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‘Popeye’ turns 100: Looking back on 1929
Out of the Morgue
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COURTESY IMAGES King Features Syndicate, Inc. A more up-to-date rendition of Popeye.

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.

Jan. 17, 2019, marks the 100th anniversary of the first appearance of the comic strip character “Popeye” in print. He appeared in a decade old strip, Thimble Theater, as a minor character. The real stars of the strip were the characters Olive Oyl, Castor Oyl, her brother, and Harold Hamgravy, her boyfriend. Popeye was brought back by popular demand after the initial storyline ended. He was given a larger role, and the strip’s popularity increased. By 1937, Popeye was second only to Little Orphan Annie in popularity among adult comic strip readers, according to Wikipedia. 

COURTESY IMAGES King Features Syndicate, Inc. An early Popeye comic strip. Popeye made his first appearance in print this week in 1929.

Scouring the pages of the Great Bend Tribune this week in 1929, we found no evidence of any of these cultural icons of the comic strip world. What we did find were several stories concerning the death of the former wife of baseball celebrity “Babe” Ruth, Helen (Woodford) Ruth, in a house fire in Watertown, Mass. She was living with a dentist, Dr. Edward H. Kinder, as his wife, when according to one article, she was “suffocated during a small fire in the Kinder home.” 

According to a story about the funeral, “(Babe) Ruth sat through the brief services in silence, except when he burst into sobs. Tears streamed down his face when he entered the small parlor in the Woodford home and knelt beside the coffin in which the body of his wife lay. While the service was simple, 40 police were still needed to keep at bay crowds gathered outside the house. The Ruth’s adopted daughter, Dorothy, 9, was not at the service. Neither was Dr. Kinder. 

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Tribune file photo This photo from the center of a collage of photos of Helen (Woodward) Ruth, former wife of baseball celebrity “Babe” Ruth, appeared in the Tribune this week as news broke of her death by suffocation in a small house fire in her Watertown, Mass., home.

A few days later, William Woodford, Mrs. Ruth’s brother, was demanding a thorough investigation surrounding the circumstances surrounding her death. However, the district attorney and the state fire marshal made statements setting to rest any suspicion that her death was anything other than accidental. 

First try at developing Cheyenne Bottoms

Of local importance, Congress was debating the pros and cons of a $350,000 appropriation for the purchase of Cheyenne Bottoms for a game refuge by the federal government. Congressman Clifford Hope fathered the bill in the house, but the budget director would not budge. At first, he thought he might be able to get a deal through the migratory bird bill that was expected to pass through the House with Senate amendments, but there was not enough money appropriated in that bill. Hope went back to the drawing board. If he could not get it passed on its own, he was prepared to get it tacked on to some other bill pertaining to migratory birds, people in the know told the Tribune. 

Meanwhile, demand for hunting, fishing and trapping licenses was up. From July 1, 1928, to Jan. 14, 1929, a total of 3,367 licenses issued from the County Clerk’s Office, which was more than the entire year between July 1, 1927, to July 1, 1928.

“The increased demand for hunting and fishing licenses in this county no doubt is due tot he huge lake at the Cheyenne Bottoms which has become the centralization point for ducks in flight.”

The flood of 1927 was credited with clearing the creeks feeding into the Bottoms of refuse and improving conditions there for fishing an all other activities. 

Ultimately the 1929 attempt did not succeed. Funding became available to develop Cheyenne Bottoms following passage of the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937.

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Courtesy photo The newly released film by Charlie Chaplin, “The Circus,” was shown this week in 1929 at the Andress Theatre in Great Bend.

Andress presents “The Circus”

Charles Andress, the man who traded in circus life to settle down in Great Bend and operate a movie theater, had to have been thrilled this week in 1929 to present the latest Charlie Chaplin movie, “The Circus.” 

“Peanuts ... sawdust ... pink lemonade ... clowns, tigers, elephants, roaring lions, acrobats, wire-walkers, and Charlie Chaplin in his brand new comedy will all be at the Andress theatre tonight, Tuesday and Wednesday.” 

It was a pretty big deal to get a first-release like that in Great Bend back then. The fact was not lost on the manager of the Andress. 

“Manager Weber of the Andress theatre, said that he felt ‘highly gratified’ in being enabled to present at his theatre Charlie Chaplin’s first comedy in two and a half years, especially so because he considers ‘The Circus’ the funniest Chaplin picture he has seen in his 10 years of motion picture exhibition.”

“The Circus” was re-released in 1969 by Chaplin, this time with newly scored music he wrote himself. The then 80-year old film maker also sang the opening song featured in that movie, according to 

Glee club concert

Live music was and still is a treat for tired souls, and this week in 1929, people in Great Bend had an opportunity to enjoy one of their own. 

“Thirty-one College of Emporia belles, members of that institution’s women’s glee club, are visiting in Great Bend today and will present a concert this evening at the Presbyterian church. They are stopping here during a concert tour through the central part of the state and came to Great Bend from Larned where they made their first appearance of the tour last night. 

“The club gave a special program during chapel exercises at the Senior high school this morning and delighted their audience with several numbers. Aside from ensemble selections, several solos were also given. 

“Miss Alice Merten, daughter of A. N. Merten of this city, is a member of the club and several other members also live in this section of the state.” 

Today, rarely does Great Bend rate as a destination for university groups such as the one mentioned here. However, the voices of our own local ensembles, from the local high schools, to Barton Community College, provide opportunities to pause and appreciate the music a voice can make.