The Almost Annual Pilgrimage to Kansas City, Missouri that is.

View from Liberty Memorial with Union Station in foreground and downtown beyond

I was born and raised in Kansas City MO along with my five siblings and five cousins.  I left in 1973 to move to Denver, then Detroit, then San Diego, and finally Rochester where I have lived for the past 35 years.  I have lived longer in Rochester than I did in Kansas City but the place where you grew up and especially learned to drive will always be home.  For most of those 35 years, I have traveled back to KC to visit my family.  Mom and Dad and my three sisters stayed in KC while my two brothers and I left.

This trip was special because I hadn't been home since January 2019 for the funeral of our baby sister, Louisa, and because all five of us were there at the same time.  Along with four spouses--Peter, Johnny, Sarah and Marilyn--we spent five days doing fun things and seeing new places and plenty of old haunts.  Typically we travel by car covering the 1,000 miles in two days with an overnight in Terre Haute IN.  

Black Locust
We always seem to find new things to experience when we drive and this trip was no exception.  As we drove along I-90 from Buffalo into Pennsylvania, we were treated to mile after mile of large flowering trees along the roadway.  After a Google search, we determined that we were seeing Black Locust trees in their spring flowering.  Two weeks earlier or later and they would just have been green trees of a general sort.  Timing is everything.

Since I still enjoy driving long distances and Marilyn enjoys riding, we arrived at Anola and Peter's ready for whatever the next five days would hold.

Satchel Paige and some Missouri irony

Satchel Paige grave with Confederate
monument to the left and rear

We began by spending the day with Peter and Anola out and about in Kansas City.  Our first stop was Forest Hill and Cavalry Cemetery to visit the grave of Leroy (Satchel) Paige.  Yes, that Satchel Paige.  He had played for the Kansas City Monarchs from 1940-1947.  He married LaHoma Jean Brown in that year and they had seven children.  Kansas City was his home base.  He died in 1981 and is buried beside LaHoma on what is known as Paige Island in Forest Hill Cemetery.  The memorial contains Satchel's advice on how to stay young.  After all, at age 59 he pitched three innings for the Kansas City Athletics against the Boston Red Sox.  He faced 10 batters giving up one hit and no runs!

1.Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood.
2.If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
3.Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
4.Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social ramble ain't restful.
5.Avoid running at all times.
6.Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you.

In the photo of his grave, you can see a white circle.  Here's the irony.  Paige was prohibited from playing the major leagues for most of his career because he was black.  Until 1947 only white men played major league baseball.  They probably thought, as did their fans, that they were the very best players.  After all, they were professionals at the highest level.  But there were other players who were equally good or better--Satchel was one of these--who simply weren't permitted to play.  The professional baseball diamond was the proverbial unlevel playing field.  Take a look at any major league roster today and you can see what a team might have looked like before the 1950's if the best players were members, not just the best "white" players.  It is a story to remember today as people other than white males are moving into positions of leadership not because of their race or gender but because they are the best suited.

The irony is that contained in that white circle is a monument to "the brave southern soldiers who lost their lives in the Battle of Westport in 1864."  These men were fighting to perpetuate a system of enslavement that still haunts America today.  You can stand at Satchel Paige's grave and see in the distance this monument to the very social system that kept him from realizing his full potential.

Kauffman Gardens

A short ride toward the Country Club Plaza brought us to the Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden.  Its website provides the following description:  "For Ewing and Muriel Kauffman, the true joy of life grew from their opportunities to share with others. Throughout their lives, they found many ways to enrich the community around them. The Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden, an enduring gift for Kansas City, extends the legacy of a gracious couple. The Kauffmans’ world travels inspired the creation of this open space for enjoyment and enrichment, comparable to parks throughout Europe."  

This was one of Mom's favorite places to spend an hour or so, any time of the day and any day of the year.  She loved to just sit and enjoy the floral displays, the fountains, and the people enjoying the garden, especially children.  You can take a five minute stroll through the garden by playing the video below.

City Market and the Town of Kansas

The city we know as Kansas City Missouri began in 1850 as the Town of Kansas.  Shortly afterwards the State of Kansas was organized and admitted to the Union.  The obvious confusion was cleared up by changing the name to Kansas City.  However, the confusion continued with the later organization of Kansas City, Kansas.  To this day, you can tell native Kansas Citians by their tendency to append the state to the city.  You don't hear people from Chicago say they're from Chicago, Illinois.

Aunt Jennie might worked at something
like this

The four of us went down to the City Market area at the foot of Main Street about two blocks from the Missouri River.  This where the original city was founded.  We had lunch at Pigwich in the market.  Actually the City Market plays a role in one of the more notorious family stories about our 2nd Great Aunt Jennie Campbell.  Those of you who know some of the Pickett family stories will be surprised to learn that this one concerns our maternal ancestors.  Sadly Jennie was one of the victims of a triple homicide in 1899.  She was murdered by Eli Moore, an ex-lover, whom she met when they both worked in the City Market.  Moore was a fishmonger and Jennie was a cherry phosphate agent.  More details of that story will be in the family history I hope to complete this year.  As we left Pigwich, we thought of Aunt Jennie when we saw the KC Soda Co. shop.

Empty coal train 
From the market we walked a couple of blocks to an overlook on the river and the railroad tracks along the bottoms.  We reached the overlook by an elevated walkway about three stories high that reached from the bluff to the edge of the river.  It passed over the site of the original city between the river and the bluff.  Our father worked as a mechanic for the Kansas City Power & Light Co.  When we were growing up, there were power plants along the Missouri:  Grand Ave., Northeast, and Hawthorne.  Dad worked in the last two as well as the Montrose plant near Clinton Missouri.  It hadn't occurred to me until a couple of years ago that our family depended on fossil fuel since these plants were powered by coal that arrived in long trains at each plant.  I thought about that as we watched a coal train headed south after unloading at either Hawthorne or the new twin units at Iatan Missouri.  One 850 megawatt unit there can burn 494 tons of coal an hour!

Oak Grove Cemetery

James Campbell (r) and wife Nancy
Our final stop was in Kansas City Kansas at Oak Grove Cemetery.  It is located near one of the oldest sections of the city, Fairfax district.  This is just across the Missouri River from Kansas City Mo and is defined by one of the loops in The Big Muddy as it turns east toward its union with the Mississippi slightly north of St. Louis.  Mom and I had tried about 15 years ago to find the grave of her Great Aunt Jennie Campbell, a search that was unsuccessful.  However this time we had the advantage of having Marilyn along who read the cemetery map correctly and we found the grave.  Well, we didn't actually find it exactly but we found the area.  We knew that her funeral was held at the home of her father, James, and that the buruial was in Oak Grove.  The records indicated the plot also includes James and his wife as well as an infant still born in 1898, mother unknown.  We found the grave marker for James but there probably was no marker for Jennie.

That concludes our first day in Kansas City.  We covered a lot of ground and learned many new things.  A good day's work!

A Day in Kansas

Andy waxes philosophical
The next day we drove to Topeka Kansas to meet our cousins, Andy and Lois Sciolaro.  Our typical pattern would have been to drive the additional two hours to stay with them in Maize, just outside Wichita.  While Andy is fully vaccinated, as are we, by the way, Lois has a complex set of health issues that make any vaccination risky and worrisome.  So grabbing some sandwiches at Jersey Mike's, we spent a couple of hours in Gage Park eating and visiting.  By the time we were ready to go, we realized we would hit Kansas City rush hour and so decided to stay and enjoy an early dinner at a local Italian restaurant.  We got caught up with these two wonderful people.  We missed spending time with their cat, BG--that's short for Beatufiul Girl--and exploring new sites on the Kansas prairie or down in Oklahoma.  Next year will be different and if we are lucky they can get up here to visit us and the Finger Lakes, which they love.

18th and Vine

My brother Tom arrived with Sarah on Friday and everyone gathered at First Friday at 18th and Vine.  If any of you are familiar with "Goin' to Kansas City" written by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller and recorded by Wilbert Harrison, then you know about 12th and Vine where you stand with a Kansas City baby and a bottle of Kansas City wine.  But what about 18th and Vine?  Well, sadly the 12th and Vine neighborhood fell victim to urban renewal in the late 1960's.  You can go to 12th and Vine and all you'll find is a five-acre patch of grass and an informational kiosk.  

Mobile smoker with a completely 
vegetarian menu!
However, the 18th and Vine neighborhood continues as a focus of African American past and present.  "African-American Kansas Citians began settling in this area in the late 1800s.   By the 1920s the area was a thriving commercial, residential, and entertainment center.  During the Prohibition era, when Kansas City was under the control of political boss Tom Pendergast, the 18th and Vine area also became known for its rollicking nightlife, personified by the music that accompanied it: Kansas City jazz with the sounds of players who would become legends, such as Bennie Moten, Big Joe Turner, George and Julia Lee, Count Basie, and Charlie “Bird” Parker."  The area is home to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the American Jazz Museum.

MLB Urban Youth
The Mom and Daughter
We enjoyed walking through the neighborhood with its historic and restored buildings, DJ and live music, vendor stalls and all sorts of food.  We were especially impressed with the young people who prepared homemade food for sale:  lemonade, mini bundt cakes, and ice cream-like pudding.  Click here to see photos and a video of our time here.  I was also happy to see the KC MLB Urban Youth Academy.  Dayton Moore, Royals GM, provided the leadership to start this innovative program. According to the website, "the purpose of the Academy is to provide our community’s youth with a dual opportunity to develop into high-character members of society and, at the same time, learn the skills of baseball and softball.  The vision for the Academy is to become the epicenter for youth baseball and softball throughout the Midwest, beginning with the urban community and its location in the backyard of the historical 18th & Vine District."

Margot Pickett McNair

We were all invited to Kate and Ryan's expansive screen porch to meet the newest member of the extended family, Margot.  Kate is brother Terry's daughter and Margot is Kate and Ryan's first child.  Also Terry and Johnny's first grandchild.  And I must say that she is one beautiful baby.  We spent an hour and a half visiting and learning all about Margot.  Kate and Ryan are dealing with parenthood in their typical organized and well researched style.  At a ball game the next day, an infant was shown on the jumbotron. When the rest of us said something about sun block, Ryan immediately told us that the baby was too young for sunblock.  You can see more photos and videos of the visit by clicking here.

Miniature Golf at a world-famous art museum...really?

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is known for its "encyclopedic collection of art from nearly every continent and culture, and especially for its extensive collection of Asian art.  In 2007, Time magazine ranked the museum's new Bloch Building number one on its list of 'The 10 Best (New and Upcoming) Architectural Marvels' which considered candidates from around the globe." (Wikipedia entry)  But the Nelson-Atkins is far from being a stuffy art museum.  It has an innovative, spunky and humorous spirit.  From the iconic 5,500 pound Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen shuttlecocks to the Andy Goldsworthy Walking Wall, the Nelson-Atkins has sought to engage the public imagination and appreciation of art of all kinds.  And so, why not miniature golf.

"Art Course at the Nelson-Atkins is an artist-designed, mini golf experience located in the exquisite Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park. Each hole on this 9-hole course presents a creative interpretation of a work of art in the museum’s collection."  All nine of us played this fun and creative course.  Marilyn and I tied for low score, not that I want to brag.  Take a look at some of our fun below including Marilyn's hole-in-one, left-handed no less.

Kansas City Royals

On Sunday, the five siblings plus borther-in-law Peter and son-in-law Ryan went to a Royals game.  The boys in blue lost to the Twins 2-1 but we had a great time as you can see.

We spent one more day in KC relaxing in my old neighborhood and walking around the Country Club Plaza.  We left early the next morning for our two day drive back to Rochester and arrived safe and sound and ready for an event filled summer at home...until August when we head to Wisconsin.


Popular posts from this blog

Virginia, Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania

Brooklyn Weekend

First COVID Road Trip: Ohio, West Virginia and North Carolina