By Rhonda Chalfant Contributing Columnist
February 18, 2014
On Dec. 23, 1919, Sedalians voted on bond issues that would enable the city to build a much needed hospital for African-Americans and a new city hall to replace the dilapidated building at Second Street and Osage Avenue. The issue, which did not call for a tax increase, passed by a large margin. The city council began to look for a site for the new city hall and to solicit bids for the sale of bonds.
After much discussion of the site and a second call for an institution to handle the sale of bonds, the council decided to tear down the existing city hall and rebuild on that site. The Jan. 19 edition of the Sedalia Democrat announced the council would advertise for contractors for the demolition, with proposals to be submitted by Jan. 21 and work to begin on March 1.
While the prospect of a new city hall interested Democrat reporters, other matters, both bad and good, also occupied the press. If the Democrat’s front page reports are accurate, Sedalia was in the midst of a crime wave.
One of the crimes involved a fight between brothers Joe and Will Fisher. According to testimony at the preliminary hearing, Joe visited Will’s home where he was not welcome. When Will politely asked Joe to leave, he did. However, he returned later and started a fight that included the use of a skillet and several lamps as weapons. Joe also used a knife to cut his brother’s face.
Judge John Collins acted as an ex-officio Justice of the Peace. In court, Will’s head appeared as “a veritable snowball of bandages,” and Joe’s hands, chest and back were bandaged. Collins ordered Joe bound over to the April term of the Circuit Court.
An auto theft case continued in the Circuit Court. Two men — Charles Edwards and Fred Harvey — had been arrested in Sedalia driving a car belonging to C. H. Badger, of Kansas City. Edwards and Harvey admitted they had Badger’s car, but claimed they had witnesses who would testify they had permission to drive the car. The court granted a continuance so the defense could locate the witness.
Another part of the crime news involved an incident that was all too common in Pettis County — an attempted jail break. In September, someone robbed the Golliday Mercantile Company at Otterville. Henry Slim Hopkins was suspected. He had been in Oklahoma since shortly after the robbery and had returned to Sedalia the first week of January. Sedalia authorities arrested him and placed him in jail until Cooper County Sheriff Tucker could take him to the county jail in Boonville.
Hopkins proved to be a less than cooperative prisoner. On Jan. 4, officers searched Hopkins and discovered he had three saws in his possession. They confiscated the saws. The next night, Officer Greer heard a rumor that Hopkins had another saw. Greer and Night Chief Hayes brought Hopkins to headquarters where they searched him but found nothing.
After Greer and Hayes searched Hopkins, they turned him over to Officer Moffit while they went to search the jail. There they found a broken window and a partially cut bar in his cell. Officers were unable to tell whether the bar had been cut from the inside or the outside; they were also unable to tell whether Hopkins had an accomplice.
The bad news was offset by some positive stories. The Sedalia Chamber of Commerce was planning an automobile and tractor show that would involve not only Sedalia’s 14 tractor, car, and accessory dealers but also most of the business community. Discussion at its Jan. 5 meeting centered on whether the 14 dealers would be able to host what they considered “a big and expensive undertaking.”
The dealers heard that such shows had been successful in other towns. Noting the impact of the tractor, automobile, and accessory industries, the Democrat predicted a show would “rebound substantially to the welfare of this city by attracting a large out-of-town attendance.”
Another positive story involved the announcement of a new Red Cross County Nurse. Next week’s column will detail her work; future columns will continue the saga of the city hall that wasn’t built and the black hospital that eventually was constructed.