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 1917, The Columbia Broadcasting System went on the air with 18 radio stations. It would go on to become one of the largest media empires in America. In Great Bend, this event went wholly unnoticed. After all, radio was in its truly infant stages. According to Wikipedia’s history of radio, “The first radio news program was broadcast August 31, 1920 by station 8MK in Detroit, Michigan, which survives today as all-news format station WWJ under ownership of the CBS network.”
Of more pressing concern was the ongoing war in Europe. The Kansas State Fair was happening this week in 1917, and if the people of Kansas had any illusions that the current “War To End All Wars” was coming to an end anytime soon, Kansas State University President Henry J. Waters laid them to rest. He was among a group of men who had recently returned from Washington D.C., and were at the people’s pavilion at the Big Free Fair as part of the Defense Day program.
“I went to the officials in Washington,” said Dr. Henry J. Waters, President of the state council of defense and federal food administrator for Kansas, “and put the matter squarely to them. It is my business to urge the people to save, and to give, and to sacrifice in this war, and I did not want to be a party to it if there is a chance that the war is to end soon, or there is a reasonable belief that it will.”
He went on to state that he was told the war would last from two to five years, and he urged families to be ready to supply men, munitions and food in “as yet undreamed of amounts.”
“It is not alone a war of the men in khaki,” he declared. “It is a war of 103,000,000 Americans. Do you know that the best way to dishearten and weaken an army is to underfeed them and to underfeed the men and women in the munition factories. The allies want 530,000,000 bushels of wheat. If they do not get it, it will weaken them and we must make up for the loss by a substitute, American blood.”
Patriotic speeches were also given by Governor Arthur Capper and Lieutenant Governor W.Y. Morgan, reminding people of the “unconquerable spirit of John Brown,” and praising the Canadians who “saved Calais for the Allies, and saved Dover and probably the world for democracy.”
Despite all this, there were those who couldn’t stomach the idea of going to war, and those who profited from these fears. A report told of a young man from Missouri, who when drafted committed suicide by taking strychnine. And there was a report out of Kansas City, St. Joseph men in draft fraud.
“The large number of exemptions on account of physical disability is said to have caused (an)investigation. One man confessed today that he had paid $250 for his exemption.
“Currency to the amount of $800 was found in a box in one of the county officials’ office. When questioned about the money, the officials state that the coin was the savings of the subordinate. The subordinate admitted taking the money, and said that it was “attorney’s fees.”
Leo Dressen makes good
An update on the career of a major league baseball player with local roots was reported this week in Dressen brought $7,000. It was notable because in today’s dollars, that’s equal to $133,867. And that was about 10 times what the average American man made in a year. Also for comparison, Ty Cobb in 1913 was the highest paid baseball player, at $10,000. ( These facts courtesy of usinflationcalculator.com and the Society for American Baseball Research.)
“Leo Dressen, the Ellinwood boy, who has been playing first base for St. Paul the last few seasons and who goes to Detroit next year, is noted as the fleetest footed first baseman in the American Association. Besides being a .300 hitter his is leading the association in base stealing and is expected he will bring his total number of thefts to sixty before the season closes. Detroit outbid six clubs in landing Dressen, and paid over $7,000 for him. Dressen had figured on quitting baseball this year but his advancement will doubtless keep him in the game.”
It turns out, he wasn’t playing first base for St. Paul. It was the St. Louis Cardinals. He made his major league debut with them on April 21, 1914. He finished his career on June 1, 1918 as a Detroit Tiger. According to Wikipedia, he died June 30, 1931 at the age of 41 in Diller, Nebraska.
Let no good deed go uncriticized
One of this our favorite vintage Great Bend characters is the circus promoter Charles (Chas.) Andress. When we came upon a response to a Public Forum letter written by Andress , it was back through the files to read the criticism referred to.
From Sept. 13, 1917
I notice where Mr. Andress makes a statement regarding the big picnic at his farm. We think the picnic was all right, it is a fine thing and should be an annual event but someone ought to tell Mr. Andress to kindly feed the children or not advertise that he will do so. A bottle of pop and a sandwich is no kind of a dinner for hungry children. Grown folks have no business expecting a free feed and they don’t but Mr. Andress advertised a picnic for the children and they should have had it. We would have sent ours anyway but we would have sent their dinner with them it had not been advertised the way it was. Our children were starved when they got home from the picnic though they had a fine time and we thank Mr. Andress for it -- Mother.
Mr. Andress replied, (quite descriptively) on Sept. 18, 2017
Replying to the note in the Public Forum in the Tribune of the 13th signed “Mother,” wherein mother complains that I did not feed her children enough so but what they came home hungry, etc. I like honest criticism and therefore I read the complaint with interest for her views may be the same as others who have looked hastily and without investigation. I am honestly glad that Mother made this complaint as it will give me the opportunity of putting myself right once and for all.
At no time did I promise a big feed or plenty of lunch for the children. I don’t know how such an impression got out for I stated that tickets good for two sandwiches or a piece of pie and sandwich, in fact 10 cents worth of lunch would be given each child under 12.
This plan was adopted after the trouble occasioned last year when a large picnic table was loaded with lunch for the children and the rush resulted in a part of the children securing much more than their share and keeping others from getting any.
The timid child had no chance. I wish to provide one big day for the children and grownups each year. I will furnish amusements and am willing to spend money on it.
Next year I will again try the ticket program as this year, though it has its drawbacks. For instance this year many grownups secured tickets, and many children made it a point to get into line more than once when the tickets were being given. I don’t feel bad over the fact that thoughtless children broke a great many pop bottles throwing them against trees.
There is no complaint in my system about anything except that anyone should misunderstand my motives. I have been a showman all my life. Maybe my methods are too flamboyant. Now that I have retired and want to make this my home, I can’t change the habits of a lifetime. But I give of my own free will and if the old showman isn’t dignified enough to suit just remember that his heart is in the right place anyway, and he has nothing but the kindest of feeling for every citizen of this part of Kansas his chosen home.
And next year the picnic is going to be bigger and larger than ever. There will be plenty of room for picnic lunches, a big stand for those who wish to use it, and everybody is going to have a fine time. There will be more amusement than ever. And I want to thank Mother for what she has said and hope she will see the other side too. -- Chas. Andress
Andress indeed continued to host outings and shows at his farm, “Andressville,” for a few more years. He then sold off most of his exotic animals, and enjoyed a colorful retirement, marriage, and family life in town.
Andress died Aug. 26, 1933 at the age of 72, and is buried in the Great Bend cemetery. He first arrived in Great Bend around 1874 or 1875, and makes several appearances in the Great Bend newspapers during his lifetime.