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.
This week, the United States accepted the surrender of Japan and it was the end of World War II. It was a truly historic event, and a relief to all in the United States and around the world. On Tuesday, Sept. 11, 1945, the Great Bend Tribune headline read, “Jap Warlord Who Ordered Attack On Pearl Harbor Bungles Suicide Attempt,” with the further shaming subhead, “Hideki Tojo Shoots Self Near the Heart--American Blood Plasma Poured Into His Veins In Attempt to Save His Life.”
U.S. soldiers, taken prisoners of war years earlier by the Japanese, were being liberated, and the awful conditions they were subjected to made headlines.
In the Monday, Sept. 10, 1945 edition of the Great Bend Tribune, readers learned that the son of Mr. and Mrs. William Klug “Saturday afternoon received that long-awaited-for news that their son, Leo, a private first class taken prisoner by the Japanese when Corregidor on northern Luzon fell in May, 1942, was well and safe and that he would be home soon. It had been two years ago that they received word that their son had arrived Nov. 26, 1942 at the Osaka prison camp.
“Twenty-seven years old this Sept. 25, Leo is the second of Barton county young men to be freed since the Japanese surrender. The other was Donald Dean DeMoss, one of 300 aboard the Houston who has been imprisoned on the Japanese mainland since early in 1942. DeMoss is from Hoisington.”
Leo Klug went on to live to age 80, and is today buried at Holy Family Cemetery in Claflin. He was born in 1918, and died in 1999. Even less is known about Donald DeMoss other than that he was born in 1922 and died in 1994, and received a Prisoner of War medal.
Here at home, families were pleased to announce in the local newspapers the return of their husbands and sons. The pages of the paper began to fill with engagement and wedding announcements, and advertisements for dress shops and jewelry stores were abundant. Also notable, there were more permits secured to build homes and additions to homes, much like this one:
“A.J. Klein secured a building permit at the office of the city clerk Saturday which will enable him to build a frame residence 38 feet by 40 feet in size, at 1624 Polk. The structure, five rooms and bath with a basement will be completed by Dec. 31 at a cost of $6,000.”
To add to the celebratory mood, rations were beginning to be lifted. Beef rations would remain for some weeks longer, but chicken was still handy, especially if you were willing to raise it and butcher it yourself, which leads to our “Just for fun” section this week.
“September 10th, 1945 finds a strapping (but tender) young rooster pecking through the dust of Fruita, Colorado. The unsuspecting bird had never looked so delicious as he did that, now famous, day.”
So starts the history of Mike the Headless Chicken. A website devoted to the story and the festival that bears his name each year in Fruita, Colo., can be accessed at http://www.miketheheadlesschicken.org/history .
To make a long story short, Mike’s owner planned to serve him up for a Sunday dinner at which his mother-in-law would be the guest of honor. Knowing that she favored the neck, he did his best to preserve most of it when he set out to butcher Mike. Unfortunately, he aimed too high, and removed the head, but without making the critical cut. Like Tojo, Mike would not die that day. In fact, Mike survived for another 18 months, becoming a scientific marvel and a spectacle his owner took on the road, charging 25 cents per person for a look at the amazing headless bird. Irony of ironies, Mike died from choking.
For the past 17 years, the people of Fruita have been celebrating the day Mike’s spirit finally passed on. Mike the Headless Chicken Festival is held the third weekend in May. This year, the theme was “Back to the Fruiture,” a take off on the town name, chosen because 2015 is the year that Back to the Future II took place.
Butchering a chicken for Sunday dinner was probably still a common experience in and around Great Bend in 1945. The city ordinances of 1952 still allowed for the keeping of chickens provided they were kept under sanitary conditions and in enclosed pens so as not to run at large. The city was home to three hatcheries within the city limits, including the Great Bend Poultry Hatchery at 500 Stone St. Today, it is the home of Stone Street Arts studio and gallery, where local sculptor Chet Cale produces work like the statue depicting Jack Kilby in Jack Kilby Square in front of the Barton County Courthouse.
In January 1958, the 10th annual Central Kansas Poultry Roundup was held in the Great Bend City Auditorium. To bring in the ladies, the one day event featured cake and egg contests, with cash giveaways and prizes like a 17-inch Sylvania portable television set valued at $159.95 (one has to wonder just how “portable” it was) and two Sylvania transistor portable radios, each a $50 value. Eggs would be judged for size, weight and quality of shell. Cakes and eggs would be auctioned after winners were announced. Meanwhile, panels met to discuss topics like, “What the Kansas egg law has accomplished,” and “Modern methods of egg production and marketing.” Lunch would be barbecued fried chicken and pickled eggs.
Today, home chicken keeping is making a comeback, though it’s still not allowed within the city limits of Great Bend.