Editors note: Ellinwood historians Mary Jo Cunningham and Robert Yarmer provided information for this story.
ELLINWOOD — In the 1800s, before television, the internet, and even the radio, times were different in ways that are unimaginable to us today. Life was lived at a slower pace.
Yet, the vagaries of the intense Kansas weather still confused, frustrated, delighted and even terrified those who lived in the central plains, as it still does with its ever changing tornadic strength in summer, and the cruel, arctic blizzards that descend without warning.
Although weather prediction was in its infancy, Americans were always interested in the weather, and so in 1893, local Ellinwood resident and telegraph operator Martin Musil began making efforts to receive the weather predictions from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Weather Bureau. Interest across the U.S. in weather observation had grown, and when the telegraph came into use, information from around the country could be collected and then telegraphed throughout. Flags would then be flown to inform the farmers and townspeople.
The Nov. 2, 1893 Ellinwood Advocate said, "Martin Musil is working to get the reports of the weather bureau at this point. If he succeeds, and we think he will, all you will have to do to know what kind of weather we are going to have 24 hours in the future will be to glance at a signal flag that will be placed at some convenient place in the city. For example, if we are going to have rain one kind of a flag will be put out and if snow, another kind and so on."
Musil volunteered to receive the telegraphs and put up the flags, but money had to be collected to buy the flags and pole. By Dec. 7, Musil was receiving weather reports. The Advocate said, "Without flags or a flag pole, they will do the people little good, as they can hardly afford to run to the Advocate office every day to see what kind of weather we are going to have the next day."
"The weather bureau sent Musil the forecast at 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. each day," Mary Jo Cunningham said.
She described the flags. White for fair weather, blue for rain or snow, and a black triangular flag was for weather change. It was flown above the other flag for higher temperature and below the other flag for a change to lower temperature.
"Flags were six feet square," she said.
The locals found the weather to be accurate 36 hours in advance. The city had received the flags, but difficulties still remained in finding a pole of suitable length. The Advocate said, "You have no idea how hard it is to procure a flag pole 75 or 80 feet long until you try it once."
Apparently Musil never did order the 75 foot pole, but instead use a shorter length that was purchased locally. A portion of the pole still exists today.
Musil flew the flags at various locations in downtown Ellinwood. He first flew them on the east side of the first block of Main. They were later flown on the west side of Main, where Farmers Insurance is now, until it was burned down by a fire. The flags were then flown over the Dick building, 2 N. Main St.
While methods may change, some things remain constant. The Advocate reported, "The President has many enemies in his own party," referring to Benjamin Harrison in 1893.