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.
The days leading up to the Presidential election, 1952, the pages of the Great Bend Tribune were full of comparisons between Dwight D. Eisenhower (R) and Adlai E. Stevenson (D). The people were tired of 10 years of Democratic leadership. There was fear of a rise of Communism, inflation, labor unrest, and the people wanted an end to the Korean war. A bond issue was also on the ballot here, because the schools were bursting at the seams. The war in Korea was now at the forefront of the minds of Great Benders. Blood drives were well attended, and business was booming.
Mrs. Grace Benjamin reported she’d served apple cider and cookies to 387 Halloween visitors attending her annual open house on Oct. 31. According to the story, it had become a tradition over several years to visit the Benjamin’s large home at 3010 Forest Street for the grand Halloween affair.
The Tribune provided a list of polling places voters would visit on Nov. 4. Not only were churches and city and county owned properties listed, but also several automobile dealerships. Among them were Spruill Motors at 16th and Main, Rupp Motor Co. at 2535 10th St., and Kirk-Stamper Motor Co. at 1724 10th St. Perhaps the thinking was, “Stop in and vote, and while you’re here, perhaps you’d like to take this sweet car for a ride....”
At that time, everyone had to vote in person, on election day. There was no advanced voting, or vote by mail. Also, the Americans with Disabilities Act had not been passed (that would come in 12 years), so there wasn’t even a requirement that a polling place had to be accessible.
The voter turnout in the U.S. as a whole was 63.3 percent, and it hasn’t been close to that high since. Even the 2008 election, when voters ultimately chose Barrack Obama as America’s first black President, turnout missed the mark by 5.1 percentage points.
It was deemed both a close and a bitter election. In Great Bend, according to an election day story, Record Voter Turnout, “...voters were forced to stand in line for as much as two hours at some polling places to cast their votes in the 1952 presidential election.” The polling places closed at 6 p.m., and voters were worried that they might be denied their vote, but they were assured that a police officer would be dispatched to each polling place and would get in line at exactly 6 p.m., and everyone ahead of them would be allowed a vote, regardless of how long it took to finally reach the booth.
This caused the city to consider changing the polling times to 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., adding and hour to each end of the day. Strong voter turnout putting a strain on election machinery was blamed, but the weather was cooperative.
By the time votes were counted, Eisenhower was the winner, and enjoyed a two to one margin in Great Bend.
The day after the election, several reports about acceptance speeches appeared, as well as graceful good-byes. Adelai E. Stevenson showed he was no sore loser.
“It is traditionally American to fight hard before an election. It is equally traditional to close ranks as soon as the people have spoken,” he said. “That which unites us as American citizens is far greater than that which divides us as political partisans. I urge you all to give to Gen. Eisenhower the support he will need to carry out the great tasks that lie before him.”
Bond issue approved
A large percentage of voters approved a school bond issue for $600,000. It would be used to complete construction at Park Elementary school, and “...to construct a 14-room ward school southwest of St. Rose Hospital on a block of ground purchased by the school board for that purpose”, according to Wayne Bentley, Superintendent. If the bond had not passed, classes would have had to double up to accommodate increasing numbers of students, he said. That school would be named Eisenhower Elementary.
Slice of life
Red Cross Blood Drive Exceeds Quota, read one headline on election day. Over a five day visit to Barton County, 444 pints of blood were collected. According to Red Cross officials, the blood would be made available locally, as well as to be sent to Korea for use on the fields of battle there.
The Selective Service office moved from the “Cork” building to the Barton County Courthouse, Helen Pittman was the clerk at the time. The purpose, to register men aged 18 or above for the draft. From 1940 to 1973, whether there was a war on or not, men were drafted into the army. In 1973, the draft was stopped, but men still needed to register with Selective Service. From 1975 to 1980, Selective Service was stopped, but under President Jimmy Carter, it was reintroduced, and has been in use since. Today, men simply fill out a card at the post office or online.
1952 must have been a dry year, not unlike 2012. It was reported that duck hunting had been curtailed due to fire danger from a continued lack of rain. By the next year, rain began to fall again, so duck hunting was a go. Hunters didn’t seem upset by the cancellation of the season.
Perhaps they simply spent more time over a cup of coffee. Over at the Mayflower Cafe at 2020 Forest St. where Los Dos Potrillos operates today, the owner began a revolutionary trend. The cafe offered a “serve yourself coffee hour” from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.. A shortage of good wait staff was blamed, and it was something the owner claimed to have been toying with for a while. The report stated at that time of the morning, “...the Mayflower is one of the busiest places in town.”