Friday, March 27, 2015

Kickapoo School-Joint District 29

District 29, or Kickapoo school was organized in 1878. The old schoolhouse is located at K-157 and Kickapoo School Road in southern Geary County near Rock Springs. The district was formed from parts of Morris County and Geary, or Davis, County.
Kickapoo like most other Geary County schools was built from native limestone. The building is still there today, looking old and worn, surrounded by farmland. The hand pump for water sits, lonely, among the tallgrass the mower misses. The view from the school is one of farmland stretching out, and you can almost imagine the drone of insects as summer approached and the excitement of the children anxiously waiting for the last day of school and freedom for the summer.
Many people picture the strict discipline at the one-room school, or any school of “yesteryear” with a sigh of relief that we were brought up in a time when teachers couldn’t strike students. But the students at these rural schools often remember their teachers with fondness because any truly good teacher can keep order without regularly hitting students.
The students who had teachers who were engaged and caring often found themselves excited about school and willing to participate in the extracurricular activities offered at the small country schools. Often, students at each country school had a close bond, and depending on the teacher, each school had special groups for plays, journalism, or even band. The Kickapoo School had a rhythm band, thanks to Elsie Jahnke who taught at Kickapoo in 1930 and 1931.
According to Bernice Muenzenmayer Murphy, who taught the two years after Elsie, she inherited the “unique, well trained rhythm band. While many schools experienced rainy day cabin fever, our students used play periods to enjoy the rhythm band. Those students were happy and had lots of fun.”(Project Heritage, 252.)
Like several of the other country schools, Kickapoo was unfortunate enough to have a fire. However, unlike some of the others, the schoolhouse did not burn down. Bernice said, “one morning I was called at 6:30am to be told that there had been a fire in the building during the night. When I arrived, all debris was cleaned up by the board members.
“The fire started in the wastebasket. Also in the wastebasket among the burned papers was a dead mouse. One scared little boy offered the information that he had thrown some ‘kitchen matches’ into the wastebasket so no one would know that he had them. Everyone decided that the mouse gnawing on the matches had caused the fire.”(Project Heritage, 252.)
Kickapoo school was featured in an article by the Geary County Soil Conservation District as one of the rural points of interest in Geary County. They point out that the poem “School Days” by John Greenleaf Whittie describes an old one-room school that is sagging with age, has initials carved in walls, and desks with scars from raps of pointer or ruler; it describes the feeling that the children left behind in the schoolhouse, slowly entering with dread of the day, but running out later, excited about play.
 The conservation district said of Kickapoo in response that “the only thing running through this school yard now are rows of last year’s milo stubble,” not children, “The door still is worn and the floor may sag but if they do it is from the weight of baled hay, not from current school function or furniture.”(The Daily Union, February 7, 1969). 
If you’re driving through the county and you pass a one-room school sometimes it’s easier to hear the raucous laughter of children playing or the meticulous recital of multiplication tables flowing across the fields from the old building than the whisper of the wind, and the silence of the land and the old limestone building.
If you have memories to share about the one-room school you attended please contact the Museum to share those stories. Or you can write them down yourself and send them in to PO Box 1161, Junction City, KS or email
This is Kickapoo School in the early years of Joint District 29. This is probably the class photo. We do wonder if the dog belonged to one of the students, or if he just wandered into the photo, a canine photobomb.

Kickapoo School as it looks in 2014.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Rizer Sister's Ready-To-Wear

            The Rizer sisters of Junction City ran a ladies’ dress shop on Washington Street for 35 years.  However, their fame in the local area was not due to what they sold as much as what they knew.  For more than half a century, whenever anyone wanted to know anything about the history of this community, they were taken to see the Rizer sisters.  From them, the inquirer could count on learning his own family genealogy—if he was local—as well as a great variety of colorful information about frontier times in Kansas.  Though not always accurate, being based on childhood perceptions and memories, these tales were well told and entertaining and were the basis of many “community legends.”
            Captain Robert O. Rizer and his 19-year-old bride, Josephine, arrived in this area in the spring of 1865, after having made their honeymoon journey from Denver to Fort Riley via horseback with the Captain’s regiment.  Upon their arrival they learned that the Civil War had ended on the day they were married, and soon after, Robert mustered out of the Colorado Cavalry. Daughter, Harriet, was born in their house along with four more daughters to carry on the family line.  Only two of them married.  Harriet, born in 1866 married Fred Gaylord whose family arrived here about the same time as the Rizers, and Theresa, born in 1879 and second to the youngest of the brood, married Fred Durrand another local young man in 1903.  The remaining sisters, Josephine born in 1868, Blanche born in 1876, and Edwina or “Edna,” whose birth in 1884 completed the family, remained single and became the proprietors of the dress shop.
            The Rizer girls grew up in a home where a great variety of visitors were welcomed and entertained.  Such notables as former President U.S. Grant, “Wild Bill” Hickok, General George Custer, Kit Carson, Buffalo Bill and Chief Sitting Bull were among those said to have been entertained in the home which the Rizer’s built on West 6th Street. One can imagine the tales which were told around the dinner table, as these bright and vivacious girls were exposed to the colorful visitors and local personalities that frequented their home.  As they grew to adulthood they each, in turn, became vital, active and opinionated young ladies, feeling very much attuned to the “pulse” of the community. 
            It was in 1918, that Blanche opened a millinery shop at 114 West 8th Street.  This apparently was the forerunner of the dress shop, which the sisters would partner in a year or so later.  Robert Rizer died in 1921, three years after his wife, leaving his three “maiden” daughters to provide for themselves.
            Josephine Dunbar Rizer, second oldest, was the matriarch of the family. Jo’s experience in ladies “ready to wear” was known far and near.  She was in charge of a large department in Rockwell’s Store for years before opening the shop.  Like her sisters, her life was consumed by store operations and there was no time for social activities.  Visiting her friends and customers in the store was ample social contact.  She was a lovely, reserved character who cherished her privacy.
            Blanche Eliza Rizer was artistic.  She excelled in putting colors together—doing complete ensembles.  Blanche always wore colorful dresses—lavender, old rose, blues and pinks.  Though she could clean and arrange the house, she could not and did not boil water.  She made the beds, but not coffee.  Millinery was her forte.  Trimming hats, her enjoyment.  She even left home to run the Millinery department for a large store in Hutchinson at one time, but returned to her sisters and Junction City, which she much preferred. 
            Edwina Catherine Rizer or “Edna” was the baby of the family. Her early experience in business in the “money” department of a large store (Rockwell’s) qualified her to discuss, or argue matters with other merchants of the town.  She kept the books at the Rizer Shop—did the collections, paid the wholesalers, all, in addition to waiting on the trade.
            The Rizer Shop was an “institution” in Junction City almost from its beginning.  Located initially at 617 North Washington the business operated there for about 17 years.  During this time it was the principal destination for women shoppers in town as well as from Fort Riley and the surrounding area.
            In 1935 the sisters moved the shop a few doors north to the corner location (625 North Washington) now occupied by Tom’s Men’s Wear. The Rizer Shop finally closed its doors for good in 1952.  Josephine had passed away in 1949 and with Blanche over 75 and Edwina nearing 70 it was time to bring this venture to a close.  However, with Junction City’s Centennial planned for 1955, without doubt the Rizer sisters kept very busy recounting Junction City’s history for a whole new generation.

Four of the five daughters of Junction City Mayor Robert O. Rizer, were photographed in the 1890s by Junction City photographer Louis Tietzel.  L. to R.  Edwina, Theresa (Married Fred Durrand,) Blanche and Josephine.  For over 35 years Edwina, Josephine and Blanche ran a ladies’ Ready-to-Wear shop on Washington Street which has since become a community legend.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

He Didn't Wear A Top Hat

Nationally, the 1950s represented huge changes for America:  The hot war of WWII became the pervasive fear of the Cold War; Cars saw an upswing, and even the average American could own what was once a luxury; The National Highway made the country accessible coast to coast; The Civil Rights Movement made big steps forward with the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954; And President Dwight D Eisenhower took presidential office—and opted not to wear a top hat.
            Today that seems like such an insignificant thing because people rarely wear hats at all, unless it is to keep our ears warm in winter. But, in the 50s, there were still strict rules regarding hat fashion that the nation followed. Men wore hats whenever they went outdoors, and removed them when they entered private buildings, churches or a restaurant where they would be seated. Women would choose hats to match their outfits, as well as the season, and while they were expected to wear them outdoors, they were not required to remove them inside buildings.
            President Kennedy is often accused of killing the hat industry, as he was rarely seen wearing a hat during his presidency (though his wife Jackie Kennedy’s pillbox hat has become a historical icon), but the downturn of the hat industry might have first been evident with Eisenhower’s casual hat choice in his 1953 inauguration.
Abraham Lincoln’s stovepipe might be the most famous of presidential top hats, but actually, up until Eisenhower’s inauguration in 1953, it was customary for all presidents to wear top hats on inauguration day.  President Franklin Pierce began the tradition when he wore a top hat to his inauguration in 1853 and it continued unbroken for 100 years.   FDR waved his top hat at cheering crowds as he and Eleanor Roosevelt were driven to his inauguration in 1933, and then wore the style for his inaugurations in 1937 and 1941. Spiffy dresser President Harry S. Truman, who once owned a men's haberdashery in Kansas City, honored tradition with top hat and formal morning dress for his 1949 inauguration.
However, when it was Eisenhower's turn to be sworn into office in 1953, the former general let it be known that he would wear a Homburg - the dressy hat choice of the common man. This caused a fashion tiff between Eisenhower and Truman, who would ride to the inaugural with his successor. Truman thought Eisenhower's business hat an inappropriate break with precedent, but said publicly that he wasn't going to get in an argument about it. Tradition stated that the President-elect set the fashion choice, and so Truman wore a homburg, too.
            Eisenhower’s choice raised eyebrows across the nation. It was reported in the papers with headings such as: “He didn't Wear a Top Hat!” Other papers praised his decision. The headline  in the Daily Union read “He Made the Right Choice.” After all, Eisenhower was the working man’s president, so of course he would wear the working man’s hat. Either way, Eisenhower began the transition away from the old customs. By the end of the 1960s, hat customs would fade away and the strict rules that came with wearing hats would be forgotten.   
But Eisenhower couldn't avoid the top hat forever. His own successor John F. Kennedy opted to don the traditional top hat for his 1960 inauguration, and so—just as Truman did for him—Eisenhower respected Kennedy’s decision and sported the black top hat. But the top hat took a downturn after that, and President Nixon was the last president to wear a top hat, or a hat of any kind, to his inauguration in 1973. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Lovely Gene Tierney lived in Junction City

Gene Tierney was a popular actress in the 1940s and 50s. She was born in New York, married Oleg Cassini in Las Vegas in 1941, and divorced him in 1953. While Oleg Cassini was stationed here at Fort Riley during WWII, Gene Tierney stayed in Junction City.
Gene Tierney was best known for her role as the murder victim in the murder mystery, “Laura,” in 1944. She appeared in movies throughout the 1940s, one of which led to an Oscar nomination for best actress in 1945.  In between all her Hollywood work Tierney stayed in Junction City to be near her husband; she gave birth to a daughter in 1943 in Washington, DC while visiting family.
When Tierney first arrived here in 1943, she stayed at a local motel until there was housing available. Fred Beeler remembers seeing Gene Tierney at Cooper’s Tourist Court, operated by his step father, located about where Casey’s is located today. Fred said he had the pleasure on several occasions of waking Miss Tierney to take phone calls from California. He also recalls that after Tierney and Cassini moved from the motel they briefly lived in an apartment around Webster and 4th.
Gene may not have lived in Junction City long but she lived here long enough to catch the attention of several locals. Shirley Haley told the Museum that when she heard that Gene Tierney was in Junction City, and living on Sunset Drive she was determined to get her autograph.
Shirley, and a few of her friends, made their way up the road to Gene’s home. Shirley said she had some butterflies, but being a gutsy girl even then, she squared her shoulders, marched up to the porch and rang the doorbell only to turn around and discover she was all alone. He girlfriends had suddenly disappeared. About that time the front door opened and there stood the lovely Gene Tierney.
Shirley recounted, “I could see her husband, fashion designer Oleg Cassini, sitting on the couch and I could smell hamburger cooking and it was obvious she was fixing dinner. She didn’t seem surprised at all to see me there and was very kind. When I asked for her autograph she signed my book without hesitation, then she asked a question or two about me—where I went to school, whether I had walked all the way up there, and so forth. Then she graciously said ‘goodbye’ and closed the door.”
Though she was a well-liked Hollywood starlet, apparently not everyone was as impressed as Haley. According to Carol Tiesing, Lillie Snyder, Carols’ mother, who ran an upholstery business in JC, had her picture printed in an issue of LOOK magazine with Tierney. In the photo, Gene Tierney is leaning over Snyder while she sits at a sewing machine. It appears in the photo that Tierney is giving Snyder instructions. According to Carol neither the magazine nor the photo were saved by family members.  
While Tierney didn’t live in Junction City long she did come away with a favorable view of this town. In her autobiography Self-Portrait Tierney said, “Everyone seemed to help one another and shared their joys and heartaches. Those of us who had traveled from different parts of the country were treated with kindness by the local Kansans . . . In looking back, this period was one of the happiest times of my life.” 
In between her movie roles and motherhood, Tierney still found time to support the war effort by selling bonds, giving speeches, and serving as an entertainer at the Hollywood Canteen, a popular spot for service men and women to rub elbows with famous folks. While Tierney did not live in Junction City for long she left her impression on it with people who recall her presence to this day. Tierney passed away in 1991 in Houston, TX.
Cover of the book Self-Portrait written by Gene Tierney and Mickey Herskowitz. Tierney appeared in numerous magazines in the 1940s in stories about victory gardens, personal tragedy, and Hollywood movies. She appeared in 41 movies and TV shows in her lifetime