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Out of the Morgue
The Black Dahlia, Hitlers sister-in-law, and multiple grocery casualties in 1947
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From the original caption, Within a matter of minutes after the Safeway store fire was reported Friday night, firemen found smoke belching from the front door and adjacent broken window pane, in great clouds as shown above. At that time there was no blaze visible, however smoke was also pouring from the back door and from the roof. Sometime later the roof broke into flames. An explosion that occurred about five minutes after this picture was taken drove firemen back as flames and smoke momentarily shot through the broken window and door. At left are two Great Bend citizens helping the firemen move hose into position. Holding the nozzle are firemen Francis harris, Gus Goetting and Clarence White. - 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.

This week in 1947, a 22 year-old waitress in Los Angeles, Elizabeth Short, went missing. A week later, she was found murdered in a Los Angeles, Calif., vacant lot, her body cut in half and drained of blood, her face cut from mouth to ears, creating a gory smile. Soon after, a reports in the Los Angeles Herald-Express nicknamed her The Black Dahlia, though the origin of the nickname can only be speculated upon. Since then the as-yet unsolved murder has been the subject of several books and movies. Time magazine in 2015 called the case one of the top 10 unsolved murders of all time.

After perusing the FBI file, which is available online, it is clear that many of the reports in the newspapers of the day were embellished. Little was actually known about Short’s social life, which made it difficult to determine a list of suspects. There was no mention of the murder in the Great Bend Tribune that we could find.

Instead, reports and photos concerning aftermath of World War II were front and center, including a photo of “Axis Annie,” an American who broadcast in Germany during the war, and images from films found by the U.S. Army agents in a “secret hiding place in the Bavarian Alps,” depicting Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun on holiday. The collage of photos included one of Eva Braun’s younger sister Gretl.

Gretl’s Wikipedia page is short and spotty, but states that at the time of the fall of Germany, she was pregnant, and in May, 1945, she gave birth to a girl she named Eva Barbara, after her sister and mother. In 1971, her daughter committed suicide after her boyfriend was killed in a car accident, and Gretl died in 1987 at the age of 72 in Bavaria.

Three grocery store
casualties in two months
In 1947 Great Bend, corner grocery stores were common, often only blocks away. After all, most shoppers walked home with their bags, so shorter distances and more frequent trips were the norm. Big grocery stores were still at least a decade away, though they were coming. Dillons and Safeway, both found in Great Bend around that time, would lead the way. This week however, the big news was the complete loss of the Safeway Grocery Store due to fire, the second time in five year’s, almost to the day. Not only that, it was reported that it was “the second fully destructive blaze in as many months for a Great Bend grocery and the second in five year’s for Safeway.”

The earlier fire had been the C.O. Mammel Food Store, a block east of Frey on Tenth the morning of Nov. 6, 1946. A new store was being built. Both Safeway fires had occurred during frigid conditions. The 1942 blaze occurred on New Year’s Day and wasn’t noticed until 7 a.m. when it was five below zero outside. The 1947 blaze was found just before 11 p.m. on Jan. 4 when it was 17 degrees.

The cause of the fire was yet to be determined at the time of the report, but apparently had started near an overhead heater in the north central part of the store.

Great Bend still relied on a volunteer fire department with limited resources. But as a hub for local industry, one business with heavy equipment was known for stepping up to help when needed.

“As usual, last night when the seriousness of the fire became known, the Halliburton (Oil Well Cementing Company) trucks were rushed to the scene and held in readiness to add to the hose capacity of the volunteer fire department. As it happened, the fire department had sufficient facilities to put the fire under control and the Halliburton trucks were not needed, but it is pleasant for Great Bend citizens to know that such heavy equipment can always be counted on for help in case it is needed.”

Days later, Safeway Stores, Inc. ran notices in the Tribune stating, “Please, if you cashed a check - personal or payroll - at Safeway Stores, Inc., Friday, January 3rd, please contact Raymond Mathers, Manager at Phone 1871-R.”

By the end of the week, it was reported that steps were being taken toward reopening a Safeway Store in Great Bend as soon as possible.
Today, where the Safeway Grocery Store once stood at 1304 Kansas Ave., the Barton County Health Department now stands.

It clearly wasn’t a good week for food stores in Great Bend. By midweek, another establishment, The Midget Market, “was literally taken apart at the seams by a gas explosion...that rocked the building causing an estimated $1,600 damage, however owner Elden LeMay, the only occupant at the time, was not hurt.” It was determined the cause was a gas leak near the meat counter that sparked.

The Midget Market was located at 2617 Tenth St. (right about where 10th Street Eyecare Center is today) across the street at Corbett and Barbour Drilling Company’s office, mechanic E.H. Sheldon was looking out the window at the time.

“The building seemed to go up in the air and sort of float there ad at the same time, LeMay came flying out the front door,” he said.
The fire chief noted that $600 damage was done to the building. It would need to be rebuilt, but on the upside, the lumber had not been damaged. The other $1,000 damage had been done to LeMay’s stock, including cans and bottles thrown to the floor and display store shelves and the store left in a general “jumbled-up appearance.” Glass from the windows was shattered and blown as far as 50 feet in all directions from the building, it was noted.

The Great Bend Tribune noted it was “the third grocery a little more than two months.”

Just for fun
With cold and ice on the way this week, here is a little article found in the 1947 Tribune that offers yet another way ice can be deadly:
Icicle Kills

Chicago (AP) - A huge icicle fell 75 feet from the roof of a Carnegie-Illinois Steel corp building yesterday and struck and killed Alva Teskey, 44, who was repairing an outside door. The icicle’s point pierced his skull and he was dead when removed to the company hospital.

Ouch! Remember to keep an eye out for dangerous icicles, and don’t forget to keep some salt or sand on hand to provide traction on slick sidewalks and drives for the next few days. Better yet, stay in if you can.