.  The Platte Purchase added six counties in an area abut the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined and extended our northwestern border to the Missouri River.  That’s how the Missouri became part of the border of—Missouri.

Most of the founding settlements of Missouri were on the rivers: Ste. Genevieve, where some accounts say people were living as early as 1722 although other accounts date the founding at 1735 and permanent settlement at 1752; St. Louis, 1764; St. Charles, 1769; Portage des Sioux, 1779, New Madrid, the first American settlement, 1789; Cape Girardeau, 1793.  When lead mining developed in eastern Missouri, one of the biggest challenges for the miners was hacking a road through the forests to get to the river to ship their lead out.

Up to the start of the Civil War, the ten most populous cities in Missouri were all along the Mississippi or Missouri Rivers.  St. Louis, located near the junction of the two greatest rivers, was the largest city in 1860 with 160,773 people. The population of the other nine combined equaled only one-fourth of the St. Louis number.

The importance of rivers is emphasized by the location of the state capital city.  The first state legislature determined the capital should be centrally located.  And how did those lawmakers define central location?  On the Missouri River within forty miles of the mouth of the Osage.  On a principle river not far from an important secondary river that linked central Missouri with the southwest, a capital city that was accessible by a network of rivers that in those days linked all areas of the state, including the northwest corner added a decade after government moved to the City of Jefferson.

The Missouri River gave us, in addition to St. Charles and Jefferson City, the now-vanished communities of Cote Sans Dessein and Franklin, as well as Hermann, and Boonville (which tried in 1831 to take the seat of government away from Jefferson City), Lexington, and eventually Westport and Kansas City, then St. Joseph—and Omaha, and Council Bluffs.

By 1820, some settlers had moved up the Osage and formed what became Warsaw and by 1831, Lewis Bledsoe was running a ferry operation on the river, near the present Truman Dam.

The great rivers brought us legends, mechanical and human—Mike Fink, the fur traders and trappers like Hugh Glass and Jim Bridger, Jed Smith, Thomas Fitzpatrick and the men of Ashley’s Hundred; of the Natchez  and the Robert E. Lee and their epic race to St. Louis,  and great pilots such as Joseph LaBarge, who never lost a boat in fifty years, or Joseph Kinney, whose magnificent home called “Rivercene” is now a B&B across the Missouri from Boonville, or Grant Marsh and his steamer Far West, best remembered for setting a downstream record on the Missouri when he carried survivors of Custer’s fight on the Little Big Horn 710 miles down the treacherous river in 54 hours, and with them brought the first news to the outside world of Custer’s fate.  It’s the river of Stephen H. Long and his Western Engineer that started an epic trip west that led to the Great Plains being called “The Great American Desert” for decades.

And what would Samuel Clemens had been if the Mississippi River was not so much of his character?

And all along the courses of these great rivers, now greatly changed, there are remains of the boats that didn’t make it all the way up or down stream and took dreams and people with them, sometimes, to the bottom.   Sometimes the ribs of those boats are exposed when the dry times drop the river levels low enough.  A couple of times—with the Arabia  in Missouri and the Bertrand in Iowa—the remains are found incredibly preserved under layers of mud that used to be the river channel and amaze visitors who have never known when these rivers were the highways that developed our state and led to development of the entire western part of our nation beyond the Mississippi.

And there’s more to the heritage of our rivers—in the form of other avenues that sprang from them.  Former Missouri River ferryman William Becknell, in 1821, left Franklin for a cross-country trading expedition that opened the Santa Fe Trail that created Missouri’s first foreign trading partner and created that path that led to American acquisition a quarter-century later of the Southwest.

And from the village of Westport, the great wagon trains set out on the Oregon and California trails that extended the reach of those first river-borne Missourians to California and to the Northwest.

It was to the river town of St. Joseph, then the westernmost point on the nation’s rail network, there came one day in August, 1859 a lawyer for the Illinois Central Railroad who caught a steamboat at the city wharf and went further upstream to the river town of Council Bluffs, Iowa.  There he met young surveyor Grenville Dodge who was finding a cross-Iowa route for a railroad.  Dodge, just back from a Colorado trip, and Abraham Lincoln looked west and discussed the best route for a line to the Pacific Ocean.  Dodge became a Union Army officer, was wounded at Rolla, Missouri, and in the Battle of Pea Ridge that pretty much settled any hopes the Confederacy had of retaining an organized presence in Missouri. When Congress passed an act that led to the creation of a transcontinental railroad, then-President Lincoln summoned Dodge from the field to counsel him on where the line should begin.  Lincoln’s executive order in 1863 setting construction in motion established the legal headquarters of the Union Pacific in Council Bluffs and the operating headquarters across the Missouri River in Omaha.

Rivers brought the pioneers and the pioneering spirit to Missouri, and from the towns on the great rivers, new roads of dirt and steel opened the West.

It’s a small gesture to their significance that all of this is represented by some wavy lines on the Missouri Bicentennial license plate.  But it’s a significant gesture and maybe those wavy lines will encourage us to think more about those rivers that continue to shape us as Missourians and as Americans.

Inaugural Balls

(The last event of a governor’s inauguration is the big dance.  In this tenth, and concluding, segment about inauguration history—Let’s Dance!)

Our new governor might be up late tonight because the celebration will continues well into the night.  After today’s inauguration, there will be dancing.  No matter how late the new governor is up, he’s usually in the office for his first full day of work early, if not bright, the next morning.

Members of the legislature and other important people will get all gussied up, many of them risking their lives (in our view) when they are introduced and proceed down the grand stairway from the second floor to the first floor rotunda.  We have never seen a lady get her toe caught in the hem of her gown as she comes down the stairs but the few times that we’ve jammed ourselves into the crowd and covered the event, we have watched those introductions and parades down the steps with a certain tenseness.

It takes FOREVER to get all of those people down those steps.  And then the new governor and his wife get the first dance before everybody else looks for enough space to approximate a dance.

Here’s a little history of inaugural balls in Missouri:

The first inaugural ball for a head of state in Missouri might have been in March, 1804 when Spanish Governor Carlos deHault de Lassus ran the French flag down the pole in St. Louis and the American flag was first run up, signifying the change of ownership of the Louisiana Territory from France to the United States.  De Lassus was the French-born Spanish Governor, the French never having any government leaders here during the time between the sale of the territory by Spain to France and then the transfer to the United States. Captain Amos Stoddard  represented the United States in that ceremony and was in charge until President Jefferson appointed a territorial governor.

Jere Giffen (who recently died) wrote in her book, First Ladies of Missouri, “De Lassus held a public dinner in Captain Stoddard’s honor.  This was followed by a dinner and ball given by the citizens of St. Louis. The new executive was aware of the requirements of his position and he reciprocated with a dinner and ball open to the public. Captain Stoddard noted in personal correspondence that his entertainment—which might be classed as the first inaugural ball of an American governor in the area of Missouri—cost a total of $622.75.”

There were public dinners that included dancing for succeeding territorial governors but they were not considered inaugural balls as we know them today.

The first inaugural ball of an actual Governor of Missouri might have been January 3, 1853. Giffen wrote that new first lady Martha Price (Governor Sterling Price), who was so sick during the 1852 campaign that some people expected her to die, “was sufficiently strong to move with her children into the executive mansion for the inaugural ceremonies in January, 1853.” The “mansion” in this case was the first house built for a governor, using $5,000 provided by the legislature in 1832.  It was located on the same square or block as the original Governor’s House was constructed in 1826.  The Capitol was originally known as the Governor’s House when state government moved here in the fall of ’26 because it had a two-room suite for the governor to live and work in.  That was fine for John Miller, a bachelor, but not so great for his successor, Daniel Dunklin, who had a family.  Construction was underway in October, 1833 and was ready when Dunklin moved his family to Jefferson City in early ’34. The exact location is unclear, as is the exact location of the original Governor’s House but it apparently was in the area where the present Executive Mansion is located.

Giffen writes, “A large reception, termed by some an inaugural ball, was held by the new first family and attended by hundreds including friends and relatives from Chariton and Howard Counties. One of the first formal entertainments planned by capital city residents for the new first family probably was held in the mansion of Thomas Lawson Price, the first mayor of Jefferson City and a prominent businessman of the time.  According to Jefferson City legend, it was an unbroken custom for many years for the incoming governor and his wife to be received first at the Price home.  Although bearing the same name, the two Price families were not directly related until several years later when the Governor’s son, Celsus, married Thomas Lawson Price’s daughter, Celeste.”   The wedding was at the Thomas Lawson Price mansion.

Thomas Lawson Price was the defendant in an 1846 lawsuit that challenged the legal ownership of the land on which Jefferson City was laid out.  The state, of course, won the suit.  In the early Twentieth Century, the Price mansion was purchased by the state, torn down, and became the site of the present Supreme Court Building.

Inauguration receptions and dances do not appear to have been held at the Capitol until the present building was erected.  Until then, celebratory events were held at the Executive Mansion built during the administration of Governor B. Gratz Brown.  Jean Carnahan, in If These Walls Could Talk, indicates the first inaugural festivities in the mansion were after the inauguration of Silas Woodson on January 3, 1873.

One writer—not present for the occasion, but hopeful that the Mansion and its residents would serve as a model of Victorian propriety—declared the evening “an assemblage of ladies and gentlemen met for the purpose of rational, intellectual enjoyment.”  However, those in attendance found the evening far more robust as sounds of music from a brass and string band filled the house. Inaugural guests delighted in such rollicking dances as the polka and schottische, which had replaced the minuet after the Civil War.  It was reported that dancers swirled “all through the magnificent parlors, waltzing around, through doors, and from one room to another, galloping over people who came in the way, and schottisching recklessly about…until long after the noon of the night.” 

Joseph Folk, a Democrat, was elected in 1904 when Republicans swept control of government into their column. Carnahan wrote:

Like first ladies before her, Gertrude Folk found the traditional reception and ball “a trying ordeal…and a tax on the hands and feet.”  Still she called the event “great fun” and an opportunity to meet people from all over the state.  As the evening grew longer and the fun gave way to fatigue, Gertrude eased her weary feet by abandoning her “new high-heeled slippers…in one corner of the drawing room after the last hand had been shaken!”

Herbert Hadley was inaugurated during a snow storm on January 9, 1909.  Giffen records, “Snow blew into the Mansion as each of the some ten thousand guests was admitted. Mrs. Hadley recalled how her gloves soon became torn with the prolonged handshaking and when she took them off her hand began to bleed, staining the front of her white satin inaugural gown.”   Giffen seems to indicate the event was more a reception than a ball—surely the only way ten thousand people could have visited the place that night.

The Jefferson City Tribune said, “It is said to have been the largest gathering ever assembled in the mansion. As you came down the grand staircase you would stop and look at the great seeting [sic] mass of human beings and hesitate to make the plunge but finally before you could get courage up to step forth, without a moment’s warning you were lifted off your feet and rushed along at such a rate that if the walls had given way under the pressure you would have rushed pell mell into the Missouri river.”  Music was by the Third Regimental Band of Kansas City but because the house was so crowded that dancing was impossible, “some of the young people repaired to the Madison hall and finished the evening in dancing,” a reference to the Madison Hotel, which burned about thirty years later and was replaced by the Governor Hotel, now the Governor Building.

Inaugurations were held indoors in the chamber of the House of Representatives.  The Capitol that burned in 1911 was not a fit place for any inaugural balls as we know them today—which is why post ceremony celebrations were held at the Mansion.

Things were a little straight-laced, compared to today, in 1913 when Elliott Major was inaugurated.  The inauguration committee issued an edict barring “ragging” at the ball, the playing of ragtime music.  Modern dances such as the “bunny hop” or the “bear cat,” or the “turkey trot,” and “all other of the 57 varieties of the terpsichorean art where swaying of the shoulders and other unnecessary movements” are made.

Governor Frederick Gardner was to have been inaugurated in what is now the Capitol’s Resources Museum in 1917 but that area was still unfinished.  He, therefore, held the first outdoor inauguration, an event not held again until Warren Hearnes began the current custom of outdoor ceremonies in 1965.  However, 1917 was the first time an inaugural ball was held in the Capitol.  Barricades limited participants to certain areas to congregate and dance. And organizers cautioned, “During the inaugural ball, only dancers will be allowed on the main floor in the museum.  Spectators will go up in the gallery.  Thirty policemen from St. Louis and Kansas City supplemented the Jefferson City police force with crowd control, security, and making sure the new building was not vandalized.  Three bands performed and champagne was served although Gardner had decreed earlier that he wanted no alcohol to be served during the ball.  Mrs. Gardner quick discovered the mistake but kept quiet about it. Later that year the House and the Senate met for one day in the new building although their chambers were not yet finished.  But legislators were able to say they had served in the new Capitol.

Receptions still were held at the Mansion on inauguration day but Governor Arthur M. Hyde, in a bow to the age of the building (now fifty years old) and the greatly increased crowds for inaugural events scheduled two inaugural balls—one at the mansion and another at the Capitol.  The first inaugural ball in the rotunda was on January 10, 1921.

Governor Baker was the first governor, in 1925, to have the only inaugural ball of the night in the rotunda.  But there was a post-inauguration reception at the Mansion, a practice that continues today.

By the time James T. Blair was sworn in on January 14, 1957, the crowds were so large that two inaugural balls were held—one in the rotunda and the other one two blocks away at the Governor Hotel.

When Warren Hearnes was sworn in on January 11, 1965, a military reception was held at the Mansion and a third dance was added to the inaugural ball festivities.  The now-traditional ball in the rotunda was joined by another dance at the Governor Hotel with a third one in the ballroom of the newly-opened Ramada Inn.

Inaugurations have continued to be held outdoors except for 1997 when Governor Carnahan felt the weather was too dangerous and the parade was cancelled and the ceremony was moved into the rotunda. Joe Teasdale, however, in 1977, held his ceremony outside although a foot of snow the night before caused the cancellation of the inaugural parade and the windchill at noon was minus-45. The inaugural ball did go ahead that night—in the rotunda.

The first Ashcroft inauguration on January 14, 1985 (and the same would happen four years later at his second inauguration) did not feature the new Governor and First Lady having the first dance in the rotunda.  John and Janet Ashcroft, as members of the Assembly of God, did not take part in dancing. Instead, he sat down at a grand piano in the rotunda and played “The Missouri Waltz.”

The Holden inauguration in 2001 created headlines for months.  It included two additional dance floors in large heated tents on the south front lawn of the Capitol.  There were FOUR inaugural balls—the traditional rotunda event, another dubbed “One Bright Future” in one of the lawn tents, the third—the “One Missouri Ball” in the other tent, and a fourth, at the Capital Plaza hotel, was a Children’s Ball that was for children five to thirteen years old that featured a coloring corner, a photo station, an arcade and a sundae bar.  The final cost of all of the inauguration events was $1,039,917.20 (of which $125,400 was state funds).  It was the second-most expensive gubernatorial nomination among the 17 inaugurations from December, 2000-May, 2001 with only Puerto Rico spending more.  Holden did not pay off a debt totaling about $417,000 until July.  Union donations, mostly in June, constituted $51,000, which drew criticism because Holden issued an executive order later that month giving unions more influence in collective bargaining with state workers.  His spokesman denied any impropriety and noted unions had strongly supported Holden throughout his political career.

After those events, the legislature decided not to appropriate state funds for future inaugurations, beginning with Matt Blunt.  Since the Holden inauguration, succeeding governors have taken some pains to note how thrifty they have been.  In fact, the first Nixon inauguration, July 12, 2009, was dubbed the “potluck inauguration” because the planning committee decided to hold a potluck dinner at the Capital Plaza with the committee providing hamburgers and the public was invited to bring home-made desserts.  But that part of the day fell through when city health officials warned there was no way to guarantee the safety of the food that was brought in.

If, by the way, you want to see what many of the First Ladies wore at their inaugural balls, you can visit the Cole County Historical Society, across the street from the Mansion, and see several on display.  They don’t have any of the attire worn by the Governors, but as we all know, there are times—most often weddings—when the outfit worn by the man is of no interest at all for the official record.  What’s so interesting about a tux or a suit?

The society is in the row house  where Governor Brown lived while the mansion was being built.