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Out of the Morgue
Plays, principals and politics in 1905
otm vlc Twelfth night playbill
Here, a vintage playbill of Twelfth Night, performed at Great Bends opera house a century ago. Miss Burnett, the headliner, had performed with the great Richard Mansfield before hitting the Vaudevillian circuit. - 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 1905, readers of the Barton County Democrat learned of strikes that erupted that week in Russia as hemp factory workers followed the example of Baku oil field workers, and railroad workers considered striking too.  This, after two weeks of unrest in the southern provinces of the country. What began as a movement spurred by economics was transitioning into a political movement with workers fed up with the autocratic form of government.  The royal palace was shot at by someone within in a crowd after a traditional ceremony in St. Petersburg, but Tzar Nicolas II escaped uninjured.  Important news to a population that included several Russian immigrants.  
What wasn’t reported at that time was that troops fired on protesters, and the day came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.”  By the following week, in an effort to quell the rising violence, Nicolas enacted reforms to improve workers conditions, but the protests had already gained momentum.  Still, World War I would be what it took to push the Russian people to the point of adopting communism as their form of government.

Shakespeare at the opera house
The opera house in Great Bend featured a performance of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” given by a travelling company headed by then popular comedian Charlotte Burnett.  She was a rarity, heading her own company.   
“The comedy was well handled by every member of the cast, from the star to the court Jester,” the unnamed reviewer wrote. “It is not hard to imagine one’s self set back hundreds of years to the old romantic times, when such clever players as these come to town.  Manager Lewis is to be congratulated upon Tuesday night’s bill, and he may be assured of hearty support, if he keeps to this standard of attractions.”
Burnett once acted alongside the famous Richard Mansfield, known for his roles in various Shakespeare plays, Gilbert and Sullivan musicals, and for his portrayal of the dual roles Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde.   Little information exists about her, so we were unable to determine what events led to her travels with the obscure Jos. Shipman Shakespearean acting company at the height of the Vaudevillian era.
The opera house, located at the corner of Forest and Williams, survived for more than 100 years, but was finally demolished in 2014 after suffering a relatively short number of years of neglect, which began with the exposure of the south wall after an adjoining building was demolished, and the new owners failed to shore it up.    

Mysterious disappearance of Principal Cannon
Residents of Pawnee Rock were grappling with the mystery of what happened to their school principal, C.E. Cannon.  
“It appears that he advised no one that he was going to quit, but just packed up his belongings and left.  No one is aware of his present whereabouts.  Cannon was pronounced a good educator but personally a very peculiar man.”
With the help of Karen Neuforth, researcher at the Barton County Historical Society museum, we searched U.S. Census records to see if Cannon ever appeared again.  
It turns out that Cecil E. Cannon was born in Illinois in 1878, and in 1900 lived in Garden City with his mother and listed his occupation as school teacher.  Something brought him to Pawnee Rock, where he apparently lost his will to teach.  
He did not surface again until the 1920 Census, in Kansas City where he listed his profession as jeweler.  He lived in Topeka in 1935, and in the 1940 Census he listed his profession as a watchmaker.  He remained single the entire time.  

Scratching their heads
Take a tour of Ellinwood’s Underground shops sometime, and you will hear a rather hair-raising story about how and what services were offered at the turn of the century barbershop.  Not only could you get a shave and a haircut, there was dentistry and oral surgery, done under less than sanitary conditions.  Baths were available, with a premium charged for fresh water...and a cheaper fare for already bathed in water.  Ahem.   It wasn’t uncommon for infection and infestation of various types to spread.  This led to the formation of the a state barber board who went to work influencing policies for better hygiene.
“The new state barber board is now hard at work.  It is making an inspection tour fo the state and is compelling the barber shops to clean up.  The board wants the law amended so as to give it jurisdiction over shops in all first, second and third class cities.  It now only has jurisdiction in cities having over 3,000 population.” The Democrat reported.  
Thank goodness for us, policies and standards are much improved, and a trip to see the barber or stylist no longer leaves one wondering if they will be coming home with “guests.”