Route 66 - Thanks For The Memories, Mickey

After leaving Baxter Springs in Kansas, the first town we came to in Oklahoma was Quapaw. There are a number of buildings there with murals painted on them, but our first stop was Commerce. This is a nice little town, but there was really just one main reason for the stop - baseball. Back when the Dead Sea was just sick and I was a young boy, I had 2 hero's - Davy Crockett and Babe Ruth. Eventually, I became old enough to play organized baseball and the sport became more important in my life than running around  Dallas, Texas looking for a bear to kill. Although "The Babe" continued to be my main hero, I soon started following someone who was alive and playing during that time - Mickey Mantle. I listened to his games on the radio, I memorized his statistics and I was deeply torn when he started challenging my beloved Babe's home run record one year. Somehow, when he fell a little short of that record, I liked him even more. Babe wore number 3 on his jersey; Mick wore number 7. When I got my very first Little League jersey, the coach asked if I had a special number I wanted; I chose number 37. "That's a bit strange, son. Don't you want a single digit number?" "No sir," I replied. I wore #37 that year and it is still my favorite number.

The old Mantle home and the metal shed used
as a backstop when he was learning to hit.
Mickey Mantle was born in Spavinaw, Oklahoma, but moved to Commerce when he was just 3 years old. His boyhood home, the place where he learned to play baseball and where his father and grandfather taught him the skills of how one day to be the game's all time best switch hitter still stands. I was finally going to see it.

We made our way to 319 S. Quincy, just a few blocks off Route 66. Located in a small, very quiet older neighborhood, we found the house easily enough, but even though I had seen pictures of it, I wasn't sure we were at the right place until I read the commemorative marker on the front of the home. Small, peeling paint, crumbling concrete steps and sidewalk leading to the covered porch and in need of other repairs, it stands with no fanfare, no locked fence surrounding it, nobody guarding it, nobody selling tickets to tour it - just another one of the small frame houses in this small unremarkable town.

One of the greatest baseball players in history
 and a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame
grew up here.
Youngest-daughter and I walked onto the porch and cautiously glanced through the window in the front door. Seeing a few pieces of old furniture, I wasn't so sure somebody didn't live there. I figured if someone was there, they were probably used to having people knocking on their door and not wanting to leave without taking pictures, I knocked. Nobody answered the door so I took a longer look through the door glass. Looking closely, it was apparent the furniture was all from around the 1930's or 1940's era and you could tell nobody had lived there for a good long time.

We walked around the exterior of the house as I told Youngest-daughter about who Mickey Mantle was and how he meant so much to me when I was a kid. I could still recall some of his statistics and I told her what a "walk off" home run is and how Mickey hit more than anybody else, even more than Babe Ruth, The King of Swat. I told her of how he was so good that he started playing semi-pro ball when he was only 15, just a couple of years older than her.

The body of Mickey Mantle is interred in
Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park in Dallas,
Texas. Yes, I've paid my respects.
Youngest-daughter had played 1 year of girls machine-pitch softball and didn't particularly like it. She proved to be one of the better hitters on the team, but much to my chagrin and in spite of hours of practice and coaching from me, as a fielder she was almost good enough to be average. She didn't really want to play again the next year so I didn't push her. We leaned up against the metal shed which Mickey and his father and grandfather used as a backstop during their games of pitch and hit; the exact spot where he stood and starting when he was only 4 years old, through hours and hours of daily practice, he learned to switch hit. I could tell Youngest-daughter wasn't exactly really interested in the stories, but she listened without interrupting and paid as much attention as she could because she knew this was important to her dad. And for that I was prouder of her than anything she could ever do on a sports field.

Although it has nothing to do with Route 66 or even our visit, there is one more interesting story about Commerce. After fleeing from Grapevine, Texas and the killing of 2 law officers there, Bonnie & Clyde Barrow's Ford became stuck in the mud of a side road in Commerce. When they attempted to flag down a passing motorist, the driver recognized them and fled. He went straight to the Police Chief and Constable of Commerce. When the officers arrived at the scene, the Constable was shot and the chief, Percy Boyd, was disarmed and kidnapped. After escaping outside of town, the chief was released unharmed. Less than one month later, Bonnie & Clyde lay dead in the ambush by law officers in Louisiana.

Cookie's Dairy King in Commerce, Oklahoma.
Before leaving Commerce, we stopped at Cookie's Dairy King on the edge of town and purchased a couple of iced drinks for the road. The place looks like it has been there a long time, but the kids inside didn't know how long. "A long time" was the best I could get out of them. Like a lot of kids these days, they were more interested in talking with each other than with taking care of the customers. I had seen what I had stopped to see in this town so we took our drinks to the truck and drove on down the two-lane blacktop toward Miami and our next adventure.

Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
Or go to the first entry of each state:

Route 66 - Still in Kansas, Toto

No disrespect meant to the great folks of Kansas, but before this trip, I wouldn't have put Kansas and "interesting" in the same sentence. Kansas interesting? Yes indeed it is! At least along Route 66 it is. Who woulda thunk it? There actually was a good reason Dorothy and Toto were glad to be back home!
The shaded bench in the Pappy Litch Park
Rather reluctantly, we put Melba and Tow Tater in our rear-view mirror and drove through the very quiet downtown of Galena. We stopped to check out a small, but very nice little park at the corner of Main Street and 6th. We sat on a wooden bench in the cooling shade and drank the last of our free bottles of water Melba gave us. Named the Pappy Litch Park, I was impressed with how clean and well maintained it was. During the mining years in the 1800's, a large livery stable was located where the park is. Later, a large garage/service station owned by Howard "Pappy" Litch occupied the site. A popular, well-liked avid historian of the town, Pappy retired some years ago and the old building was torn down. To honor him for his life of enthusiastically promoting his home town, the citizens built this park and named it after him. Located at 6th and Main, it has become the site for town events and a resting place for Route 66 travelers.
There was nobody else there and after about 10 minutes, we got up to leave and saw a car pass by. It was the first car we had seen go by since we stopped. Supposedly, Galena has about 3,000 residents, but either they were all indoors taking shelter from the heat or they were somewhere other than the part of town where we were. We didn't go there, but I believe a couple of blocks over is where the courthouse and government buildings are located. Surely there were people and activity there, but it was eerily quiet and deserted along the Route 66 part of town. I liked it though. You could feel the history in the air. I would have loved to walk around for a while, but the heat, the sun beating down from a cloudless sky, and the total absence of even a breeze made it too uncomfortable to stay away from air conditioning for long. Little did we know we were experiencing the beginning of The Great Heat Wave of 2012!

The next town on the route is Riverton, home of the Eisler Bros. General Store which was opened in 1925. Not much is left of Riverton. The Mother Road used to come into town over a Marsh Rainbow Arch Bridge built in the 1920's, but it was demolished and replaced by a new, generic bridge in 1986. The historic Spring River Inn, built in 1902 was located here, but it was closed in 1996 and then burned to the ground 2 years later. It's a pretty area, but other than the Eisler Brother's store and its interesting guest book register signed by thousands of Mother Road travelers from all over the world, there's nothing here to stop for.
The Bush Creek Marsh Arch Rainbow Bridge
just outside  of Baxter, Kansas.
After Riverton is Baxter Springs, one of my "must stop" spots of our itinerary. About 4 miles outside of town, we drove across the last remaining Marsh Rainbow Arch Bridge on the route and I can see why these things are famous - it was a beautiful bridge! Spanning Bush Creek, it was designed by an engineer named James Barney Marsh (1854 - 1936). Built in 1923, it is a complex steel skeleton encased in concrete with the bridge deck suspended from the concrete and steel arches. Hundreds of these bridges were built around America between the years of 1910 and mid-1930's, but sadly, like the one that was outside of Riverton, most of them have been replaced and torn down. This one was slated to be demolished in the early 1990's, but thankfully, the Kansas Historic Route 66 Association and roadies from around the world petitioned the state to save it and Kansas listened. The new bridge was built nearby, but the Rainbow bridge was saved. Recently, the Association raised the funds and restored it.

Crossing over the bridge, on the other end we stopped at a small dirt parking area to walk around and take pictures. There was flowing water in the creek below us and lots of trees and underbrush on either side of the bridge. As I exited the pickup, I noticed the area was a bit trashy with some beer cans, cigarette butts and other cast-off matter of civilization. Not filthy, just more trashy than one would expect for a quiet, rather remote country spot. I found out later this is a very popular "parking" spot for a different purpose; especially popular with the local teenage boys as a dark, late night place to bring their girlfriends to discuss important, complicated social matters. 

On this side of the bridge is where we first
saw the  poor little abandoned dog. Hope he
found the Cheerios.
While we were there though, once again it was almost unsettling, like we were the last people in the world - no other people around, no cars, no noise, not even a plane flying overhead. So when we heard a rustling sound coming toward us as we stood there taking pictures at the end of the bridge, we were startled enough to take a couple of steps back from the edge of the tall weeds. What emerged was a pathetically skinny little brown and white dog, a poor creature some hard-hearted low-life had abandoned to die. I guess it was living below the bridge where it had shelter and water to drink from the creek. As it came out of the weeds and saw us, it gave a couple of tentative wags of its tail, but it ran back into the brush as soon as Youngest-daughter took a step toward it. Even with no collar and his visible ribs, it was obvious from the initial wag of his tail that he had at one time been someone's pet. He had to have been covered in fleas and ticks, but if we had been able to get him in the back of the pickup, I would have taken him to town and tried to find a vet to take care of him. A couple of minutes later he poked his head up on the other side of the bridge watching us, but again, as soon as we took a couple of steps toward him, he ran back to his hiding spot somewhere under the bridge. It pained us, but we had to leave him as I knew we were not going to be able to get within 10 feet of him. We had nothing resembling dog food to leave him, so we did the best we could and left a mound of Cheerios at the edge of the bridge where we first saw him.
Route 66 - Downtown Baxter Springs, Kansas.
About 4 miles beyond the bridge is the town of Baxter Springs which bills itself as "The First Cow Town in Kansas." From its founding in 1858 until the Civil War, Texas cattlemen drove thousands of longhorns along the Shawnee Trail to the area to feed on the grasslands of eastern Kansas and then loaded them on rail cars heading to Wichita and Dodge City and profitable points back east. In 1863, the town became famous for another reason.

After a hard year of almost continuous fighting, "Bloody Bill" Quantrill and about 400 of his Confederate raiders were heading to Texas for the winter. It was safe there and they could rest and resupply. Along the way, his men captured 2 Union teamsters who were taking supplies to the small Fort Baxter. His men were hungry and tired and their horses were too so Quantrill decided to attack the fort to supply his men for the remainder of the trip. Before they arrived though, they ran into a detachment of Union soldiers and a small skirmish ensued. Vastly outnumbered, the Yankees made a mad dash back to the safety of the fort, loosing 3 or 4 killed. The shooting alerted the men inside the fort and as the Rebels came into sight, they began firing their one cannon, which was enough to halt the Confederates. Quantrill took about 200 men and rode around to the back of the fort intending to attack where there was no cannon.

While on their way, the Rebels chanced upon General James Blunt and about 100 armed Union soldiers and a band who were transporting him to his intended new headquarters in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Most of the Rebels were wearing blue clothing they had scrounged from Union dead and Union supply trains they had captured because their own Confederate gray clothes had become unwearable over the months of fighting with no re-supply from their own side. The Yankees were totally unaware there were any Rebels in the area and with the clothing Quantrill's men were wearing, they thought it was a group of Union soldiers from the fort who had come out to welcome the general. The band started playing and the Yankees were standing there watching until the Rebels charged and their bullets began tearing into the Union ranks. They barely had time to get off one volley before the Rebels were on them. General Blunt, who had by sheer chance just changed to a fresh mount, wheeled his horse around and, with a couple of his guards, managed to escape his pursuers and their worn out horses. The rest of his men, including his band, were killed. Union dead numbered 103 while Quantrill lost 3.

General Blunt was removed from command for cowardice and failure to remain with and command his men, but was later reinstated. Union sympathizers claimed that some of the Union men threw down their rifles and tried to surrender, but the Rebel raiders murdered them in cold blood. They called the battle "The Baxter Springs Massacre." Quantrill stated his men didn't murder anyone, but he also said it was war, he had no way to turn over any prisoners to the proper Confederate authorities and besides, he didn't have enough provisions for his own men much less enough to care for prisoners. Whatever the truth, it's safe to say war is hell and this was just another vicious moment in the American Civil War.

I was amused by this hand-painted sign. Auction
 today at 5:31pm - not 5:30 or even 5:35,
but 5:31 exactly!
After the war, Baxter settled into life as a quiet farming community and it remains so today. Downtown Baxter, unlike Galena, had a few people in their cars driving from someplace to another place and we even saw a couple of people walking around. We stopped at the former Phillips 66 gas station at 940 Military Ave. Restored to the way it looked in 1930, it is on the National Historic Register and houses a wonderful little Route 66 Visitor Center. We walked in and were greeted by a very sweet and friendly lady who immediately struck up a conversation with us. We signed the register and looked around at the Route 66 memorabilia on the walls and shelves. Youngest-daughter had seen a picture of some Route 66 earrings in a visitor publication we had picked up in Illinois and we had been on the lookout for a pair with no luck. While I was looking at some pictures, I heard her from the next room say, "Daddy! Come here! Look!" She had found a display shelf with the exact earrings she had wanted. They were a little expensive, but of good quality and I knew she would take care of them and they would be a wonderful memento of our trip. We left with a couple of post cards and the earrings dangling from her ears. The smile on her face and the hug I received was definitely worth a heck of a lot more!

The friendly lady attending the Visitor Center
came outside and took our picture together.
The historic downtown area has a good number of old, interesting buildings. Three blocks have been designated as a Historic District and 4 of the buildings from the 1800's have been restored with other's in various stages of restoration. Fourteen buildings have been marked with signs telling of the history of the buildings going back to the Cow Town era. After picking up a map and brochure at the Visitor Center, we braved the heat and took a walking tour which was informative and very enjoyable.

One of the impressive restored buildings is the 1870 Baxter Bank Building located at 1101 Military Ave. It now houses the Cafe On The Route along with the Little Brick Inn Bed & Breakfast. According to a persistent, but unproven story, in May, 1876, Jesse James and Cole Younger used their guns to make an illegal withdrawal of $2,900 from the bank in this building. As they casually walked out the door, they taunted the men to ride after them if they dared. Jumping on their horses, they were seen to be heading toward Indian Territory. A posse was soon formed and pursued the bandits to a point 7 miles outside of town where the posse found themselves surprised and cornered by Jesse and Cole. After relieving the men of all their weapons, the two outlaws rode away laughing, leaving the posse to ride back to town in disgrace.

The old Baxter Bank Building which Jessie James
and Cole Younger allegedly robbed of $2,900.

One of the many historic buildings undergoing
restoration in downtown Baxter Springs.

Informative sign

Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
Or go to the first entry of each state:

Route 66 - Hello Kansas, Hello Mater

Only about 13 miles of Route 66 clips the southeast corner of Kansas, but here is where we found the most interesting and entertaining person we met during the whole trip. It is also where Route 66 began to actually meet the vision I had formed of it during all the years I had dreamed of traveling the Mother Road - quiet, serene, full of history, friendly people and quirky characters - the America of my youth; the America I wanted to show my daughter before it is too late.

Kansas is known for being a conservative, no nonsense, nose-to-the-grindstone, work-comes-first type of state. As a matter of fact, the whole state of Kansas for years before and after prohibition was dry and until rather recently, state officials were very tough on anyone buying or selling liquor. A few years ago, the state even went to court to stop airlines from serving liquor in Kansas airspace. They lost.

However, back in the harshest of prohibition days, bootleggers were rampant in this little section of Kansas because when escape was needed, there were two state lines close by for them to cross over and into safety. They set up an elaborate system of lookouts and warnings so lawmen could rarely close in before the bootleggers took off. On one occasion, with just a few minutes warning, the owners of a large still had just enough time to dump their brew, mash, and the stills into the river just below Ryan's Bridge. This time, several of the brew masters were arrested, but with no evidence, they were later released without being prosecuted. But when it happened, everyone knew exactly where the evidence had disappeared to. A flock of migrating geese just happened to be downstream from the dumping spot in the river and within an hour, the geese had drank so much sour mash cocktail that their ability to fly had been greatly diminished. They only  managed to get as far as the Route 66 bridge into Riverton where the whole drunk flock crash landed and began honking and staggering all over the bridge. There was not enough room on the small bridge for vehicles to maneuver around the plastered geese who had by now become very aggressive toward any human who tried to herd them off the bridge. Traffic was halted for a while until the geese began to sober up. Eventually they took off heading south in an unusually ragged formation. It was noted that for a number of years, the geese returned to the same spot in the river and stayed for several days, all heads facing upriver as if they were expecting party nectar to come floating down to them again.

Coming from Missouri into Kansas leads you first into Galena, a sleepy, quiet little town of 3,000 people. It is quiet now, but this was once an important center for lead and zinc mining with a population of over 30,000. In the late 1800's, Galena had a "wild west" type reputation with saloons and bawdy houses which stayed open 24 hours per day. The more law-abiding citizens of Empire, a town just north of Galena, didn't want the Galena ruffians coming into their town so they built an 8-foot wooden fence along the town border. The folks in Galena watched the painstaking fence construction for several months and when it was finally finished, burned the entire length of it to the ground the very next night.

Mural which appeared in the movie Cars.
The mines have all played out now and on the early Tuesday afternoon when we pulled into the north end of town, there was not one person in sight and no cars were parked along Main Street. Even the few businesses that remain in downtown Galena were closed.

We crossed over an old concrete-post viaduct above the railroad tracks and made the sharp turn into Galena. What is now Main Street was once known as Red Hot Street and was the location of the 24-hour saloons and houses of ill repute. What first caught our eye was a large mural painted on the wall of a large, empty building which at one time or another was the site of a lumber yard, a Five-and-Dime, and a drug store. On the corner over from the mural building was a large and, at one time, a very ornate home, no doubt a remnant of the day when this town was home to numerous millionaires who made and often lost their fortunes from the area's mines.

This old home was purchased to be restored
and made into a bed-and-breakfast.
Gonna be a lot of work!
Directly across the street was an old Kan-O-Tex gas station with a 1951 International tow truck parked in front. I stopped to take a picture and started to drive on when I noticed the painting on the top of the building, "4 Women on the Route." It was one of the places I had marked on our itinerary as a must stop. I pulled into the drive, walked into the old building and was greeted by Melba Rigg, the self-proclaimed "Mouth from the South" and a nicer, more interesting person you could never want to meet.

4 Women on the Route.
As we walked in, Melba exclaimed, "Hi! Welcome to the home of Tow Tater! Come on in and let me tell you a story..."  The heat outside was oppressive and unfortunately the air inside the building was almost as bad with only a couple of fans to move around the hot air. In her rapid-fire speech with the words coming almost faster than I could hear them, Melba explained the cost of electricity was high and with people opening the door coming in and out all day, she just couldn't afford to run the air conditioner. The inside was crammed with Route 66 t-shirts and souvenirs  for sale. There was also a diner/snack shop, but when I asked if we could get something to eat, Melba explained the grill was broke and she was saving money to get it fixed, but until then, the food area was closed. No matter because the real treasure was Melba herself. Quick to laugh her loud, contagious laugh, making herself the butt of her own jokes, and eyes with so much sparkle they would light up a dark room, it was impossible to not instantly be enamored of her. She kindly offered us bottles of water from an iced cooler, pulled out a thick scrapbook full of pictures and signatures and launched into the story of how the business came to be, the history of the town, and how the writers and producers of the hit movie Cars came into town and used several things they found as inspiration for various scenes and characters. The mural on the building across the street was recreated as a mural in Radiator Springs and the tow truck was the basis for Tow Mater. Because Disney is very protective of it's copyrighted material, Melba explained how they can't refer to their truck as Tow Mater so instead call it Tow Tater.

The "Closed for repairs" Snack Shop.
Listening to Melba was so interesting we pretty much forgot how hot it was. Before leaving, she let us use the restroom with its walls covered in Route 66 maps and told us to take as many pictures as we would like. I wanted to help support the business so we looked at all of the stuff she had for sale, but found it to be a bit too expensive and there wasn't anything that really struck our fancy as something we couldn't live without. I dropped a $10 bill in the candy jar she had set up for tips on her counter and considered it to be well worth it.

Melba telling her stories and an enraptured
Youngest-daughter listening.
After taking pictures, we were heading to our truck when 2 cars full of people pulled up. As we opened the truck's doors to get in, we heard Melba saying to the newcomers, "Hi! Welcome to the home of Tow Tater! Come on in and let me tell you a story..." I hope they bought a lot of stuff or at least left a hefty tip in her candy jar. Melba needs to turn on that air conditioner!

4 Women on the Route w/ Tow Tater.
Youngest-daughter sitting in the real
Tow Mater.

Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
Or go to the first entry of each state:


Route 66 and Bonnie & Clyde

Leaving Carthage and Kilroy, it’s only 17 miles to Joplin, but there are numerous turns and numerous streets to carefully follow. None of them are named “Route 66” of course, which makes things a little difficult, but the route is fairly well marked with signs. It is a surprisingly nice drive through residential areas with a number of old Route 66 buildings that have been maintained or refurbished and are now used for other purposes, mostly as restaurants.

Zinc was discovered in the area after the Civil War and today, Joplin sits on top of countless abandoned mining tunnels.  After Route 66 came through the town, it had to be rerouted several times due to cave-ins along the road. Most of the tunnels are now filled with water in an attempt to stop the numerous cave-ins that occurred all over the area in the past, but you might still want to walk lightly and don’t let the kids jump up and down in town!
Although the town is rich in history, other than the landmark Dale’s Old Route 66 Barber Shop on the corner of Utica St. and Euclid Ave, there’s not a lot of Route 66 reasons to stop and sightsee in Joplin. But there is an interesting side trip to be taken.
The apartment rented by Bonnie and Clyde.
1933 picture taken after the shootout.
On April 1, 1933, Bonnie and Clyde Barrow, Buck and Blanche Barrow along with William Daniel Jones rented a garage apartment at 3347 ½ Oak Ridge Drive in Joplin. Their stay ended less than 2 weeks later on April 13th  when Clyde noticed two police cars pull up in front of the house. A shootout ensued and just a few seconds after the first shots were fired, Blanche, terrified and losing her wits, ran out the front door while screaming.

Having killed one policeman and mortally wounding another, Bonnie, Clyde, Buck, and W.D. Jones made it to the garage, got into their car, and sped away. They picked up Blanche, still running, around the corner.

1933 crime scene the day the Barrow
gang escaped.
The police did not capture Bonnie and Clyde that day, but they found a treasure trove of information they had left in the apartment. Most notably, they found rolls of undeveloped film, which, once developed, revealed the now-famous images of Bonnie and Clyde in various poses. Also in the apartment was Bonnie's poem, "The Story of Suicide Sal."

Picture developed from the film left behind in
the house when Bonnie and Clyde escaped.
Today, the apartment has been refurbished and decorated in the 1930’s style like it was during Bonnie and Clyde’s stay and can be rented for $300 per weekend.

Bonnie and Clyde's garage apartment in Joplin
as of May, 2012.
Bye-bye Missouri.
From Joplin, it is only about 5 miles to the Kansas state line.  Two more miles beyond the Kansas line is sleepy little Galena where we encountered Melba Rigg, the most interesting and engaging character we met during the whole trip and a Route 66 site famous to millions of people.

Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
Or go to the first entry of each state:

Route 66 - Carthage, Belle Starr and Kilroy

Putting Springfield behind us, we followed Route 66 through southwest Missouri for 59 miles through several ghost towns like Log City and Stone City where nothing but a few ruins remain and small towns with interesting names like Halltown (lots of antique shops), Albatross, Rescue, and Plew. This was a wonderful little drive with interesting things to see and not any traffic to speak of. From this section going west is where old abandoned businesses and other Route 66 attractions begin to grow in number. For me, this is where our road trip really began to be interesting.

Bridge on Old 66 Blvd outside Carthage.
On the east side of Carthage coming in on “Old 66 Blvd,” we crossed over a nice little bridge which was built in 1922, but is apparently slated for demolition or at least to be taken out of service. We saw a sign indicating it would be closing in May, 2012. We crossed it in late May, 2012 so it looks like we were among the last ones to drive on it.

A couple of miles outside of Carthage is the historic 66 Drive-In, one of the very few remaining drive-in theaters still in operation on Route 66. Opening night was September 22, 1949 and it was the site of nightly entertainment until it closed in 1985. For a few years it was used as a salvage yard and it fell into serious disrepair, but Mark and Dixie Goodman purchased it and through their hard work and dedication, the place has been completely renovated. It re-opened in 1998 and now shows two first-run movies every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is very much a family run business as Mark runs the projector and Dixie and their 2 children run the snack bar.

Crossing the Spring River, we entered the town of Carthage, “Gateway to the Ozarks” and the birth place in 1848 of Myra Mabelle Shirley. Myra’s father was Judge John Shirley who also operated a hotel-tavern in Carthage as well as a blacksmith and livery stable business. Her mother was the former Eliza Hatfield, from the feuding mountain clan that fought it out with the McCoy's.
Bushwhackers and other outlaws used the judge's tavern as a hideout during the pre-Civil War days and horse thieves used the livery stable as a trading station. Judge Shirley was in politics to establish himself as a "Southern Gentleman" but the outlaws who hung around his establishments, although they made him wealthy, didn’t help him achieve his ambitions.

I had told Youngest-daughter so much about
drive-ins when I was her age that she insisted
I get my picture taken here.
The judge wanted to bring Myra up as a lady and sent her to the Elete Female Academy of Carthage. They tried to teach her the finer things of life, especially to play the piano, but their teachings didn’t take. Her interests were with guns and horses rather than finery and education.  She learned to shoot pistols and the rough crowd around the stable taught her to ride like an old cowhand and cuss like the men. While still in her teens, she took on William Quantrill as her lover; the same William Quantrill who was later known as “Bloody Bill”.

During the Civil War, Myra became a spy for the Confederacy and rode with Quantrill and his Raiders. She took part in several battles in and around Carthage and had killed at least 4 Yankee soldiers by the time she was 18. One of the men in that group was Cole Younger, a cousin to Frank and Jesse James. Myra fell madly in love with him, but after the war, Cole rode off and left her with a broken heart.

Myra moved to Scyene,Texas outside of Dallas and soon took up with horse thieves, murderers and other bad men. In spite of the crowd she kept, she always had a strong sense of style. A crack shot, she would ride sidesaddle while dressed in a black velvet riding habit and a plumed hat, carrying two pistols with cartridge belts across her hips. Eventually she married Jim Reed, who had a price on his head for murder. By all accounts, the couple were happy and they had 2 children, a son named Eddie and a daughter named Rosie (who in later years, going by the name Pearl Starr, became famous herself as a prostitute and madam of several high-class bordellos in Van Buren and Fort Smith, Arkansas.) In 1875, Jim was shot to death by a bounty hunter, John Morris, who hoped to collect the reward of $5,000 for Reed, dead or alive. Myra was called to identify her husband and said, "I ain't never seen this man before in my life and you killed the wrong man, John Morris, you sneaking murderer." Morris never did collect his reward.

Sam and Belle Starr
After at least one more marriage and numerous outlaw lovers, Myra married Sam Starr, an Indian 10 years younger than her and a known horse thief. Myra took Sam’s last name and, using her middle name, gained notoriety and went down in history as Belle Starr. After Sam was killed in a fight at a country dance, Belle traveled around the country, leaving places and lovers behind, usually just one step ahead of the law. She eventually ended up marrying Jim July, a man 15 years younger than she and a relative of Sam Starr. They lived in an old ranch house in Indian Territory.
One evening after Belle got into an argument with a neighbor whom she felt had cheated her from the sale of some stolen horses, she stormed out of her house, jumped on her favorite pony and rode away. As she rounded a bend not far down the road, the blast of a shotgun knocked her from the saddle. She was dead before she hit the ground with a load of buckshot in her back. The killer wanted to be sure and came from hiding to fire another charge into her upper chest and face. Belle's daughter heard the shots, rushed down the road and found the body of her mother. It was February 3, 1889 and Myra Maybelle Shirley Reed Starr, who crammed a whole lot of living into her years, was dead 2 days before her 41st birthday.

No tears were shed over Belle's death but everybody wondered who had killed her. Everyone was suspected, but nobody was proven to be the killer and her death remains a mystery to this day. Belle Starr, “The Bandit Queen,” was an enigma, supposedly a wild, wicked woman, but her only crime conviction was for the theft of a single horse in 1882. Perhaps she was just misunderstood - and had an absolutely terrible taste in men.
Downtown Carthage is worth a visit. Historically, there were two large battles fought in the town during the Civil War and minor skirmishes were a common occurrence. During the 1863 battle, the courthouse and most of the town were burned to the ground. After the war, the town became prosperous due to the lead mines and limestone quarries in the area. It became so prosperous that at one time, Carthage was home to more millionaires than any other city in America. The courthouse was rebuilt in the late 1800’s with locally mined stone and is now considered one of the prettiest in all of America. Now home to about 14,400 folks, at least one of them certainly has a sense of humor. If you visit the downtown square, look closely at the grass around the courthouse and you may find a turnip or two. A few years back when the lawn was replaced, someone slipped turnip seed into the grass mixture. After careful watering and tending, officials found they didn’t have much of a lawn, but they did have a bumper crop of turnips!

Kilroy was here!
As we were leaving Carthage, we came across something I haven't seen in a long time. Kilroy was here!
There was one person who led every combat, training or occupation operation during WWII and the Korean War. GI's began to consider him the "super GI." He was one who always got there first and was always there when they left - Kilroy.

James J. Kilroy, a shipyard inspector during WWII, chalked the words “Kilroy was here” on bulkheads and in remote recesses and corners to show that he had been there and inspected the riveting in the newly constructed ships. To the sailors and troops in those ships, however, it was a complete mystery — all they knew for sure was that "Kilroy" had been there first. As a joke, they began placing the graffiti wherever they landed or went, claiming it was already there when they arrived.
It became a challenge to place the logo in the most unlikely places. It is said to be atop Mt. Everest, the Statue of Liberty, the underside of the Arch de Triumphe. In 1945, an outhouse was built for the exclusive use of Truman, Stalin, and Churchill who were in Germany for the Potsdam conference. The first person to use it was Stalin. He emerged and asked his aide (in Russian), "Who is Kilroy?"

UDT (Under Water Demolition - later Navy Seals) divers swam ashore on Japanese held islands in the Pacific to prepare the beaches for the coming landings by US troops. On more than one occasion, they reported seeing "Kilroy was here" scrawled on makeshift signs or on enemy pillboxes. They, in turn, often left similar signs for the next incoming GIs who would be astounded after fighting through hell and somehow surviving only to find that Kilroy had already been there.

Kilroy, may you never be forgotten.
The tradition continued through the Korean War and in Vietnam. Persistent rumor has it that one of the astronauts scribbled the logo in the dust on the moon. Sadly, the tradition and the logo is rarely seen today. Kilroy is no longer everywhere. Evidently he finally retired – in Carthage, Missouri.
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Route 66 - Springfield, Missouri

Springfield, Missouri, Queen City of the Ozarks, has a fascinating history. Even the origin of the name is interesting. According to local lore, a man named James Wilson lived in the then unnamed community. When it came time to name the town, he wanted it named after his home town of Springfield, Massachusetts. To encourage the local citizens, he offered free whiskey to anyone who would vote for "Springfield." The name was handily adopted.

On August 10, 1861, during the Civil War, the Battle of Wilson's Creek was fought just outside the southern city limits. Over 2,500 Union and Confederate soldiers lost their lives in just 5 hours of intense fighting. The site is now designated as a National Battlefield, one of only two national parks in the state of Missouri. Some claim that during the dark of night, if you listen close enough, you can hear the screams of the fighting soldiers and the moans of the wounded and dying. Others say its just the wind in the trees.

Today, you can bypass downtown Springfield by leaving Route 66 and getting onto US-160 and then connecting with MO-266, but you would miss a number of Route 66 sites as well as the downtown Central Square, the site of a famous shootout involving "Wild Bill" Hickok. I would encourage you to go ahead and follow Route 66 through the city. Don't worry about a lot of traffic or bad areas. Even though it is the 3rd largest city in Missouri, it is a far cry from the negative aspects of Chicago or St. Louis.

Just a couple of blocks from the Central Square is the Gillioz Theatre, 325 Park Central East (N37 12 32.4 W093 17 24.7). It first opened on October 12, 1926, just 1 day after Route 66 was named. For many years it was the premier entertainment and "place to be seen" spot in Springfield. Until it closed in 1979, many well-known celebrities performed and watched plays there, including Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan, and Elvis Presley. Sitting empty and unused for 12 years, it was purchased in 1991 by the Springfield Landmarks Preservation Trust. The Trust took 15 years to fully restore the building and it was finally re-opened on October 12, 2006; 80 years to the day since it first opened its doors. It is now open to the public and hosts everything from weddings to film festivals.

Cool mural on a building across the street
from the Gillioz Theatre
We made our way to Central Square and found a free parking lot just 1 short block away.  I glanced at the outside temp gauge in the truck before we got out and saw it indicated 98 degrees. The sun was fierce and there were no clouds or even a breath of a breeze to offer any relief. It was late May, but it felt more like July or August. As we arrived at the square itself, we found no trees or structures to offer shelter from the sun's rays and after a few minutes of walking around, we gravitated to the large water fountain where there were a handful of other folks braving the heat. We all stood around or sat on benches near enough to the fountain to get a cooling spray of mist from the gushing water spouts. I looked around and tried to imagine the gunfight that had taken place right here back on July 25, 1865.
Springfield's Central Square
Wild Bill Hickok and David Tutt both were making their living as gamblers and had, at one time, been good friends in spite of the fact that Hickok had been a scout for the Union army and Tutt had fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Eventually though, the two men's friendship ended over women. According to reports, Wild Bill had a fling with Tutt's sister which ended up with her having his illegitimate child and Tutt was seen paying an ungentlemanly amount of attention to Hickok's fiancee, Susanna Moore. Wild Bill started refusing to play card games in which Tutt was playing. Tutt retaliated by openly loaning money and giving advice to other players in their games against Hickok.

Welcome cooling mist from the water fountain
in Central Square.
The conflict came to a head one day during a game of high-stakes poker as Bill was playing against a couple of other local gamblers. Tutt entered the room and once again began coaching the locals on how to beat Hickok and loaning money as necessary. Bill got on a winning streak and had won over $200 of what essentially was Tutt's money. Irritated, Tutt loudly reminded Bill of a $40 debt from a past horse trade. Hickok simply shrugged his shoulders and paid the $40 from his winnings. This made him even madder as he felt Bill was paying his debt to Tutt with Tutt's own money. He then claimed Bill owed him $35 from a past poker game. Bill refused to pay, saying the amount was only $25 and that he had a note in his pocket which proved it.

By now, a rather large group of Tutt's friends had gathered around and being encouraged by their presence and several shots of whiskey, he grabbed one of Bill's most prized possessions off the table, his gold pocket watch. Bill was livid, but being outgunned, he could only quietly demand the return of his watch. Tutt's reply was a mocking "wicked grin."

For several days, the men stayed away from each other, but threats, taunts, and demands were passed back and forth through others. Then came word that Tutt planned to stroll across the middle of the town square wearing Bill's watch. Hickok replied, "The only way he'll walk across that square wearing my watch is if a dead man can walk."

There was now no way out for either man. If Tutt didn't walk across the town square, he would be branded a coward and if Bill allowed him to, he would be branded a coward. The next day, at exactly 10:00 AM, David Tutt came to the square with Bill's watch hanging from his pocket in full view of everyone. When Bill was informed of this, he promptly went to the square himself and confronted Tutt. Angry words were exchanged, but a mutual friend was able to calm things down. However, Tutt then demanded Bill pay him $45 to get his watch back. Bill said he would pay the $25 he owed, but not a cent more. Both men declared they didn't want to fight and decided to go get a drink together and hash out their differences.

After a few drinks, neither man would budge from his stance and Tutt left, going back to the town square. Several hours later, he was still loitering there when Bill, with his Colt Navy pistol in his hand. approached to about 75 yards away and said, "Dave, here I am. Don't you dare cross this square with that watch." Tutt simply turned to face him and put his hand on his holstered gun.

Bill cocked the hammer on his gun and lowered it into his holster. There were a few seconds of total silence and then Tutt went for his pistol. Bill drew his and both men fired so close to the same time that a number of witnesses reported hearing only one shot. Tutt was acknowledged by most to be a better marksman, but Bill was calmer and his aim was true. Tutt's bullet whizzed close by Bill's head, but was a clean miss. Bill's bullet tore into Tutt, passing between the fifth and sixth ribs. Tutt staggered, but didn't fall. He stumbled several feet onto the porch of the courthouse, called out, "Boys, I'm killed" and fell back into the street where he died.

Bill was arrested and charged with murder. He spent several days in jail, but the charge was reduced to manslaughter and he was allowed to post a $2,000 bond. At his trial, 22 witnesses told their version of what exactly happened on the square that day. Hickok claimed self-defense, but there were conflicting stories as to exactly who pulled their gun first. The majority of the witnesses said it was Tutt, but several of Tutt's friends claimed it was Bill. Eventually, the jury decided Wild Bill was justified in shooting because Tutt was seen to have started it by taking Bill's watch and he had been humiliated and provoked by Tutt's actions.

Several weeks later, Colonel George Nichols, a writer for Harper's, heard of the gunfight and began interviewing Hickok. His writings would eventually turn the then unknown gun fighter into one of the great legends of the old West. During those interviews, it was noted that Wild Bill sported a gold pocket watch hanging from his vest.

Leaving Springfield on Route 66, we passed  this
cool mural on the side of a car parts business.
I sat there for a few minutes, my imagination feeling the tension, seeing the gunfight, hearing the gun shots, picturing the blood. The heat soon proved to be too much so Youngest-daughter and I walked beside each other across the Springfield town square, the same square that Wild Bill defended and where David Tutt's life ended. Unlike David, nobody challenged us and we made it safely across and back to the truck.

We wiped the sweat out of our eyes, opened bottles of water, turned the A/C on high and pulled out of our free parking spot. Youngest-daughter gave directions as I drove until we got back onto MO-266 (Historic US-66). "Just stay on this road for a while," she said. "Next stop, Carthage."

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