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The Independent Turns 125!

Dear Readers, 

Welcome to our 125th anniversary celebration year! It’s hard to believe that the humble beginnings of a local paper on March 11, 1899 would yield 125 years of chronicling the happenings of Kansas City. While The Independent had political origins, the magazine, its owners, editors, and staff have reinvented the publication many times over – in keeping with the culture and climate of the times. It seems that staying current depends upon our ability to embrace our past and celebrate our traditions. So, during the next year, our readers will see some of our favorite glimpses into the past, as we continue to provide the coverage of what is happening in Our Town currently. We will be paying particular attention to what our burgeoning city has become, who the people shaping our city are, and some fun recollections with humor at top of mind. 

 


The Early Years:

Lest we think politics has actually changed, alas – only the names have been changed to protect the innocent. The first issue of The Independent was published with the overriding desire of the publishers to make a weekly journal dedicated to the exploration of politics – both local and national. “The day of wielding influence by the pandering to partisan prejudice has gone by, and the slavish championship of party measures, irrespective of their merits, no longer finds respect or credence. This paper will be neither partisan nor neutral; it will aim to be what its name implies, and to tell the truth that should be told about men and measures, as opposed to prevalent sensationalism.” It continues, “Undoubtedly, the most important question before the American people is that of territorial expansion falsely called imperialism.”

There are a few lighter pursuits in the journal, published every Saturday, and costing a whopping three cents – or five cents outside the city. There are ads for everything from shoes and bread to lumber, diamonds, and real estate. The telephone seems to be making a grand splash by the middle of 1899. (How did they possibly know how many matches had been burned?) There is a singular political cartoon front and center on every cover for years, to entertain readers while they choose a dentist. Books, theater, fashion, gossip, and society make appearances, but none as clearly enjoyable as the lists of guests at already-hosted parties. (Seriously, this was the first local social media where the sting of being left out could be felt every Saturday morning.) 


The Teens: 

As we make our way into the turn of the century and into the teen years, we start seeing some photography, rather than illustrations among the vast pages of typeset. The tone of the journal seems to turn a little more tongue-in-cheek or possibly just more outright gossipy. The debut of Betty Ann’s Tittle Tattle seems a bit removed from the question of imperialism. Book Reviews, Automobile Notes, and Good Things To Eat have replaced any viper-like comments about local politicians. By 1913, we find perhaps the first-ever “signature” issue titled, Patrons of the Achievement Number.  Individuals with their names and businesses are listed, and paragraphs are written, and photographs are taken in order to highlight the “supporters” of The Independent. 


The ‘20s: 

Entering the early ‘20s, we find much more in the way of brides, adorable children, musicians, actors and actresses, and a fair amount of travel bits as the oft-advertised train routes and exotic California and Florida getaways have been displayed for some time now. Fashion is exploding with local purveyors such as Emery, Bird, Thayer Company, and The Jones Store, Halls, Woolf Brothers, and Harzfeld’s, to name a few. The Shubert Theatre in New York has been, and continues to be, of great interest to readers – with shows and actors being profiled nearly weekly. Children are beckoned to local summer art classes and summer camps in Michigan, while bridal fashion calls for extremely large flower bouquets and equally ornate trains. 


The ‘30s: 

While we would expect to see evidence of October 29, 1929 on the front of any November, 1929 issues – were it The Independent of old – we find nothing of the sort. Hosiery, Christmas cards, and a new store called Klines are the topics of the day, along with continued theater briefings and candle-lit weddings. Henrietta Who? is the newest columnist, and her tales of the goings-on in Kansas City are the real precursors of columns to follow in the next decades and turn of another century. By 1930, the price of an issue is a whopping 10 cents. 


The ‘40s: 

The ‘40s bring a new, slick magazine paper to the Weekly Journal of Society. Engagements, weddings, young children, and columns such as Over My Shoulder, Seventeen Years Ago, and the ubiquitous I Wonder have a home on the pages. Covers have become quite elaborate and colorful, and the frontis piece is firmly embedded as the place for a grand wedding photo, or the portrait engagement announcement of a local socialite. There are still reports from Washington, D.C. and other political fronts, but they have taken on a “who’s who” tone, rather than commentary on the leaders and legislation. We also start seeing ads for alcohol and banking, not in the same ad, of course! The local ads now include Chasnoff’s, Adler’s, Jack Henry, C. Morris Watkins, and Kansas City Gas Company. As we have been around Our Town for quite some time, now the names are looking more and more familiar: R. Crosby Kemper, Dr. Paul Koontz in the Nitwits, Mrs. Lester C. Sunderland, William H. Scarritt, Mrs. Morton Irvin Sosland, and Mr. and Mrs. Webster W. Townley pictured below on their brick terrace. 


Beyond:

We can’t help but to reminisce a bit at the names coming forth in the ads in the 1950s and beyond – favorites such as: Bennett Schneider, Jenkins, Stephenson’s, Helzberg’s, Golden Ox, Tom Houlihan, Eddy’s, Farrar’s, Putsch’s 210, Swanson’s, and Tivol, for example. The paper is classy, the layout is familiar, and the weddings abound! Also fully in favor are Strauss Peyton family portraits, tales of “The Youngset” and recounting what is happening in non-profit circles. What the 1950s foretells is a very consistent rest of the 20th century and start to the 21st century for The Independent. While many of the storefronts are not around anymore, new ones have taken their places. As family names changed through the decades, many have stayed the same through multiple generations – and we are thrilled to report on all of the individuals, organizations, hardworking business owners, and those trying every day to make Kansas City a better place to live, work, and play. Stay tuned as we recall as many of our traditions and stories and people as we possibly can in the coming months!

Featured in the January 27, 2024 issue of The Independent.

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