News & Events
Discover Mid-America September 2005
The Connections made
by Ken Weyand
Who among us is not a collector? Can you truly say you have not started a collection of some kind at one time in your life? And when does collecting transform to “accumulating,” or vice versa? Each of us will have to answer that one from our own experience.
I remember my coin-collecting days. When I was a youngster, my mother, inspired by frugality and wishing to pass it on to her son, gave me a coin book with slots for pennies dating back to 1909. For many months, I would pester merchants in our community to examine their change as I sought an elusive date. I don’t think I ever completed the book; there were a couple of dates that I missed. But the process of building the collection was a lesson in persistence that stayed with me.
My mother also collected postcards. Her hobby originated when she was a Chautauqua performer, touring the U.S. and Canada as a violinist with the J.C. Lockhart Troupe. She would buy postcards at her various performance locations and send them to her parents, who never threw any away. Her parents also hung on to her Chautauqua programs and other memorabilia, which I have inherited along with the postcards.
Inherited items are frequently the core of a collection. The older you get, the more nostalgia you accumulate from various ancestors.
My late father-in-law, a physician, once gave me a bundle of old theater posters that he had acquired from one of his patients. The posters, promoting pre-Vaudeville one-nighters from the1880s to the 1920s, were collected by the janitor of the Grand Opera House in Keokuk, Iowa. Printed with 8-color stone lithography, they were on pulp paper, which was in a bad state of deterioration when the posters reached me. Mice had nibbled and dirtied them, and mildew had left its effects. I was able to salvage about half of them, and restored ten by dry-mounting them on foamcore. Half of these I matted and framed. It was an expensive process, and still in progress.
I have several boxes of photographs, school paraphernalia and old letters left over from relatives who couldn’t bear to part with anything. Many of my ancestors corresponded frequently in the 1800s, before telephones and emails eliminated the grace of personal, handwritten notes. Their letters covered all facets of their lives, from mundane descriptions of weather and health to confessions of personal feelings and desires. I have love notes from grandparents on both sides of my family. The formal etiquette and practiced penmanship of the late 1800s has long since passed away, along with the writers.
Another batch of letters that found its way to my possession was a “chain letter” by my father and his seven siblings, orphaned when my father was six. The siblings, farmed out to aunts, uncles and other relatives throughout the U.S., kept in touch for several years with a letter that was passed along from one sibling to another.
Unlike a typical chain letter that multiplies itself as new recipients are added, each member of my father’s family would add his or her news and pass the letter along to another “link” in the chain. The letters are a touching reminder of the hardships the family suffered, and the efforts made by each member to keep it together.
Collecting could be a genetic thing. Did a long-ago ancestor, huddling in a cave as predators stalked the entrance, look appreciatively at his collection of rocks — all selected for their suitability for easy handling and throwing? Did another ancestor, impoverished and driven by basic needs, save bits of fiber to weave into fishing nets or clothing?
Whatever its origins, collecting has existed as long as civilization itself. And every collection is important to the collector. For who is to say that Jay Leno gets more excitement from his collection of rare cars and motorcycles than a youngster does from his baseball cards or matchbook covers?
Collections on display
The free exhibit has been wildly popular. During its nine-year run, thousands of visitors have admired the collections and made comments: “My grandmother had one of those.” Or, “We had some of those in our house when I was growing up.”
In this year’s exhibit, which ran from May 7 to July 4, the collections were as diverse as ever.
Craig Delich’s collection of Kansas City Streetcars included dozens of photos, videos, newspaper clippings, books and other examples of Kansas City’s “wired transportation.” His collection is the culmination of a 40-year hobby, in which Delich has traveled to Toronto, San Francisco and Philadelphia just to ride streetcars that once operated in KC.
“The modern streetcar was invented in 1936,”
“These were the streetcars I rode as a boy, and they really impressed me. I began collecting streetcar items at an early age,” added Delich.
The early-day memorabilia was impressive, but another touch was added. The Crown Center people provided a DVD player and Delich created a DVD presentation showing dozens of streetcar photos from his collection.
A retired teacher at Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, KS, Delich also has a large collection of photos and other historical items relating to the school, which was the first public high school west of the Missouri River. He plans to display his materials, which date back to 1886, in next year’s Crown Center exhibit. Delich said the DVD player would be used in that presentation as well.
Delich’s other collections include comic books and autographs, which have been part of previous Crown Center exhibits. He once published a magazine on comic book art, and still has a strong interest in this area of collectibles.
Closely related to Delich’s collection is Ian Drake’s collection of streetcar transfers. From his early childhood in 1927, Drake used transfers to ride streetcars throughout Kansas City. The flimsy stubs would provide a continuous ride over miles of track on the Kansas City Elevated, Central Electric Railway and Metropolitan Street Railway.
Drake’s adventures ended June 23, 1957, when he and his oldest daughter rode the last streetcar in Kansas City. His collection of transfers covers 40 years, and some date back well over a century.
Drake, a retired employee of Skelly Oil Co., which later became Getty Oil and finally Texaco, said he began collecting the transfers about 50 years ago.
“I had some, and got others from retired people who had saved them,” he said.
One of his earliest transfers is for the cable car line, the predecessor of Kansas City’s streetcars. Drake also collects streetcar photos and memorabilia, along with railroad timetables and tickets.
Drake has vivid memories of Kansas City during the streetcar years. “I lived in Armourdale then, over in Kansas. The Kansas City, KS, schools had PTA Days at Fairyland Park in Kansas City, and the streetcar lines would run special trains. Some would be “MU’d,” or multiple units, which were quite unusual.”
He also recalled the closing of the old 9th Street Tunnel in the ‘20s and its reopening in the late 1930s. “There was a Free Sunday when they opened the tunnel,” Drake said, “and everyone rode free.”
Drake also has a collection of model trains made by 40 different manufacturers. The oldest is a live-steam model, manufactured before the age of electric train sets by Maerklin, a German manufacturer. Drake also showed me a clockwork-powered model of the “Prince Charles,” a British locomotive named for the son of Queen Elizabeth.
“My first love was trains,” Drake said.
His extensive collection of railroad timetables fills several cabinets in his small home-office, and includes airline and bus timetables. On another wall are cancelled “RPO covers,” dating from the days when the U.S. Postal Service sorted mail on railroad trains (Railroad Post Offices) as the mail was hauled from town to town.
“It was probably too expensive for the post office and they had to discontinue the practice,” Drake said. “But the RPO system made it possible for the mail to be delivered to small towns along the railroad in the quickest possible way.”
Tim Cadden’s collection of “Mr. Clean” memorabilia began when he was ten years old. It was a “family thing.”
Cadden’s father wrote the “Mr. Clean” jingle in the late 1950s, and it is still being used today. Cadden’s collection includes sheet music for the jingle signed by his father, an animation cell from the original commercial, a 1960s vinyl doll, a Halloween mask, and various ads and posters.
Cadden, who currently works in construction materials sales, said he started collecting “Mr. Clean” items in 1968. The collection is a tribute to his father.
“In addition to writing the jingle, my dad had a hand in producing ads and commercials for the company,” Cadden said. “The jingle was pretty long, and the company used to play it all the time. But today’s shorter commercials mean that you only hear part of it now.”
The elder Cadden, now in his 80s, lives in Chicago and has some “Mr. Clean” mementoes of his own. “I guess I’ll be inheriting them someday,” Cadden said.
Cadden also collects theater posters, a hobby he started at a young age. Over the past few years, Cadden has exhibited his posters at the Crown Center show.
Sandra Jones, an avid collector, has more than two dozen Bogart embroidery pillows, many of which were displayed at this year’s Crown Center show. Since the 1930s, Bogart marketed pillowcases with numerous designs printed in pastel colors. The pillowcases could then be embroidered, following the designs. In addition to many completed pillows, Sandra has a partially completed pillowcase, showing the embroidery process.
“I think the pillows were especially popular during World War II,” Sandra said, referring to several pillows in her collection with military themes.
Other items which Sandra has collected, and displays in her home, include Ruby Flash souvenir cups sold at Worlds Fairs and other events, carnival and cut glass, R.S. Prussia, Chesapeake and Ohio “Chessie Cat” advertising, kewpies and other dolls dating from 1910, Byers Choice carolers and oilcloth toys of the 1940s.
The small, colorful animals were stuffed into oilcloth covers and were relatively inexpensive.
“Hallmark made a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle a few years ago, using a grouping of my oil cloth toys,” Sandra said. “I got $50, but no royalties.”
Sandra also showed me a small collection of what she called “purple glass” on a table in the living room. The bottles, made with magnesium in the blown glass during the late 1800s, turn pinkish purple when exposed to sunlight. Not on display are large collections of Santas and Garfield items.
“I’ve run out of space for a lot of my collectibles,” Sandra said. “And just keeping everything dusted takes a lot of time.”
Sandra’s husband, Dale, is well known for his collection of militaria, including a basement full of weapons, photos, signed letters from military leaders, service badges, ribbons, medals, etc. Newly acquired are “neck orders,” or special ribbons with medals, presented by hanging around the recipient’s neck. Several mannequins are dressed in uniforms of World War I and II.
Dale participates in military exhibits and historical events, and volunteers at the World War I Memorial and other venues. He has exhibited parts of his militaria collection at Crown Center in past years.
He also collects other items, including a large shelf of Alfred Coe woodcarvings. In another room, several shelves were filled with litho tin toys, Hazelle puppets, and cap pistols.
Other collections in this year’s Crown Center exhibit included vintage wrapping paper, yo-yos, guitar picks, lanterns, lawyer figurines, Boy Scout memorabilia, unique purses, Mizzou items, alarm clocks, bugles, Noah’s ark items, tigers, door locks, Ripley’s “Believe It or Not” posters, police badges, cookie jars, theatre bills, Timex watches and more.
The annual collectors’ exhibit is free. For more information call 816-274-844 or go to www.crowncenter.com.
Collectibles at Strawberry Hill
On display will be women’s hats from the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s, vintage postcards and religious pictures from 1899 to 1930, miniature pillboxes, ornamental pianos, a large basket collection, and wooden figurines.
The vintage postcards and religious pictures were collected by Msgr. Martin Krmpotic, who ministered to Croatian immigrants in the area for 28 years. Krmpotic built a church and school, and started St. John’s Orphanage, which is now the Strawberry Hill Museum.
Delores Purduski will display her personal collection of wooden figurines. The “Whimsical Animal Kingdom” consists of more than 30 pieces, all measuring 2 to 3 inches in height.
The Strawberry Hill Museum and Cultural Center, located at 720 N. 4th St., Kansas City, KS, was formed in 1988 to promote and preserve the ethnic heritage of the area. Although it focuses on the Croatian community, the museum also hosts exhibits relating to other cultures, including Lithuanian, Polish, Slovakian, Slovenian, Russian, and Dutch.
For more information call 913-371-3264 or go to www.heritageleague.org and click on strawberryhill.
Discover Mid-America founder and Senior Contributing Editor Ken Weyand files regular reports on notable Midwest destinations. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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