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Out of the Morgue
Beatles, Hendrix, and the opening of Westgate in 1967
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Fifty years ago, the following caption ran with this photo of the brand-new Dillons at the grand opening of the Westgate Shopping Center. All new is the word for the Dillons store which is now open at Westgate. Only a portion of the spacious store is shown in this picture. - 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 1967, The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix were at the apex of their careers. On March 30, Peter Blake, the creator of the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover, was busy shooting photos of the musicians. According to Blake, “I offered the idea that if they had just played a concert in the park, the cover would be a photograph of them with the group who had watched the concert. If we did this by using cardboard cutouts, it could be whomever they wanted.”
And on March 31, while on tour, Jimi Hendrix set his guitar on fire for the first time. He had just performed “Fire,” and then ignited the guitar, completely upstaging the Walker Brothers, another act touring with The Experience at the time. Hendrix burned his hands in the process, but was able to finish the concert with a different guitar before seeking medical attention.

Airliner crash
But the headline that rightfully grabbed top billing in the Great Bend Tribune was “Plane crashes into houses, motel; 19 killed, 10 hurt.” A Delta Airlines DC8 flown by a crew of five, including two experienced pilots, two pilot trainees, and one FAA inspector attempted to land at the New Orleans International Airport, and instead crashed, taking out a cluster of residences and a motel. All five on board were killed, as were eight senior girls on a spring break excursion from Juda, Wis., and residents of some of the homes. As the investigation continued, it was determined that there was no indication the plane had been in trouble, and all communication had been routine. The story also reported on the discovery of four of the high school girls, who were found to have taken refuge in each of two bathrooms. They had turned on the showers hoping to live through the inferno. “The showers were still going when Msgr. Screen arrived and he turned them off before giving the girls the last rites.”
According to a comment left by a reader at, “I was 10 years old at the time of the accident but remember it very well. The second girl listed should be Nelva Smith; she was one of our neighbors from Juda. There is a Memorial Park on the west side of Juda in honor of the nine girls that died. In a community as small as Juda, the impact of losing nine girls was significant. I remember telegrams from all over the world were filled with condolences for families and friends of those lost.”
Some other comments referred to young people who did not attend the trip because they had jobs in the local dairy industry.

Dumping milk
Coincidentally, it was reported members of the National Farmers Organization continued efforts to drive up the cost of milk. One controversial tactic was dumping milk. One story from Paola told the story of one man who was sentenced to 60 days in jail as well as fined and court costs assessed, for “maliciously destroying the property of another.” The man had blocked the road so the driver of a milk truck was stopped, and then the perpetrator dumped 1,500 gallons of milk from the truck. Another story told of organization officials asking members to stop the dumping and instead have milk processed into powdered milk, cheese, butter and dairy products, warehouse them, and save the receipts for collateral on loans to tide them over until prices rise. The strike only lasted three weeks. The cost of milk went up. It is unknown how much of an effect it had on dairy farmers. The tactic was resurrected as recently as October, 2016, when American dairy farmers were reported to have dumped in excess of 43 million gallons of excess milk in order to increase prices when supply outweighed demand.

Westgate opens
In Great Bend, shelves were filled (and the dairy case too, we presume) at the brand new Dillons Food Store that opened that weekend, anchoring the brand new Westgate Shopping Center that also held its grand opening. A number of pages were devoted in the Friday, March 31, 1967, edition of the paper to stories and photos of a number of Westgate Shopping Center stores.
“Get ready ... get set ... and go to the exciting new Westgate Shopping Center! You’ll find plenty of parking space and beautiful, modern buildings, with aisles and aisles of brand new merchandise. And along with the wonderful selections, there’s service to please ... plus savings! It’s a spacious and enjoyable one-stop Center!”
Other stores featured were T.G.&Y., a general merchandise store, Calhouns, a clothing store, Boger’s Liquor Store, a Merle Norman cosmetics store, and a Sunshine Laundry self-serve laundromat.
The Chamber of Commerce this week gave away $2,000 in one dollar bills. How? They went through lists from the phone book, mailing lists and customer lists of member stores in town, and wrote names on the bills. Then, customers could take those with their names on them. But, they had to go to each participating store and read the names on the bills to see if it was theirs. This is one way to get shoppers out to downtown businesses in the wake of the shopping center opening.
The face of Westgate Shopping Center has changed over the years. In fact, the strip of shops no longer bears the Westgate sign. In the anchor space there is True Value Hardware, and other popular stores including P&S Security. a tanning salon, and an optometrist and eyewear gallery occupy the smaller storefronts.

Other local happenings
Also this weekend 50 years ago, the City Auditorium hosted the Cheyenne District of the Kanza Council Scout-O-Rama, where Boy Scout Troops, Packs, and Explorer units set up displays to show off their skills. Scouting is still a force here in Great Bend. This year, Scouts from Troop 149 are working to raise money to go to the every-four-years Jamboree in West Virginia. Instead of a one-day event like the Scout-O-Rama, this event will last 10 days, with exhibits, stadium shows, and opportunities to work on merit badges.