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Out of the Morgue
1953 New Year baby, Burning fo the Green and X-ray drives
otm vlc christmas tree bonfire medium
In 1953, an image much like this one could be seen in Great Bend at the Burning of the Green bonfire held as a Twelfth Night celebration. A pile estimated to contain 300-400 Christmas trees located on a field at 10th and Eisenhower was set ablaze by firefighters as those gathered sang Christmas carols, or looked on from inside the comfort of their cars. - photo by COURTESY PHOTO

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.

In 1953, expectant mothers with late December and early January due dates were participants in one of the most exclusive races in Barton County:  The Barton County Baby Derby.  The first baby of the new year would take the prize.  That year, the prize went to the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Sovereign of Claflin, Deborah Jo, born at 2:02 a.m. Jan. 2.  She was born at Hoisington’s Lutheran hospital, the third consecutive winner for that hospital.  According to her sister, Deborah has been a lifelong resident of Claflin, working as an RN for Home Health and Hospice.  She has a daughter in Texas, a son in Kansas City, Mo., and a son in Denver, Colo.  So, far, no grandchildren.  Her mother, Mrs. Sovereign, 92, still resides in Claflin and celebrated her birthday on Nov. 23.   

Burning of the Green
Disposing of  1952 Christmas trees was simply another excuse for a celebration in Great Bend.  The Twelfth Night ceremonies of the Burning of the Green was to be held Jan. 6.  Residents of the city brought their trees to a vacant lot at the corner of 10th and Eisenhower, creating quite a large pile south of what was at that time, the Stevenson home.  The bonfire, organized by Mrs. H.L. Stevenson, would also include a singing of Christmas carols.   Firefighters would set the pile to fire the pile at 7:30 p.m., with Rev. Robert K. Foster acting as the “master of ceremonies” for the event that symbolized both seeing the troubles of the old year vanishing in the flames, as well as the Star of the East heralding the coming of Jesus.    According to a report following the Burning of the Green event, other than a traffic jam at the close of the program, the bonfire went off without a hitch.  Today, the field has been commercially developed and local officials recommend recycling Christmas trees.  In the past, many ended up in Stone Lake where they became habitat for fish.  Today, trees can be brought to the city compost site at the intersection of Railroad Ave 1/4 mile west of Washington St, directly south of The Rack restaurant/bar/pool hall , open all day, every day, provided they are stripped of all ornamentation, where they will be  burned without ceremony.

Fighting TB with X-ray vision
The fight to control Tuberculosis brought a mobile X-ray unit to Barton County in January, 1953.  X-ray drives helped health professionals diagnose early stages of Tuberculosis, a bacterial disease, which could then be treated with antibiotics.  Different civic groups, including the Rotary, Kiwanis, Optimist, Lions, Jaycees and 4-H clubs, helped to get the word out about the importance of early detection through X-rays.  In fact, 1953 was the first year that national reporting of the disease was begun, and thanks to the efforts of the American Lung Association, the number of infections in America from the disease have fallen ever since.  Because of the decrease, the cost for every new early case of TB had become so high, the program was discontinued by the 1980s.  Now, those efforts are saved for populations where TB infection and exposure is high.  While it is still a deadly disease in other parts of the world, especially developing nations, it has been a low morbidity rate in Kansas for many years now, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.  In 2010, it dropped to an all time low of 46 cases, or a rate of 1.63 per 100,000.  
Enter television.
Radio, exit stage right
In 1953, readers of the Tribune found separate listings for television and radio programs.  Many of the fledgling television programs were simply visual editions of their radio counterparts.  Some stars translated well to television, while others didn’t during this early era of television.  By 1953, according to the book A People and a Nation: A History of the United States, half of the households in America owned a television by 1953.  By 1960, that number rose to 90 percent.  By 1956, perhaps one of the most well-known and long-lived radio shows ever, The Lone Ranger, would go off the air, and a year later the television show by the same name that ran from 1949 to 1957.  Today, each week the Tribune offers a television and cable guide, and thanks to the internet, both the radio and the television versions of these programs can be experienced again on the television, a laptop or a smartphone.  

Oh, Where or Where Can
My Little Dog Be?
The Great Bend City Council could not come to an agreement on a dog ordinance.  The proposed ordinance would increase license fees and require un-tagged dogs running at large to be destroyed immediately, and those with tags would be held for only 72 hours.  The delay was in part due to the absence of some council members.  Today, owners of dogs or cats must have their pets vaccinated against rabies and licensed each year, and if they are found running at large, the Great Bend Humane Society will be called, as the official animal control organization, and pets not claimed within 72 hours become the property of the Humane Society, and can be sold or disposed of as deemed by that organization.  A complete animal ordinance can be found at