Friday, November 21, 2014

Window Shopping in JC

     This weekend many of you will begin your holiday shopping. However, had you been living in Junction City around 1900, the Christmas shopping season would start in mid-December.  For that brief time, about two weeks before Christmas the display windows of the business houses along Washington Street were adorned with the best and most creative the proprietors had to offer, drawing shoppers and visitors from miles around.
     From the 1880s through the 1950s, there was one local place of business that always drew the Christmas crowds, to look even if they couldn’t afford to buy. This was the Starcke jewelry store, where the windows invariably held a sparkling array of silver, diamonds, and other holiday goods that caught the attention of most pedestrians.
     The Starcke jewelry and watch making business was the first of its kind in Junction City, started by a German immigrant, Andrew Vogler, who married Bernhardt Starcke’s sister-in-law. In the early 1880s, the Starcke family came to Junction City to join Andrew Vogler in the business. The first store was located at 14 E. Seventh Street and was listed in that location until 1905.
     When Vogler died unexpectedly in 1885, the firm became B. Starcke & Son Watchmaker, and remained under that designation until 1905, even thoguh in the early 1890s Bernhardt, age 64, left the area to pursue a career in medicine, and Rinehard, the watchmaker, married and relocated to the Kansas City area.
Windows at Starcke the Jeweler were always decorated lavishly.
     Walter Starcke, who had trained as an optician, had been the main proprietor of the business for a number of years, when he married Eunice Willoughby in October 1905. Apparently, shortly thereafter, the name of the firm was changed to Walter Starcke Jewelry and Optical Shop and they moved to 705 N. Washington. Sometime between 1911 and 1914, the Starcke jewelry store moved across the street to 714 N. Washington.
     Eunice Starcke worked alongside her husband in the store from the time they were first married. According to those who knew her, she was a dedicated businesswoman who had a natural feel for merchandising. A vast array of beautiful and unique objects were always available at Starcke’s after Eunice joined the partnership. In addition, the shop offered a watch repair service and an optical shop, where people could have Walter make and fit their eyeglasses.
      According to a Junction City promotional booklet published in 1910, the jewelry house of Walter Starcke has “…one of the largest and best-assorted stocks . . . including a large line of clocks, watches, cut glass, hand-painted china, diamonds, other precious stones, all kinds of jewelry novelties and everything to be found in a first-class store. A complete line of Fort Riley souvenirs is carried, including sterling silver spoons, souvenir cups and souvenir view books...”
     Included in the museum’s collections are a number of photographs of the interior and display windows of the Starcke store from this period and the vast array of valuable items on display in these images would curl the hair of a jeweler, today. Keeping them all dusted and polished would have been a full-time job. Callie Byington recalled that her mother, Mrs. Starcke’s niece, Eunice Jennings Henderson, worked in the store for her uncle and aunt from the time she was a kid cleaning, dusting, and polishing silver.
They put the window displays every night and put them out again the next day.

     Chuck Rose said his father, Vernon, who had been trained to clean, repair, and build clocks and watches, went to work for the Starckes in 1923. He remembered that he and his brother Bob were always welcome in the store as children. He recounted that both families would go down to the store to clean and work on Saturday night.
While Eunice worked with the jewelry and gift stock, Chuck recalls that Walter Starcke dibbled in a bit of everything. He remembers seeing an assortment of tandem bicycles, razors, riding crops, and just about anything you could imagine, stashed in the loft at the back of the store, where the watch repair and optometry shops were located. In fact, he said that one of those tandem bicycles was resurrected after his father owned the store and was ridden in the Junction City Centennial Parade of 1955.
     Callie remembers that there was a time when the Junction City Chamber of Commerce sponsored a “Guess the Value of the Window” promotion to get people downtown on Saturdays. “Aunt Eunice really outdid herself on these occasions. She would have her windows just sparkling with silver, gems and diamonds. They were breathtaking! She often had the window with the highest value and never had an incident or lost a thing. People were just more trusting—and trustworthy—back then…”

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Research Center and Archive at GCHS

             An abundant collection of materials conducive to Geary County and family history research is located in the lower level of the Historical Society Museum at the corner of 6th and Adams Streets.
            One of the missions of the Geary County Historical Society at the beginning was to collect and preserve the history of Davis/Geary County. One portion of the mission began by recording birth, marriage and death data on file cards. This has continued and is a critical project in the Research Center of the museum. Close to 30,000 cards contain either a copy of the event from newspapers or a reference to the paper where this can be found. Knowing that not all data records are contained on the file cards, for the past several decades volunteers have added a second source of information. Recording vital statistics from the 1865 to 2006 newspapers and microfilm, 111,922 entries are found alphabetized, recorded by year and noted by event as well as where they can be located. These indexes were extracted from the Republican, Tribune, Sentinel, Weekly Union, Daily Union and the Republic. Since 1995 the current articles have been copied and mounted on the file cards.
            Fortunately, around 10 years ago, the city discovered Geary County books containing birth and death records the state required beginning in 1911. These books were given to the Historical Society and are used to document these events when requested. The county marriage records beginning in April 1865 are also copied many times as this data is important to researchers of family history.
Numerous Records in the GCHS archives
            Two other sources available for helping search for family information are 350 file folders containing copies of articles about people that have been collected over the years and 275 family history books that have been donated.
            Numerous microfilm rolls of the various newspapers from as early as 1865 are used on a regular basis to copy articles we don’t have and to research special projects in which we are currently engaged.
            A resource often relied on includes the records for the Highland and St. Mary’s Cemeteries in the city and all those in rural Geary County including private burial places that have been located and photographed. The rural cemeteries are kept up to date every five years when volunteers walk them and record any burials that have been made since the previous visit. Volunteers have also photographed and added information on some of the area cemeteries that then is submitted to the Find-A-Grave website. Anyone knowing of a private burial location we may not have is urged to check our records and inform the Research Center if that location is not included in our notebooks.
     Other county records such as some years of District Court Cases and Tax Records, Agriculture/Extension history, Enumeration and more are in the archives. Telephone Books and City Directories are helpful tools in locating people or business locations. High School yearbooks and some Rural School records have been donated. A very limited number of church records of baptism, confirmation, marriage and death are available at this time. Requests for more of these have gone unanswered in the past.
            The Poor Farm box contains records of those residing at that facility from 1927 to 1937 as well as persons listed in census records. Other articles about the farm and the numerous burials there are documented by newspaper clippings.
            Various notebooks have been created to hold information such as the Milford Dam/Reservoir (also articles in file folders), Junction City Business in 1890, Famous Baseball Players here, United Way 1961-2000, and miscellaneous articles on buildings, businesses, crime, fire, floods, lawmen, people, or tragedy that are added only as they are noticed when doing research on another particular subject.
Vannessa Osbourn and her husband pointing out locations on an old Geary County Map

            A specific project being researched at the present is a comprehensive collection of articles concerning the Opera House history. These are being copied and mounted in notebook form. This will continue for an unspecified length of time as volunteers give their time first of all in answering requests from those especially seeking family history. These requests have ranged up to 80 in number each year. Although there are many resources available to help discover answers to requests received, unless events were specifically recorded, it can be very difficult to find results.
            Volunteers are always welcome to help continue the progress in our Research Center that has received compliments as being one of the most comprehensive county facilities they have visited.

      If you would like to make a research request you can email the Research Center at, or you can stop by the museum and do research Tuesday, Thursday, or the second Saturday of the month from 1-4.  Research fees are $10 an hour for ALL research with a minimum of 1 hour, and 20 cents for photocopies and $2.50 for digital copies. Members of GCHS receive free research but we ask you purchase all copies. If you have any questions email or call 785-238-1666.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Bill Insley WWII Letter

            World War II began in 1939 and lasted until 1945, during this time the military casualties numbered twenty-two to twenty-five million individuals from all the countries involved with the war. This war is known as the most widespread war in history, and a vast majority of correspondence from soldiers arrived from other countries. The letter below, written by Bill Insley while he was in Japan, is an example of just how widespread the war was. Bill’s account of Japan, written to his parents, has not been altered in any way and it is important to remember that they did not have way to check spelling and grammar like we do today. The errors are all part of the charm and so none of them have been corrected in this transcription.
Kumagaya Airfield
Honshu Island, Japan
Dear Folks:
Well have been getting more mail lately and very glad to get it. There is nothing better than to come in from a hard day and find a letter waiting. Of course, I never get enough because letters from home are so welcome. WE are still at the same place, expecting to move every day but we never do. I hope we put out for the mountains soon as the living conditions here are not so hot. We are not more than three hours train ride from Yokahoma so if I had Harry Lee’s address I might be able to go look him up. There are so many things to do and no time. Have been working pretty darn steady since I landed here. By the way am a corporal now so will be able to save a little money now and be able to pay you folks for some that I owe you when I get back.
Had a letter from Ernie, Don and you in the last week and a couple of cards. Expect this outfit will be back in June so will not be too long before I see you all. A matter of a few months. There isn’t much more to tell about. I’m shopping around to find Mom the brightest Japanese Kimono there is in Tokyo, and a Gun of some kind for Dad, a Geimack for Don, which is a Japanese boy who does all your work for you. They actually sell these boys in the open market over here. You can buy one with a rickshaw for about 100 dollars. One fellow from the 43rd division who sleeps near has a little monkey who is about 8 inches high and keeps me awake nights chattering and climbing on the covers. More later when I have something new to tell.

Love, Bill

            Letters like this one came from far and wide during the six years of World War II. Many of them describe living conditions, were meant to update their family on their location, and even to update their family when the soldier would arrive home. However some soldiers shared too many details and the United States government opened up the Office of Censorship whose staff count rose to 14,462 by February 1943 in locations all over the U.S. There were three main methods that censors used to edit incoming and outgoing mail. They would scuff up the paper and then use slick black ink to mark through the words or sentences that contained forbidden text. The second technique consisted of cutting out letters or sentences with a sharp blade. These letters often resembled crude lace. Finally if a letter contained too many forbidden words or phrases the censor was authorized to return the letter to the sender. Despite how strict these rules seem more than 98% of the letters sent or received contained very minor censors involving a single word or phrase.  If you are interested in seeing more war-time letters similar to the one Bill Insley sent to his family the “Letters Home” exhibit is on display now in the museum. The Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 1pm to 4pm.