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Addendum to the Walking Stick Story


More on the Gold-Headed Walking Stick

 – submitted by Stew Gillmor –


Head of walking stick

When I last wrote [original article here], I knew that P.E. Dwyer, Kansas City Times news reporter, had been “thrashed” in a conflict in Kansas City Hall on February 4th, 1896. And, I own Dwyer’s gold-headed walking stick, given to him in 1890. It seemed the 1896 issue concerned a news article charging the Kansas City mayor with hiring his father for a feather-bedded job as watchman at a city lumber pile, and charging the city street department with paying inspectors for doing nothing. With the great assistance of the Kansas City Public Library archival staff, I received a lengthy (75 column inches) newspaper article going into great detail. As a retired university professor, I owe a long and deep debt to librarians in many centers here and abroad for their courtesy and expertise. It is too easy to forget that librarians and archivists often know just where to find the correct vein in mining the historical sources, and they have been unfailingly courteous and helpful to me.

This was, after all, a story of political corruption in Kansas City. The morning Kansas City Times lead article February 4th, 1896 begins “AND THIS IS REFORM- CITY STREET DEPARTMENT PAY ROLLS NEED INVESTIGATION-MONEY SIMPLY THROWN AWAY.” In the 1880s and 1890s, Kansas City, Missouri began a street car system but most streets were dirt with rough wooden sidewalks in the downtown area. The Board of Public Works included the engineering, street and sidewalk departments (with plenty of opportunity for corruption). The current Republican regime had overturned the Democrats on a platform of Reform. The Kansas City Times morning newspaper suspected continued corruption and assigned one of its “bright young men” (I assume a “cub” reporter) to follow a city street inspector for four days, noting by the minute every movement of this inspector. In this project they had determined that Superintendent of Streets Tom Dodds, in order to curry favor with the Mayor, had fired another inspector, and hired Joe Reid in his place. Reid owned a grocery store in the area, and was paid $75 a month plus $15 a month for using a horse for transport on the job. Reid was an important figure in the A.P.A. (basically an anti-Catholic nativist organization) which directed its members how to vote.

Secretly tracking the movements of the Street Inspector.

The young news reporter noted when Reid left his house, moved in and out of grocery stores and clothing stores and carried packages up to the street department offices in city hall. Reid frequently visited the city yard at 24th street, with its small pile of second-grade lumber used for repairing sidewalks. In the yard, hidden away behind high walls, was a 10’ by 16’ shack with its windows covered over and containing a wood stove and beer, liquor and several street employees and inspectors. One of the men relaxing in the shack daily was the mayor’s father, the official city watchman for the site. Laughter and noise emitted from the shack was interrupted occasionally when one of the men would take a shiny tin bucket to Scanlon’s Saloon, one block away. The man would return with the bucket filled with the “Nectar of Gambrinus”. (This was a common name for German Lager Beer in Victorian times.) After passing some time, Reid would return to City Hall, entering by a small rear door to the “Health” department and going to the 3rd floor headquarters of the Street Department officers. All along his routes Reid would stop and talk for an hour with various persons and then amble along to another liquor, clothing or grocery store. No horse was observed with Reid during his travels, and his visits to examine the condition of streets and bridges amounted to nothing. On a cold morning the group in the little shack ordered no beer, but consumed liquor and kept the little stove blazing.

What about the horse?

When questioned by a Times reporter, Reid admitted he had no horse nor did he ride one. Nor did any of the street inspectors have horses, though each drew his $15 per month horse allowance. His excuse was that one couldn’t keep a horse for less than $30 a month.

What about the mayor’s father and the group of Street Inspectors?

The fight in City Hall, where P.E. Dwyer (the senior author of the newspaper article), and the City Editor versus the crowd of City Clerks, seems to have arisen over anger that the Mayor’s FATHER was drawing a salary as watchman for doing nothing. Anger against the crew of city street inspectors who did nothing and as well drew funds for non-existent horses seems not to have angered City Hall.

What about P.E. Dwyer?

I know nothing more now than that in 1896 he was a senior reporter on the Kansas City Times staff.