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Out of the Morgue
The Phantom Empire, WPA, Velocipedes, and the continuing saga of Hauptmann in 1935
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Postal workers handled early holiday packages in the Chicago post office, taking in proportions of a landslide pm a huge tilted sorting table. It was reported to be the heaviest early holiday mail in years. - photo by Tribune file 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.

While there was no mention in The Great Bend Tribune this week in 1935 of the year’s Nobel Prize winners, It was Dec. 10, 1935 that Irene Joliot-Curie and her husband Frederic jointly won the prize for Chemistry for their discovery of artificial radioactivity.  They were able to essentially turn one element into another element by bombarding the substance with charged particles.  It was strange science indeed.

Nationally, what was on the radar of Tribune readers was the upcoming execution of Richard Hauptmann, the man that was charged and convicted of kidnapping and murdering the almost two year old son of Charles Lindbergh, an American hero who flew from New York to Paris in 1927.  

Accusations of evidence tampering, police intimidation of witnesses, and critical evidence being destroyed caused Americans to wonder if the right man was going to die for the crime. As New Jersey Governor  Harold Hoffman considered clemency for Hauptmann, Lindbergh, his wife and young son left the country to settle in England, claiming fear from threats of further kidnappings, and the conviction that the English had a greater respect for the law than Americans.  

Ultimately, no clemency was granted, and Hauptman died in the electric chair April 2, 1936, claiming his innocence to the death.  His wife continued to fight unsuccessfully for his conviction to be overturned for the rest of her life, dying at the age of 95 in 1994.  

Ask and receive
While Christmas was on its way, a delegation of 20 Graham County’s drought-stricken farmers   asked they be made eligible for WPA jobs.  “Under the WPa rule now in effect, farmers are ineligible for WPA work,” it was reported.  Still, Oscar Johanson, a Graham County commissioner that drafted the resolution, hoped to find help.
“Unless aid is granted, there will be disorders,” he said.  There were 700 employable people, including farmers, in need of work up in the Hill City area, and the county had been given a quota of only 148 WPA jobs and the resettlement administration assisted only 248 farmers, leaving the others without assistance.  

A few days later, help was promised.  While WPA jobs could not be procured, an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 farmers in western counties in need of aid would receive an average of $17 a month, but it would mean reducing what some farmers in eastern Kansas were receiving.  To get an idea of what that means in today’s dollars, we searched the web and found that the dollar has appreciated 1652.33% since 1935, making the aid worth $297.89.  That’s probably about enough to keep the family from starving, which was likely the intent.  

Free movies for kids
The children of Great Bend would receive a special gift from The Great Bend Tribune and Republic Pictures on Christmas Eve day.  They were invited to a free showing of the cartoon “West of the Divide,” and the first two chapters of the new serial, “The Phantom Empire,” at the Plaza and Strand theaters in town.

“I want all the boys and girls in town to attend one of the theaters,” Mr. Morris, manager of the Tribune, said.  “Ill be badly disappointed if both show houses are not filled.  We had a large number of youngsters at the Plaza this afternoon as guests of the Rotary club.”  

According to an editorial review, “ (The) Phantom Empire, billed as the first “Musical Western” was singer Gene Autry’s initial starring role. Autry and his young friends find themselves up against evil scientist and super-scientific underground world, Murania, complete with robots, death rays and other sci-fi creations. Science fiction, country music and the elements of a pure Western are combined into a classic picture that was fully twenty-five years ahead of its time.”

Today, you can purchase the flick through  And if you Google it, you can find a film short that will at the very least bring a grin to your face.   

Letters to Santa
Last week, we featured letters from children of the 1950s.  Here are some more from 1935:

Dear Ole Santy: I would love a doll, Mickey Mouse talkie ‘jector and Rolla Monica.  Don’t forget the other boys and girls. -- Harvey Folkerts

Dear Santy Claus: I want a toy stock farm and nuts and candy. -- Edwin Hemken

Dear Santa:  I would love a pair of roller skates, a doll and a pair of doll shoes.--Berl Lewis

Dear Santa:  I want a pair of boots and boot pants and a streamline train.  I am six years old. -- Lester Morris.

Dear Santa:  I want a jack in the bos, a pony, a BB gun, a bridge for my train and a cowboy suit.  I want a picture machine.  I want a Buck Rogers spinner ship, a Buck Rogers hat and a Buck Rogers gun. -- Lawrence M. Morrison

Just for fun
Bentley’s, a Great Bend department store, took out a large ad in this week’s paper to offer some gift suggestions.  

They went to great length to sell their version of the velocipede, “with ball bearing all the way ‘round (every wheel), with replaceable spokes in all wheels,” which could be purchased, “for that boy or girl for just a dollar or so more than you pay for a cheap one.  By spending another dollar or so you can get a good toy for the children that will last and which can be and is worth repairing rather than having to discard the toy and buy a new one next time.”  

Here’s something fun.  Take the word “velocipedestrienne,” (a female bicyclist) and see how many words you can make out of it.  This will keep the kids busy for a little while.  We found the word at the blog, Hark! A Vagrant, produced by Kate Beaton of Nova Scotia who is making a career out of cartooning.  She shared amusing drawings of 1890’s velocipedestriennes raising a ruckus tooling around town on their early bicycles.  In fact, velocipedes were the first bicycles, and originally had no brakes and had no chains, and were quite menacing in the beginning, and also provided helped with the women’s liberation movement by providing a means of personal transportation.