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Going to the birds in 1959
Out of the Morgue
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Otto Standke, a Great Bend salesman, was also known around the U.S. as “The Bird Man.” This week in 1959, the Great Bend Daily Tribune reported almost daily on his efforts in Mount Vernon, New York, to rid the city of its starling population.

Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.

Apparently, the publishers of the Great Bend Daily Tribune weren’t very impressed that the United States grew to include 50 states on this date in 1959. After all, it wasn’t the first new state to join the union, and it already happened earlier in the year when Alaska became the 49th state on Jan. 3, 1959. 

Seriously, there was not one word mentioned about Hawaii statehood in the Tribune, the day of it’s incorporation nor any other edition that week. Still, we can tie this momentous occasion back to Kansas. 

According to, the 49-star flag, with seven staggered rows of seven stars each, was raised for the first time over Independence Hall in Philadelphia on July 4, 1959. When Hawaii became a state, the configuration of stars was changed again, and the 50-star flag we know today was raised for the first time on July 4, 1960. President Dwight D. Eisenhower (from Kansas) not only signed the proclamation admitting both Alaska and Hawaii into the union, he was the only president to serve under the 49-star flag. 

Bird man of Great Bend in New York

What did capture the attention of Great Bend readers were the near-daily reports of Otto Standke’s efforts to startle the starlings from Mt. Vernon, New York. Nick named “The Bird Man,” Standke had an uncanny ability to convince starlings to vacate an area never to return, it was reported.

The Friday, Aug. 21, 1959 edition carried the first report, ‘Gimmick’ Reported from Mt. Vernon, N.Y.; Standke Uses Metal Flappers, Chimes to Fool New Yorkers.

The Tribune reached out via telephone to Standke after the Associated Press reported he used metal flappers and a chime to chase the starlings away from the fashionable neighborhood the day before. 

“Standke told the Tribune that an audience of 1.500 Mount Vernonites “don’t know any more than they did before, maybe less.” 

“The Associated Press reported this morning there was a big, hushed crowd at twilight last night when Standke, the starling startler, appeared. Out of a battered gray box about the size of a plumber’s tool kit the 71-year-old Standke fished out two metal flappers and a metal chime. He hung the chime around his neck and put the flappers on his hands.

“Alternately banging the flappers and sounding the chime, Standke marched around the area for 45 minutes. At first, the starling, like the spectators, just listened. Then the winged villains took off, covey after covey.” 

The Tribune reported Standke was being paid $4,000 for the week, provided he was successful. He was without a doubt, having been successful previously in Great Bend, Wichita, Indianapolis,and Louisville Ky. He assured “the folks back home” his secret was safe, and the chimes and other gimmicks were only to throw people off.

“All of my methods are covered by copyrights and patents,” he claimed. “I have a secret way. People do a lot of guessing but they don’t get anything.” 

As far as contacting Standke by phone, this is what the Tribune had to say:

“Contacting Standke by telephone today was like standing in line to get an audience with the president. He was bounding from radio broadcast to long distance call to newspaper interview to television appearance. The Bird Man, always good for a quotable quote, received his usual warm welcome from the press of the New York area.” 

By the fourth day of Standke’s project, the starlings were still present. He was determined not to give up. One Hoisington woman wrote into the Tribune to guess the secret of his success was the “smelly cigar he was always pictured holding” that was the real top secret. She suggested he change is brand. 

By day five, the starlings in one area of the city were gone, but skeptics complained it was an area he had barely visited, while the area where he seemed to concentrate his efforts was still occupied. 

But by the end of the week, Standke conceded. 

“Standke tried valiantly. The birds moved to another part of the town, out of range of his mysterious contrivances.”

“Concerning the area he cleared, Standke said, “They’ll never return there.” 

“As for the rest of the town,” he added,”the birds will keep increasing until the place is practically buried under them by next November.” 

The account of Standke’s visit to Mount Vernon is memorialized in a 

We looked for more information about Otto on the internet. We found one report from Youngstown, Ohio, July 9, 1960: “Otto Standke, the self-styled bird man who claimed to rid seven downtown Youngstown buildings of starlings a years ago, won’t be getting paid. The birds are back.” This, after a report in November, 1959: “Operators of eight downtown Youngstown buildings, including the Mahoning County Courthouse, sign an agreement to hire Otto Standke, the Kansas birdman, to rid the buildings of starlings.”

His efforts, including how he came to learn his secrets one winter observing a number of captured starlings in his barn, were reported in the Aug. 30, 1959 edition of Sports Illustrated, “Otto and the Night Visitors." 

It was the July 3, 1970 edition of the Great Bend Tribune that we found notice of Standke’s death. 

Otto D. Standke, 82, 1205 Baker, famed birdman, died Thursday evening at the Central Kansas Medical Center following a six month illness. He was widely known for his success in removing starlings from the county courthouse square here. He also traveled the United States with his secret formula for scaring the birds from federal buildings. 

Born March 10, 1888, at Clinton, Mo., he resided in Great Bend since 1939, moving here from Kansas City. 

He was a retired salesman for Montgomery Ward and was a member of the Eagles Lodge. 

Surviving are several nieces and nephews. 

It’s understandable that so many communities, Great Bend included, were (and frankly still are) desperate to control or eliminate their starling populations. The non-native birds are very aggressive, and when there are a lot of them, their waste creates both health and structural nuisances. Plus, they wreak havoc in the field and in orchards. A quick internet search about starlings brings up several sites devoted to starling control. 

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Lola Mae Hulme, the granddaughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ray Hulme, 816 Main, was visiting her grandparents this week in 1959. Her grandfather purchased two flamingos for the Great Bend Zoo, and she was there to see them up close as they became acquainted with their new home.
New zoo revue

Not every bird was so unwelcome this week in 1959. On Aug. 28, the Great Bend Zoo welcomed two new flamingoes. According to the caption that accompanied the photo of the pair on the front page of the Tribune, Ray Hulme, former city councilman, gave two year’s councilman pay ($2 a meeting) to the city park for purchase of the Florida-born flamingoes. The first shipment of two arrived recently with one dead. So Park Superintendent Britt Spaugh ordered two more (they were shipped with live delivery guaranteed) and they arrived the day of the report. The two females and one male were located in a large new pen with a cement-lined pool near the bear cage. Lola Mae Hulme, Ray and Mrs. Hulme’s granddaughter, was visiting from Wichita and was pictured in the pen with the flamingos. 

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On Aug. 21, 1959, Hawaii joined the United States as the 50th state, almost nine months after Alaska became the 49th. The 49-star flag pictured here, was still new, having been flown for the first time on July 4, 1959. It would continue to be the official flag until July 4, 1960, when the 50-star flag was flown for the first time.