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.
On Saturday, July 28, 1917, New York City paused as the Silent Parade organized by the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People, and consisting of more than 10,000 African-Americans marched on 5th Ave to protest against lynching which set off the recent East St. Louis Riots.
No reports of the Silent Parade appeared in the Great Bend Daily Tribune this week in 1917.
Only a simple editorial by William Allen White, reprinted on Tuesday, July 31, with permission from the Emporia Gazette, “Who Will Help the Negro?” appeared. It described their plight in what today would be considered melodramatic prose, mentioned the occurrence of lynchings some faced.
At the time, the NAACP hoped President Woodrow Wilson would follow through on his pledges of support for their civil rights, but that help would not be forthcoming. Wilson turned his attention to World War 1 and the United States’ involvement in Europe instead.
The Tribune carried in-depth coverage of the war, as well as preparations close to home as men prepared for the draft.
On Tuesday, July 31, it was reported, “Examinations will start as soon as local boards get their official lists checked up and their notices mailed. By the end of the week this step should be accomplished all over the land.”
A list appeared Aug. 3, indicating over 1,500 men from Barton County would face the draft board. They would be examined in lots of 26, and the list indicated in what order that would happen. The first 26 included seven from Hoisington, eight from Great Bend, three from Albert, one from Bronson, one from Olmitz, one from Otis, one from Red Wing, one from Claflin, one from Ellinwood, and one from Dorrance. Exemptions were expected for those with dependent families or those indispensable to industry vital to prosecution of the war. This, we should add, led to several marriages in the month of July around the country. So many, a report later in August warned the exemptions may not be extended to those who married after the draft order went into effect.
Reports about what to expect painted a vivid picture that probably did little to comfort future troops or their families.
“The first day of their stay in battle trenches the Americans will make the acquaintance of a very old, but scarcely cherished friend of the Tommies and poilu -- another member of the Werfer family known as the “Minnie.” This is the German mine throwers or minenwerfer, which flings over at short range great heavy projectiles known as “flying pigs” because of their wobbly, ungainly flight. They go off with a deafening roar, expending more energy on noise, however, than on material damage.”
Many of the men who would go off to fight in Europe would return home to find Main Street and Kansas Street lighted. That’s because pressure was mounting to bring a “White Way” to Great Bend.
In the early 1900s, there was a push to get electrical lights on the nation’s Main Streets, and those lit streets were referred to as “white ways.” The people of Great Bend
Researching this story led us down a rabbit hole, which took a turn at the Good Roads Movement which in Kansas began in 1900, but elsewhere in the United States as early as the 1870s. And guess what spurred that movement? The bicycle.
In the 1890s, efforts were made to improve the safety of the bicycle, and a design with two same-size wheels with a center of gravity in the center won out over the “ordinary” velocipede with one large front wheel and one tiny back wheel. Shortly after that, pneumatic tires were invented, and sales of bicycles shot up, from 200,000 in 1889 to over 1 million in 1899, according to a report on the website America on the Move. (http://amhistory.si.edu/onthemove/themes/story_69_2.html )
Bicyclists clamored for better roads, and they appealed to rural communities where dirt roads were the norm, and being stuck in mudded ruts was only too common, to help build momentum.
By 1917, the automobile had surpassed bicycles, however, in popularity, and the Good Roads Movement was well established, encouraging the creation of improved highways all over the country in order to boost tourism and trade.
In fact, the Tribune carried a report from Good Roads Boosters from different parts of the state who returned home from a trip to the rural area around Detroit where newly paved roads were making a real difference in property values and commerce in the small towns affected.
White ways were yet another way to entice travelers to a community.
Great Bend residents circulated a petition asking the city commissioners to look into establishing Main Street as its white way. The original petition included the two blocks opposite the courthouse and one block each on Forest and Broadway. But residents further south on Main Street, and residents of Kansas Ave. felt they needed lights on their block too, all the way to the depot and the train tracks.
According to the July 28, 1917 edition of The Great Bend Tribune, “The city commissioners are in a quandary now and are wondering how big a White Way can be. From the indications at present it looks like it would take in the whole town.”
The electric light company worked with the city. Later that week, the commission met and approved a bid of $3,540 a year to light the white way, with the cost to be distributed to those sections of the city affected. There was not an estimate provided for the cost of installation or equipment. The white way was in addition to other lighting in the city costing $1,452 annually.
There was so much reported this week, we had to draw the line. Here are a few other items in brief:
In Kansas City and Washington D.C., plots by supposed German propagandists to poison unsuspecting Americans fueled anti-German sentiments. Soap and poisoned court plasters (a precursor to today’s Band-Aid) tainted with typhus, tetanus and other germs were reportedly confiscated from these disreputable peddlers apprehended by police.
Hoisington accepted a bid from a Hutchinson company to build a high school for $50,000, which would be completed by the end of the upcoming school year.
Prohibition, otherwise referred to as The Sheppard Amendment, was passed by the Senate on Aug. 2, but it was uncertain if the House would follow. It would not pass until 1920, likely because there were plans to increase consumption taxes to pay for the war effort, and a big one was planned on beer and wine.