A Letter From Our President
First, I hope and pray that all of you are healthy, in a safe place, and doing your best civic duty to avoid spreading the coronavirus. We all can practice social distancing, and, where necessary or required, ‘stay-at-home’ procedures (for those not residing in Belton, the city and Cass County are under mandatory ‘stay-at-home’ orders through April 24). I also encourage you to look for ways to help others, e.g., shopping for a shut-in, donating to a local hospital (if you have just one spare bottle of hand sanitizer it will be appreciated), sending an encouraging e-mail to any relative or friend who is in the medical, first-responder, transportation, grocery, or other very necessary job. Believe me, they are under tremendous stress right now and need our encouragement!
Since this is a Historical Society, I thought I would mention several of the epi- and pandemics that have taken many lives in world history, including Belton (thanks to The New York Times for much of the national history).
Plagues have been part of the history of the world. The second book of the Bible, Exodus, details the plagues that were brought on the Egyptians as Moses bartered with the Pharaoh for freedom of the Israelites. Also:
3000 BC – Chinese epidemic – Mass graves in northeast China show a large epidemic – cause unknown. The archaeological site is referred to as “Hamin Mangha”.
430 BC – Plague of Athens – During the Athens-Sparta war, over 100,000 died in Athens due to overcrowding and a disease thought to be either Ebola or typhoid fever. Sparta won the war.
165-180 AD – Antonine Plague – Killing 5 million people, the plague was thought to have been brought to Rome by soldiers returning from the war with Parthia. The cause was likely smallpox and helped start the downfall of the Roman Empire and boost Christianity.
250-271 – Plague of Cyprian – The epidemic seemed to be worldwide, killing more than 5000 Roman citizens every day. Pits filled with plague victims in Luxor were covered with lime, a disinfectant, and the disease was described as, “the bowels, relaxed into a constant flux, discharge the bodily strength [and] a fire originated in the marrow ferments into wounds of the fauces (an area of the mouth)."
541-542 – Plague of Justinian – The Byzantine Empire was struck mortally, declining from this date. Up to 10% of the world population died, likely from bubonic plague.
1346-1353 – The Black Death – Spread by flees on rodents, the plague traveled from Asia to Europe, where up to 50% of the population was killed by a bacterium that is now extinct. Ironically, the plague also helped to end serfdom, as there were no longer enough workers for farms, and landowners had to pay wages for work.
1545-1548 - Cocoliztli Epidemic – An infection of a viral hemorrhagic fever killed 15 million inhabitants of Mexico and Central America. A bacterium which is a subset of salmonella is suspected and is still alive today.
1500-1600 – American Plagues – A variety of European diseases, mainly smallpox, killed off 90% of the indigenous population of the Western hemisphere and ended the Aztec and Inca civilizations.
1665-1666 – Great Plague of London – The final outbreak of the Black Death killed 15% of London’s population.
1720-1723 – Great Plague of Marseille – Another rodent/flea transmitted plague killed 30% of the city even as the city tried to quarantine the ship that brought it from the eastern Mediterranean.
1770-72 – Russian Plague – In addition to plague-caused deaths, riots against quarantined citizens in Moscow killed many more (total = 100,000).
1793 – Philadelphia Yellow Fever – In the capital of the US, a mosquito-born epidemic killed 5000 people. Abolitionists in the city thought that African Americans were immune and recruited them to tend the sick.
1889-90 – Flu Pandemic – The first pandemic (worldwide) started in Russia and killed 1 million people in a few months.
1916 – American Polio Epidemic – Starting in New York City and still viable today, polio killed 6000 and disabled thousands more, mainly children.
1918-20 – The Spanish Flu – The Flu struck 500 million and killed 100 million in essentially every corner of the world. The Flu did not start in Spain, but since Spain was neutral in WWI and did not censor their press, the first accounts of the pandemic came from Spain.
1957-58 – Asian Flu – A blend of avian viruses, the Flu killed 1.1 million worldwide, and 116,000 in the US.
1981-Present – AIDS – Caused by the HIV virus, AIDS has killed 35 million since it moved from chimpanzees to humans in West Africa in the 1920’s. Medications are effective, but a cure is not proven.
2009-10 – H1N1 Swine Flu Pandemic – Starting in Mexico, the Flu killed up to 600,000 and infected 1.4 billion. It affected younger rather than older people, possibly because of age-related immunity. The vaccine is now included in the seasonal flu shot.
2014-16 – West African Ebola Epidemic – Leading to 12,000 deaths and counting, there is no vaccine for Ebola for the virus after 6 years. Like Covid-19, the virus originated in bats.
2015-Present – Zika Virus Epidemic – Not harmful to children and adults, the Virus attacks infants and babies in the womb. It is spread by mosquitoes in Central and South America.
2019 - Covid-19 – This is the first coronavirus to cause a pandemic. Earlier coronavirus outbreaks, SARS (2002) and MERS (2015), caused outbreaks limited to small regions and populations.
Belton has had its share of diseases. Three members of the Smoote family died in 1879 due to an illness, possibly yellow fever which was crossing the nation in that period. Many Beltonians became sick and/or died during The Spanish Flu as reported in The Belton Herald. One of our most recent additions to the Memorial Park Veterans plaque was Seaman Garnett George, who died in the Chicago Naval Training Station from pneumonia possibly caused by the Spanish Flu.
Epidemics and pandemics are particularly efficient at ignoring status and position. They do give us a chance to address our inner strengths. Viktor Frankl, writing from the madness of the Holocaust, reminded us that we don’t get to choose our difficulties, but we do have the freedom to select our responses. Meaning, he argued, comes from three things: the work we offer in times of crisis, the love we give and our ability to display courage in the face of suffering. The menace may be subhuman or superhuman, but we all have the option of asserting our own dignity, even to the end.
General Meeting—Sunday April 26
Who knew nuclear fallout could be so interesting? Thank you to President Rob Powell for his program about Missouri Moms who fought the United States after the US hydrogen bomb testing!
We have postponed our April speaker, who was postponed from our October meeting, to our July meeting. Kavan Stull is a presenter who is worth waiting for! We’ll have more information about it in our July newsletter.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have cancelled our April meeting and hope and pray that we will be able to meet in July. In the meantime, please stay healthy!
Digitizing The Belton Star Herald
As you probably know, the Museum has, thanks to the Maurer family, almost all of the print copies of the Belton newspapers from the mid-1890’s to 2012. Although we have stored them in air-conditioning, the newspaper is gradually disintegrating, and we are restricting access to the issues.
Several years ago, the Historical Society in conjunction with the Maurer family had the newspapers microfilmed by the Missouri State Historical Society in Columbia. Recently, Jack Dryden donated a copy of these microfilms to the Museum. Now there are at least 3 copies of the film, in Columbia, Belton, and Cass County Library in Harrisonville. However, since our museum does not have a microfilm reader, anyone wanting to see the newspaper still needs to drive to Harrisonville, Columbia, or get a library loan to a library that has a microfilm reader.
The Historical Society Research Committee is proceeding with 3 projects:
- Procure, through donations, a microfilm reader for our newly required microfilm
- Check if any gaps in microfilm issues can be filled with the paper copies
- Once the Columbia master copy of the microfilm is as complete as possible, submit the microfilm to the Missouri State Historical Society for digitizing.
The last item is our goal, i.e., getting The Belton Star Herald digitized so that it will be online and available to everyone’s computer. Digitizing also makes searching by keyword possible.
This is a long process, and even after the newspaper is online, the next 3 years will require a subscription to view. However, after 3 years, the viewing will be free.
Thanks to the Research Committee, David Stevenson, Jared Rinck, Bill Brady, Jacquie Jackson, Rob Powell, and consultant Woody Dick for their work on this meaningful project!
HyVee Reusable Bag Program
During the month of April 2020, every time a customer buys a reusable “My Heart” red bag at the Belton HyVee supermarket, the Belton Historical Society will receive $1.00 (the total cost of a bag is $2.50). Visiting HyVee a few times this month is a perfect way to support the Society!
Belton and Alcohol
by David Stevenson
Belton cemetery is the burial site for Carrie Nation, the noted saloon wrecker of the early 20th century. The Historical Society has on display a horse-drawn hearse that carried Mrs. Nation to her final resting place. At one time, the town held a yearly carnival called “Carrie Nation Days.” This may lead many to believe that Belton was a hotbed of temperance activity.
This is not entirely true. It is hard for us to imagine how popular prohibition was in the early 20th century. There is no evidence that it was more pervasive in Belton than anywhere else.
Alcohol has been available in Belton since its earliest days, except during prohibition and probably then too. Spirits were never an issue in town. Availability of liquor by the drink in saloons, taverns, and restaurants changed throughout the city’s history.
There were bars in the city in the late 1940’s. There is evidence that at least six had operated in the town after the repeal of prohibition. However, incidents of physical violence, including at least 2 killings, had caused the businesses to close, until by the early 1950’s none remained.
The announcement that the Grandview Air Force Base would be the new home of the Central Air Defense Command was seen as an opportunity by both the mayor, George Spear, Sr., and the business community. It would increase the city’s business and population, a real boost to the community. Mayor Spear knew that all the effects would not be positive.
The memory of World War II was still fresh in the minds of many of the citizens, especially the veterans. One of the memories was undoubtedly the nature of the towns surrounding the bases and army camps where they had been stationed. The mix of young men (at the time the military was overwhelmingly male) with booze served in bars, along with the unsavory element that followed, would be a negative influence. Even if the memories were fond ones, it is doubtful they wished it to be copied in their hometowns. The mayor felt that it was something Belton didn’t need.
There may not have been a constituency for making Belton a wide-open military town, but there were citizens who were not supportive of a city-wide ban of beer halls and cocktail lounges. Mayor Spear would use his influence, however, to limit alcohol consumption. He did this by enlisting one of the town’s most influential citizens, Mrs. Grace Van Brunt.
The owner of Grace Company, the granddaughter of the town’s founder, Mrs. Van Brunt used her influence with her employees. Her employees were mostly women, and they saw no need for any establishment that kept their men away from home. Bankers and others who did business with the Grace Company did not speak out in opposition.
In the meantime, the city moved to annex the area between Belton and county line to the north so that they could control whatever development would take place. The mayor lobbied other civic groups, including veteran groups, in an attempt to sway opinions with memories of their service time. The mayor did not editorialize the local newspaper (he was the owner) or speak publicly about the issue. Also, no one attempted to open a tavern in Belton.
When the ordinance banning liquor by the drink was eventually brought before the city council, it passed without a dissenting vote. In a period of approximately 60 days, without directly asking the citizens, the two power structures of the town (economic and electoral) had changed the direction of the city.
Who benefitted the most? Financially, it was probably the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), whose status as a private club enabled it to operate the only tavern in the city. Otherwise there is probably no one who suffered from not having a tavern in Belton. As for the military, active and retired, there were military clubs on the airbase. The only downside was for the pedestrians and drivers sharing the road with those returning to Belton from the on-base clubs.
Liquor by the drink did not become an issue again until almost 15 years later, when the city was seeking a chain motel within the city limits. In 1967 voters approved a more liberal liquor law. Due to various reasons, the developer was unable to start construction on the motel until 1972, and for many years it was the only cocktail lounge in the city.
Blood Drive at Main Street Theater
On April 7, Main Street Theater (510 Main Street directly behind the Museum), is donating their space to The American Red Cross blood drive from noon- 6 pm. Please consider donating since the country is severely short of blood supplies. Go to https://www.redcrossblood.org to make an appointment. Appointments are required so that the number of people in the building at any time is in accordance with CDC guidelines.
Everyone is ‘hunkering down’ as they ‘shelter-in-place’, and most of us are particularly aware of our financial situation. Even so, our non-profit charities, and in particular, our Historical Society, need funding to carry out worthwhile projects.
Please consider donating to the Historical Society. You can make a general fund donation, or a special donation to our scholarship fund (for Belton High School seniors needing funds for college), our building fund (working with Belton Community Projects, Inc to preserve Old City Hall), our Museum fund (to help with extra storage and a microfilm reader – see other article in the newsletter), etc.
You can send any checks to: Belton Historical Society, PO Box 1144, Belton, MO 64012. If you want your money to go to any specific fund, please note it in the bottom left corner of your check. Thanks!
Our Museum opened Tuesday, March 3rd, with newly trained docents ready and willing to go back to work!
By the end of the second week, the COVID-19 virus became a greater concern for the public as we were urged to use “Social Distancing” when out in public. The Museum Committee decided that the museum would be closed until it is safe to re-open it to the public. We will post the re-opening on our Belton Historical Society facebook page.
New Museum Exhibits
The museum has several new exhibits for your enjoyment. We are pleased to have a new Dryden Drug Store display with many pharmacy items loaned by Jack Dryden. It is a look into Dryden's history in our community since 1931. Our Harry Truman display has been revamped and moved to the front of the museum. The Grace Company, Richards-Gebaur AFB and sports displays have been updated. We have a spring display of both children and women's Easter hats, purses, and jewelry. The Belton school display has been expanded and moved to the front of the museum. The history of the museum building has been assembled along with pictures of businesses in Belton. We have created a home entertainment area with the Edison Disk Phonograph, the first TV sold in Belton, a R.C.A. Radiola, a portable record player, a boom box, a movie projector, etc. We are currently working on a Vietnam War exhibit. Our next family display is going to be the Rob Powell family. A special thank you to Sally Smith for the six new glass shelves we used to create the new exhibits.
Our first note of thanks goes to Historical Society member and former member of the Board of Directors:
Karen Fletcher. Fletcher Forms is always ready to print our quarterly newsletter, and during this time of the pandemic closing small businesses, we are grateful to her for getting this newsletter ready to send to our members. Thank you, Karen and Jeff Fletcher!
Our second note of thanks goes to Main Street Theater for letting our docents enjoy their March production of The Sunshine Boys. We are able to open the museum connecting door to the theater so that theater patrons can visit the museum before the show and during intermission. Docents who volunteer to keep an eye on the museum are able to see the show for free!