Sunday, November 13, 2016

Denver, Arkansas

Found this on the Net about Denver, Arkansas.  I recall it was first call New Salem.  Sister Helen found the photo on Facebook on a Darby page.

An early mill had been constructed by Malachi Reeves near Denver by 1836. The Denver Post Office was established on August 11, 1884, with Willis F. Miles as the first postmaster. In the 1880's, the Denver Post Office closed for several months and mail was handled by the nearby town of Little Star. Then in 1919, it closed again for several months, with the mail service being handled in Green Forest. The Denver Post Office would close permanently sometime in the 1960's.
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F) Lodge #542 in Denver was instituted on April 4, 1908. The charter was picked up on August 23, 1927.
Early settlers of the Denver community included the historic Gaddy Family of Carroll County.
Also found this you tube video of Denver, Arkansas.  Modern day!
Rolling Hills Of Denver, AR

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Charles Merk

When Charles Arnold Merk was born on November 1, 1910, in Howell County, Missouri, his father, Arnold, was 29 and his mother, Mary, was 19. He had one brother. He died as a teenager on April 13, 1928, in West Plains, Missouri, and was buried there.

Charles Arnold Merk, his mother, and brother, Uncle Harold

One of my books from the Library this week was "Traces of the Ozarks Past" by Rex Jackson.  It includes a chapter about the West Plains Bond Dance Hall explosion that killed Charles and many others.  I looked on the net and found a book has also been written about the disaster.  I also read that the cause was likely a truck filled with dynamite was was housed in the Wiser Motor Company below the dance site.  I typed in the story from the little book.  Since, I used my new laptop without Word, I probably have several typos but will share the story here.   Uncle Harold was the age of Daddy so he was old enough to recall all of these events.  This probably shaped his life as well as the remainder of the life of his mother.

A jubilant group of souls unaware of a shocking unforgiving catastrophe about to undoubtedly enjoying themselves on a spring night in the Ozarks.  The orchestra music carried them gracefully around the dance hall floor and swept them to realm of joy and contentment--but the grim reaper had other plans for them.  A tremendous explosion would send 37 people into eternity, leaving friends, loved ones, family members, and a grief-stricken community in awe of the devastation and loss.

On April 13, 1928, the peaceful town of West Plains, Missouri, was rocked by disaster at 11:05 P.M.  About 60 people were attending a dance at Bond Dance Hall (old Shine Hall), along with musicians, when a powerful explosion occurred.  The dance hall was located on the second floor of a building on East Main Street, but the blast originated on the first floor which was occupied by the West Motor Company.  The explosion was heard 26 miles away in Mountain View as well as other places.

The Howell County Gazette headlines read: "37 Dead, 22 Hurt in Fatal Explosion", while the West Plains Weekly Quill cried:  "37 Killed in Mysterious Blast; 22 Injured".

There were a couple of explosions: the first was said to have been a light one, but the second one sounded like a bomb had been detonated which left the whole block in flames; the ground trembled and the dance-goers were engulfed in a life-taking fire and debris.  It was reported that the dance floor roes up from the force of the explosion "like the deck of a ship in a storm."

The sounds of the trapped victims in piteous agony could be heard in the flaming rubble of what remained of Bond Dance Hall and Wiser Garage.  Citizens that first responded to the scene witnessed injured and bleeding souls crawling out of the fire-trap--they did their best to help rescue them.  Eventually, the fire department arrived and dept a constant stream of water "on the smoking remains of the dance hall".  

The catastrophe devastated and damaged several other buildings including the West Plains Bank and Howell County Courthouse, as well as blowing out windows two blocks away.  When the fire was finally under control, the gruesome task of recovering bodies began.  By this time the scene was further saddened by the arrival of family and friends of the lost with their tears and screams as familiar and unfamiliar bodies were displayed one after the other.  Many of the fire victims were  burned beyond recognition and would never be identified.  The first victim to be recovered from the ruins was Paul Evans, Jr. and soon after, Mrs. Robert G. Martin's body was found.  The injured survivors were quickly transported to Christa Hogan Hospital.

Speculation as to the cause of the explosion and consuming fire may have gone to the grave with J. W. "Babe" Wiser, owner of the Wiser Motor Company who was also a victim of the tragedy.  No one could ascertain as to whether or not it was an accident or deliberate.  The coroner's verdict of April 23, 1928, concluded "fire and explosion is unknown to the jury".  Though there were other theories, the most common was that the explosion was caused by gasoline in the garage below.

Reporters and photographers came from far and near to cover the event.  In time, however, thousands of people turned out to view "ground zero" and watch workers mining through the mangled mess for any other bodies or clues yet to be recovered or discovered.

Twenty of the unidentified victims of the Bond Dance Hall tragedy were laid to rest in silver-gray caskets and buried together in two rows in unmarked graves at Oak Lawn Cemetery in West Plains--a few blocks east and south of the downtown square.  Thousands attended the funeral with bowed heads and broken hearts.  "It was the most pathetic scene ever witnessed in West Plains."

A large granite "Rock of Ages" monument with the names of the twenty were finally erected on the site October 6, 1929.  The names are as follows:  Miss Mary Adair, Miss Frances Drago, Mrs. Wallace Rogers, Robert Murphy, Mrs. Robert Murphy, Miss Ruth Fisher, Marvin Hill, Evelyn Conkin, Esco Riley, Mrs. Esco Riley, Miss Icey Risner,  Boyd Garner, Carson McClelland, Chester Holstein, Miss Beatrice Barker, Miss Juanita Laws, Miss Ruby Hodkinson, Newt Riley, James Loving and Hugh Sims.

The names of the identified are:  R. G. Martin, Mrs. R. G. Martin, Kitty McFarland, Mrs. Carl Mullins, Paul Evens Jr., Chas. Fisher, Major Bob Mullins, J. W. Wiser, John Bates, Charles Merk, Julian C. Jeffery, Carl Jackson, Miss Dimple Martin, Lev Reed, Hael Slusser, Ben Jolley, and Clinton Clemmons.

Some of the prominent figures in the community, such as Mrs. Sula Gaines Martin who was the daughter of Confederate Colonel R. G. Maxey.   Mrs. Martin was also the leader of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Order of the Eastern Star, Daughters of the Confederacy, Woman's Business Club and vice chairman of the Democratic committee of Howell County, MO.  Mr. and Mrs. Martin were buried at the Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis, Tennessee; their beautiful daughter, Miss Dimple Martin, who played the piano in the orchestra that fateful night was also buried at Elmwood Cemetery.  Young Dimple had, a couple of years earlier, won a movie tryout at the Newman Theater in Kansas City, Mo., in a beauty contest.  She had also participated in a number of local talent shows and programs.  The song being played at the time of the blast was--ironically, At Sundown.

At Sundown by Artie Shaw

One man that survived the burning of one of the buildings on the block, the Adams Building, was Frank K. Poole, who was a Union Civil War veteran.  Apparently he must have had nine lives since he lived through the bloody War and had escaped the horrible fire, as well.

The number of people affected by this disaster was many, and it took years for things to return to some sort of normalcy.   The town, at times, was called the "City of the Dead."  Today, the horror of the eventful night still lingers in the conscience of the West Plains community.  Even though the beautiful music and lively dance floor changed in that terrible moment, sweet memories of those lost souls who danced into eternity are ever present.

Rex T. Jackson, Dancing into Eternity: Disaster At the Bond Dance Hall, The Ozarks Reader Magazine, Vol 7, No 2, 2010.