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by KANSAS CITY PUBLIC LIBRARY STAFF | LHistory@KCLibrary.org
What’s Your KCQ?, on which the Kansas City Public Library and The Kansas City Star collaborate to answer reader-submitted questions about local history, quirks, and curiosities, tackles a trio of recent inquiries:
- A body in the old Waldo water tower?
- The first hospital for Black patients west of the Mississippi River?
- Before the Chiefs … the Blues?
As a kid, I remember hearing a body was once found inside the Waldo water tower. Did that really happen?
In August 1962, a group of children climbing on the abandoned, 134-foot-tall Frank T. Riley Memorial, better known as the Waldo water tower, made a gruesome discovery. Inside the water chamber was a badly decomposed body. Fearing punishment for playing on the tower, the children took several days to reveal what they had found.
On August 30, police and fire officials began the difficult process of retrieving the body. Hundreds of spectators crowded nearby to watch a hole being cut in the side of the tower. A wallet found on the dead man helped identify him as James Everett Royse, a local 19-year-old who had been missing since November 1961.
It was difficult for investigators to determine the exact circumstances of Royce’s death. He hadn’t sustained any broken bones from a possible, perhaps likely fall. He was found in 2 feet of water, a plunge of more than 100 feet should have left him badly injured. It was speculated that the water level may have been high enough when he went missing to slow his body and prevent injury, but unfortunately not enough to save his life.
All police had to go on was a report that the young man had purchased a pint of wine from a Waldo drugstore the night of his disappearance. With no suspicion of foul play, the cause of death was ultimately ruled “unknown.”
The Waldo structure was in operation as a water tower from 1920 to 1957. It is a well-known early example of a reinforced concrete building in the United States, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
What's the history of Douglass Hospital in KCK?
Before the turn of the 20th century, Black Kansas Citians had few options for health care services and training. It was in 1899 that pioneering Black physicians Solomon H. Thompson and Thomas Unthank proposed establishing a new hospital and nurse training school specifically for African Americans. After successful fundraising drives, a building at 312 Washington Boulevard was rented, and a charter was filed on December 5, 1899.
The first hospital for Black patients west of the Mississippi River was named in honor of the Rev. Calvin Douglass of Western University, the first Black college in the west (located in the settlement of Quindaro, now a part of Kansas City, Kansas). At its founding, the hospital had just 10 beds.
While the facility predominantly served the Black community, its charter was established to care for the unfortunate sick and wounded without regard to race, creed, color, or previous condition.”
With the opening of Douglass Hospital, not only did African Americans gain access to professional health care. Black women also gained a career avenue with its two-year nurse training program. The first class of nurses graduated May 23, 1901, with commencement held at the Second Baptist Church at 10th and Charlotte streets.
Under the leadership of Bishop Abraham Grant, the African Methodist Episcopal Church accepted sponsorship of Douglass Hospital in 1905. A fundraising drive in 1924 allowed the hospital to move to a larger building at 336 Quindaro Boulevard, and it expanded to 25 beds.
The nursing school turned out 43 graduates before it closed in 1937. After more fundraising and further help from grants, the hospital moved again in 1945 to a 50-bed facility at 3700 N. 27th Street. However, it struggled in the ensuing years. Medical services were consolidated following the integration of other area health care facilities, and the hospital had a hard time retaining patients and keeping up with advances in medical technology.
By 1977, Douglass Hospital had closed its doors. The final building it inhabited was razed in June 1980.
I heard Kansas City had a pro football team that played at Muehlebach Field before the Chiefs. Is that true?
While the Chiefs have kept Kansas City on the pro football map since relocating from Texas in 1963, it is true they weren’t the first National Football League squad to call Muehlebach Field (later Municipal Stadium) home — though, they didn’t play there very often.
In 1924, the NFL granted new franchise rights to a group of investors from Kansas City. Since the new team would share a playing field with the city’s pro baseball squad, they borrowed its name, the Blues.
The Blues played four home games during the 1924 season and won two against the Rock Island Independents and Milwaukee Badgers. But they went 0-5 on the road, finished 15th in the 18-team league, and failed to build much of a fan base in Kansas City.
For the 1925 season, the team made two big changes. Embracing the city’s Cowtown heritage, it renamed itself the Cowboys. It also became a traveling team, playing 17 consecutive games on the road — up to the final month of the 1926 season.
The Cowboys promoted their games by parading around in 10-gallon hats and boots. In November 1925, before taking the field against the Giants in New York (a 9-3 loss), they rode horseback down Broadway.
At Cleveland four days later, they beat the Bulldogs 17-0, finishing a disappointing ’25 season with a 2-5-1 record.
Kansas City’s first NFL team didn’t return to Muehlebach Field until December 5, 1926, when the Cowboys bested the Los Angeles Buccaneers 7-3. On December 12, they defeated the Duluth Eskimos 12-7 as back and kicker Elbert Bloodgood tied an NFL record (that almost certainly won’t be broken) with four dropkicked field goals. It wrapped up an 8-3 season, good for fourth place among 22 teams.
The local market largely ignored the surge. Kansas City just wasn’t ready to support football at the professional level. Satisfied with area high school teams and the annual Thanksgiving game between the universities of Missouri and Kansas, locals just didn’t turn out enough to justify the expense for team investors.
The franchise rights were sold to Cleveland, which revived the Bulldogs after they had folded following the 1925 season. Kansas City player contracts were sold to the New York Giants, and many former Cowboys were part of the team that captured the NFL’s 1927 championship.
It took the relocation of the American Football League’s Dallas Texans to Kansas City and Municipal Stadium in 1963 — due to competition from the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys — to prove that Kansas City was ready to embrace pro football.
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