Category Archives: History

Vaile Mansion, Decorated for Christmas

Vaile Mansion, Independence, Missouri, in Snow Poster

Vaile Mansion, Independence, Missouri.

Each Christmas season, the Vaile Mansion in Independence, Missouri, is lavishly decorated for Christmas in a Victorian style. I recently toured the beautiful mansion with a friend, who had visited the mansion when it was decorated for a previous Christmas season. Each Christmas season’s decor is different, based on a Victorian theme. This year was a Victorian Christmas Romance. Some of the themed rooms, all decorated by different designers, were Phantom of the Opera, Sunflowers and Music, coordinated by the Vaile Victorian Society. Mother Nature added her own touch with a blanket of snow on the lawn. It was all gorgeous!

The Vaile Mansion in Independence, Missouri, is decorated every Christmas season, coordinated by the Vaile Victorian Society, with a Victorian theme and is open for tours.


The follow information about the Vaile Mansion is from three separate sources, which I have linked at the bottom:

Built by Colonel and Mrs. Harvey M. Vaile in 1881, the Vaile Mansion was “the most princely house and the most comfortable home in the entire west,” the Kansas City Times reported in 1882. Situated on North Liberty Street, a mile north of the historic Independence Square, according to the Vaile Mansion’s website.

The three-story Gothic-like mansion includes 31 rooms, 9 marble fireplaces, spectacular painted ceilings, flushing toilets. This mansion is one of the best examples of Second Empire style architecture in the United States. The Vaile Mansion was designed by Kansas City architect Asa Beebe Cross (1826–1894) in the Second Empire style; its design was reportedly inspired by a large house visited by Vaile and his wife Sophie in Normandy. The mansion is constructed of hand-pressed red brick, partially trimmed with white limestone.

Servant gossip and a local newspaper reporter’s description in 1882 of the mural on the ceiling over Colonel Vaile’s bed caused tongues to wag in Independence, Missouri. An Italian artist painted the mural titled “Innocence” of a woman rising from a bed. Part of her anatomy is revealed, which was the cause of the scandalous talk.

The mansion features thirty-one rooms with fourteen-feet-high ceilings decorated by French, German, and Italian artists. All of the original furniture was auctioned off when the estate left the Vaile family (the house was refurnished by the Vaile Victorian Society after 1983); however, the interiors still boast much of the original paintwork, nine marble fireplaces (one of which cost $1,500), and two of the three original chandeliers, originally intended for the White House (Harvey Vaile was able to purchase them for $800 while he was in Washington, D.C., because there was some flaw in them). State-of-the-art amenities original to the house include speaking tubes, gasoliers, indoor running hot and cold water, and flush toilets; equipped with a built-in 6,000 gallon water tank, the Vaile Mansion was the first house in Jackson County with indoor plumbing.

This chandelier — or upside down — Christmas tree hangs in the entry of the Vaile Mansion in Independence, Missouri.

The mansion was originally surrounded by a 630-acre estate (now reduced to 5.6 acres), which included a grape vineyard and an apple orchard. Vaile had a wine processing plant on his property, as well as a wine cellar capable of holding 48,000 gallons.

A “strong supporter of the abolitionism movement” with a passion for politics, Vaile was among the founders of the Republican Party in Jackson County. Vaile built his wealth by investing in several business ventures, primarily interests in the construction of the Erie Canal; he was also part-owner and operator of Star Mail routes, with rights for the route to Santa Fe.

Sophie Vaile died in 1883. Her husband lived in the house for 12 years afterward. The Vailes were childless, and Colonel Vaile bequeathed the mansion to a college. Relatives contested the will. The mansion turned into a retirement home until it was purchased after the owner’s death by Roger and Mary Mildred Dewitt, who gifted the mansion to the city of Independence in 1983. That year neighbors formed the Vaile Victorian Society, and they’ve been meticulously restoring, decorating and caring for the house ever since.

Vaile Victorian Mansion Official Website.

About the Vaile Mansion.

Mansion Visitors Have Themselves a Scandalous Victorian Christmas.

Scenes from the 2018 Vaile Mansion Victorian Christmas Romance. Each room is decorated, even the bathrooms.

 

 

The Ladies’ Parlor features one of a pair of chandeliers, original to the mansion, that were intended for the White House. The White House staff rejected the chandeliers, because they didn’t match. Vaile was able to purchase them for $800 while on a visit to Washington, D.C.

Click on any photo below to see a large size.

 

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Armistice Day Peace and Remembrance Display

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I on Nov. 11, 1918, a light installation of scarlet poppies, movies and information, “Peace and Remembrance,” was projected on the Liberty Memorial for nine nights (Nov. 2-Nov. 11, 2018), honoring the nine million soldiers who died in the war.

IN FLANDERS FIELDS

In Flanders’ fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders’ fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high,
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders’ Fields.

~Lt Col John McCrae

Although, snow was forecast, a friend suggested we make a trip to the final night (Nov. 11, 2018) of the Poppy Display at the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, a 45-minute drive. I was reluctant to go, but I’m so happy that we did. It was a very moving experience. And the snow waited until after we got home. The Liberty Memorial is part of the National World War I Museum and Memorial of the United States.

Although The National World War I Museum and Memorial is far from the battle zones of World War I, few Americans were untouched by the sacrifices made in that war. My grandfather, a farmer in South Dakota, was deployed to France at the end of World War I. Fortunately, he came home.

Liberty Memorial Poppies, Kansas City, Missouri Photo Print

According to the National World War I Museum and Memorial Website: “For the nine days leading up to the Armistice, the official WWI memorial of the United States was illuminated with a nearly 55 million pixel, 800,000 lumens display featuring more than 5,000 poppies each evening in a massive and moving light installation. Every 15 minutes, a special presentations of images, footage and details about World War I will appear. Peace and Remembrance marks the centennial of the Armistice of 1918 that brought an end to WWI, with each day of the installation leading up to the Armistice signifying one million of the total nine million combatant deaths of the conflict.”

Opened to the public as the Liberty Memorial museum in 1926, the National World War I Museum and Memorial.was designated in 2004 by the United States Congress as America’s official museum dedicated to World War I.

In 2004, construction started on a new 80,000-square-foot (7,400 m2) expansion and the Edward Jones Research Center underneath the original memorial. The year that this was completed, Liberty Memorial was designated a National Historic Landmark (September 20, 2006)

Why Poppies?

In the spring of 1915, shortly after losing a friend in Ypres, a Canadian doctor, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae was inspired by the sight of poppies growing in battle-scarred fields to write a now famous poem called ‘In Flanders Fields’. After the First World War, the poppy was adopted as a symbol of Remembrance.

The inspiration behind the poppy as a symbol of Remembrance.

National WWI Museum and Memorial
America’s official World War I museum and memorial, located in Kansas City, Mo. Home to the most comprehensive collection of WWI objects in the world.
National World War I Museum and Memorial Official Website.

Armistice Day Peace and Remembrance Display.

Commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the end of WWI.

About the National World War I Museum and Memorial.

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Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum

Replica of the Harry S. Truman Oval Office in the White House, which is an exhibit in the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum Independence, Missouri.

My daughter and I recently visited the museum and library of Harry S. Truman, the 33rd United States president, which is in Independence, Missouri. Independence adjoins Kansas City.

I’d only been to this museum and library one time before, which is shamefully negligent of me, considering it’s only about half an hour from my house and I was an American history graduate student.

Many people make much longer journeys to visit this library, which is very well done and full of fascinating information.  On the day we visited, a majority of the license tags on cars in the parking lot were from states other than Missouri and Kansas.

I haven’t been totally remiss in my Truman travels. I’ve visited the Winter White House in Key West, Florida, where Truman spent 175 days during his nearly eight years as president, and I’ve toured his Independence home and the grounds of his family farm in Grandview, where Truman spent most of his youth. I’ll post those photos in another post.

Your first sight in the library is a mural by another prominent Missourian, Thomas Hart Benton. Then the next stop is a replica of Truman’s Oval Office in the White House. He held press conferences in the original Oval Office, until it became too crowded with reporters and photographers.  Much happened during Truman’s presidency (1945–1953), including the end of World War II, the beginning of the CIA, NATO, the beginning of the Korean War and the Cold War. 

Truman was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s vice president and assumed the presidency when Roosevelt died April 12, 1945.  World War II was still raging.   

Roosevelt’s wife Eleanor informed Truman of her husband’s death: “Harry, the president is dead.”

He asked if there was anything he could do for her, to which she replied, “Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now.”

One level of the museum section of the library focuses on Truman’s presidential history, while another level features exhibits about his life before and after the presidency. Scholars can do research in the library. 

The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum is also the resting place of Truman and his wife Bess,  as well as their daughter Margaret and her husband Clifton Daniel.  The library is located on U.S. Highway 24 in Independence, not far from the house where Truman lived most of his adult life. It was the first presidential library to be created under the provisions of the 1955 Presidential Libraries Act, and is one of thirteen presidential libraries administered by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

The library’s replica of the Oval Office is a feature that has been copied by the Lyndon B. Johnson, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, William J. Clinton, and George W. Bush libraries.

Harry S. Truman had to make many critical decisions during his presidency 1945-1953.

During Harry S. Truman’s presidency: “The Buck Stops Here” sign was on Truman’s desk, meaning that he wasn’t going to ‘pass the buck” (decision) on to someone else; The end of World War II depicted in a newspaper; the Berlin Airlift during the Cold War; A newspaper headline gets the presidential election results wrong.

Official Website of The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum.

About Harry S. Truman.

About the Thomas Hart Benton mural in the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri.

The Day President Franklin Delano Roosevelt Died, and Harry S. Truman Became President.

Click on a thumbnail to see a photograph in a larger size.

 

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Historic Red Bridge, Kansas City, Missouri

The Old Red Bridge over the Blue River in Kansas City, Missouri, is near the first river crossing on the Santa Fe Trail, the first of many rivers to cross on the long trail to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The last time I visited Santa Fe, New Mexico, I saw a sign at the end of Santa Fe Trail.  Not unusual, since it was Santa Fe, after all.  But I realized then that I’ve lived near the beginning of the Santa Fe Trail in the Kansas City area for decades, but I didn’t think much about it despite signs mentioning it everywhere. Sometimes you have to leave a place to really see it.

This Santa Fe Trail sign is in Santa Fe, New Mexico, near the end point of the Santa Fe Trail.

I recently visited the Old Red Bridge in Kansas City, Missouri, for the first time. I’ve driven by it many times and didn’t see it tucked below the newest bridge on Red Bridge Road. I’ve been to Red Bridge Shopping Center scores of times, too. Did I ever wonder why the name? Not really.

The Old Red Bridge in Kansas City, Missouri, is now a spot for lovers to pledge their eternal love, but the original structure once served a more prosaic, but essential service — providing a bridge over the Blue River for travelers and freighters heading west on one of three historic trails, including the Santa Fe Trail.

More than 3,500 love locks are attached to the Old Red Bridge rails. Lovers are instructed not to toss the keys into the river, where they could hurt wildlife that might swallow them. Instead they are to drop the keys into one of two boxes on the bridge. The keys are to be collected and forged into a butterfly sculpture. When I visited, though, the boxes had been broken open by some hard-hearted vandal.

Old Red Bridge is the third of four bridges to span the Blue River near the first river crossing of the trails that led west. Old Red Bridge is in the 3-Trails Corridor park, Red Bridge Segment, dedicated to three National Historic Trails: Santa Fe, Oregon and California.

Beginning with William Becknell in 1821, the Santa Fe Trail was a 19th-century transportation route through central North America that connected Independence, Missouri with Santa Fe. Thousands of people traveled the Santa Fe Trail to trade in places like Bent’s Old Fort, the Kozlowski’s Stage Station, and in the plaza in Santa Fe.

Emigrants heading west from Independence, Missouri, encountered their first river crossing at this site. On May 8, 1846, Virgil Pringle, “went 12 miles to the Blue and encamped, it being too high to cross. Another wagon capsized at the encampment. . . . No injury to persons or property.” The next day his party, “crossed the Blue soon in the morning.”

In 1859, the first red bridge was built by Colonel George N. Todd, a 50-year old Scottish stonemason. The 100-foot span was a covered wooden bridge on stone piers, located just downstream from today’s two bridges at the actual trail crossing, which is the first river crossing on the trail. The first bridge was painted red, creating the “Red Bridge” neighborhood name.

After the original bridge was torn down in 1892, a steel bridge, called a “tin” bridge, also painted red, replaced it. The 1859 bridge was dismantled; local farmers recycled the lumber into barns.

A third Red Bridge replaced the 1892 “tin” bridge and was dedicated by the 33rd U.S. president Harry S. Truman (when he was a judge) in 1932 during the Great Depression. This bridge, now called Old Red Bridge, is made of concrete, red painted steel and red granite. It was built by Jackson County; Richard Wakefield was the architect.

When the newest Red Bridge was opened, the Old Red Bridge became the Love Locks Bridge. It has been festooned with more than 3,500 locks since opening in February 2013. It stands next to the new bridge and is now a foot bridge in the park.

Old Red Bridge, Kansas City, Missouri Photo Print

Old Red Bridge, Love Locks, Kansas City, Missouri.

 

More information about the beginning of the Santa Fe Trail is in the links below:

Old Red Bridge Locks of Love.

About the Santa Fe Trail – Highway to the Southwest

 

 

 

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Kansas City Streetcar and The Western Auto Building

 

The Kansas City Streetcar passes in front of the Western Auto Building.

When my family and I left a restaurant recently near Kansas City’s Union Station, I saw the Kansas City Street car traveling south on Main Street. My daughter has moved near the route of the streetcar so some day soon I hope to hop on for a ride.

In the background is the Western Auto building on Grand Street. The building was constructed for the Coca-Cola Company in 1914 and later became the headquarters of Western Auto Supply Company. It is now a condominium residence. The Western Auto sign is a Kansas City, Missouri, landmark.  The Western Auto building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

According to Wikipedia, The KC Streetcar, formally branded as the RideKC Streetcar, is a streetcar system in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. Construction began in May 2014. The system opened for service on May 6, 2016. The KC Streetcar is free to ride, as it is funded by a Transportation development district. As of April 30, 2018, the streetcar has a daily average ridership of 5,373 daily riders, logging over 4 million riders since opening.

The downtown streetcar runs along a 2.2-mile-long (3.5 km) route between the River Market and Union Station, running through the central business district and the Crossroads, mostly along Main Street. It makes stops about every two blocks and has 16 designed stops along the route. Along the way it connects directly with Amtrak, local and commuter RIDE KC bus services (including a direct route to Kansas City International Airport), and several B-cycle bike-share kiosks.

Proponents tout this initial linear segment as one of the simplest and straightest modern streetcar routes in the United States. All platforms offer level boarding and real-time arrival information.

About the Western Auto Building.

Kansas City Streetcar Website

About the Kansas City Streetcar

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In Search of Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln, one of the United States of America’s greatest presidents…

Catherine Sherman

Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.  Photo by Cathy Sherman. The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

My first memory of Abraham Lincoln is a huge face on Mt. Rushmore when I was a preschooler.  You don’t forget that. And who can miss his face on the penny and the five-dollar bill.  The guy is everywhere.

Everyone recognizes Lincoln and not just because he’s monumental and monetary.  He truly is larger than life.

When Anita and I visited the home of the abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass (maybe more on him later), a little boy on our tour was silent until he saw the president’s framed photograph on the wall.  “Abraham Lincoln,” he called out.

It wasn’t until I was much older that I learned how important and rare this president was — and I’m still learning. I want to shout out “Abraham Lincoln,” too.  So this is my shout out.

Abraham Lincoln was burdened with one of the gravest trials a leader can face — holding this nation together.  The Civil War still casts…

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The Smallest Post Office in the United States

Customers visit the Ochopee, Florida, Post Office.

Traveling on Highway 41 in southern Florida, if you don’t blink, you’ll see the smallest post office in the United States. The 7- by 8-foot building, formerly a storage shed for irrigation equipment to water tomato plants, now houses a fully functioning post office.

Ochopee, Florida, Post Office Historical Sign.

The shed was pressed into service after a fire in 1952 destroyed the Ochopee general store, which previously had housed the post office. The post office is in Big Cypress National Preserve.

The building is small, but the Ochopee mail route is large, covering three counties and is about 132 miles long, according to Roadside America.

 

Ochopee, Florida, Post Office, Smallest in U.S. Postcard

Click on the thumbnail to see the full-size photograph.

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