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Out of the Morgue
Fascists, fire, and fashion in 1938
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Time Magazine named Hitler the Person of the Year for 1938. The cover depicted, German leader Adolf Hitler playing a hymn of hate. - photo by COURTESY 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.

On Feb. 4, Adolf Hitler seized control of the German army and put Nazis in several key posts. It was reported Feb. 5 in an Associated Press report in the Great Bend Daily Tribune, “The series of sweeping degrees last night by which Hitler assumed direct command of all German armed forces, concentrating authority more than ever in his own hands, was followed immediately by an insistent demand for return of colonies lost in the World War.”
The next day, “Europe At Standstill Over Hitler: Nations fear war is much nearer with conservatives’ brake off of German chief” was the major front-page headline.
“Enough has emerged from hitler’s army purge, and the concentration of all ministry and political power in his own hands, to make it clear he has daringly gambled his dictatorship in an effort to achieve absolute supremacy which, if maintained likely will change the course of German history. Europe, including Germany itself, is divided in opinion as to just what the upheaval means and where it may lead.”
Throughout the rest of 1938, England’s Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, attempted to appease Germany, in an attempt to bring about “Peace in our time.” Hitler, however, would not be appeased. By 1939, he was forced to declare war on Germany, starting World War II.
The Feb. 4 actions by Hitler weren’t lost on many German Jews. On Feb. 12, the first “Kindertransport” of Jewish refugee children to Britain was made. Some of the children lived with relatives or family friends and acquaintances, while others lived at the Dovercourt Bay camp at Harwich, England, with the hope they would be reunited with their families in the future. The transports continued until war was declared in 1939.
Hitler went on to be named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 1938.
“Greatest single news event of 1938 took place on September 29, when four statesmen met at the Führerhaus, in Munich, to redraw the map of Europe. The three visiting statesmen at that historic conference were Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain of Great Britain, Premier Edouard Daladier of France, and Dictator Benito Mussolini of Italy. But by all odds the dominating figure at Munich was the German host, Adolf Hitler.”

Three alarm fire
While events elsewhere in the world were volatile, handful of people in Barton County were touched by a different sort of volatility.
It was Feb. 1, 1938, that a fire originating from a diner located on Hoisington’s Main Street left five families homeless and destroyed two businesses. Thankfully, all got out with their lives, though not much else.
“The alarm was turned in at 1:55 by Randle McCorkle and the Grande Cafe was ablaze in the rear at that time and he, with Jimmy Lynch, “Poss” Hoch and Harvey Jackson started awakening the five families that lived in the apartments above the cafe and the Hunt Recreation Parlor.”
By the time firefighter arrived, the building was a mass of flames. “Several persons from the apartments above came from the burning building in their night clothes and one hysterical woman was carried to the street.’
It was reported the five apartments in the second story of the building were occupied by the Joy McCallahan, H.M. Davis, Charles Schorr, Emil Hammond and Des Chrepetel families. “These families lost all their personal effects, some escaping in their night clothes only, and the last to leave the building were followed down the stairway by a sheet of flame.”
The building was described as frame construction covered with sheet iron.
“Marson French, Hoisington fire chief, said that the fire was a difficult one to fight because the sheet iron structure turned the water thrown and that the upper floor was divided into so many different rooms. The task was made more severe by an elevator shaft in the building which acted as a flue and by seven inch-and-a-quarter gas connections that fed gas into the building until a shut-off valve was finally located.”
The building was a total loss, and it was likely the cause would never be determined beyond a shadow of a doubt. The neighboring buildings were protected by firewalls that held long enough for the fire to be brought under control. That was made possible in part because the year before, Hoisington had improved its municipal waterworks, and had purchased a new fire truck. This allowed the firefighters to get enough water on the blaze until they were joined by firefighters from the Missouri Pacific shops and from the Great Bend Fire Department that reportedly had brought the big Seagraves truck driving 60 miles per hour. The truck was one that the Seagraves company routinely loaned to the Great Bend Fire Department as needed for big fires. Sixty miles per hour, then, was pretty fast!
Its scenes like these that led to increasingly stringent building codes that we enjoy today. While it may be frustrating to think of so much vacant space overhead in our downtowns, we also see far fewer stories about tragic fires today than frequented the pages of our local newspapers 80 years ago.
The owner of the building, W.D. “Pat” Hunt, who had resided in one of the apartments with his family, was insured. Later that week, it was reported he was seriously considering rebuilding both businesses and the apartments lost. Insurance adjusters had arrived, and the loss had been estimated at between $20,000 to $25,000 for Hunt. Insurance would cover part of the loss, though the total amount was not reported. Most of the apartment dwellers had little to no insurance for their personal belongings.
It was reported on Feb. 10, that rubbish from the fire had been hauled away and he was leaning towards rebuilding, though he was keeping the public in suspense.

Fashion statements
With spring right around the corner, the Tribune reported the upcoming fashion trends straight from the Chicago Merchandise Mart fashion clinic. Coined, “back-to-bonnets,” it sounds as though it clashed with the other upcoming trend of “mannish” tailored suits.
“A close-fitting turquoise blue linen bonnet that ties under the chin was modeled with a pink linen spectator sports frock that portrayed the new silhouette of squared shoulders, higher bustline, flat midriff and shorter skirt.
“Suits for women will continue to rank important this spring. Mannish tailored suits in typically men’s suitings-twills, worsteds, gabardines - in black. Navy and grey were early leaders predicted. The new earmarks include broadened shoulders, longer jackets and less fit at the waist.”
Lischesky’s and Stern & Isern advertised these all new styles on sale that week. Regularly $1.98 each, dresses could be had for 2 for $3! Suits for $10.90 to $19.75. Soon, with the outbreak of World War II, fashion would be rationed, and silks and wools would become increasingly hard to get, as they were used for uniforms and parachutes. Twill suits like those plentiful in 1938 would soon cost a person nearly half their annual clothing coupons.