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Fifty things every Kansas Citian should know

Think you’re an expert? Read on to see if you learn something new.

By SUZANNE P. COLE, TIM ENGLE and ERIC WINKLER

Baseball’s All-Star Game will be played in Kansas City in July, and it’s a big darn deal. The city has been spiffing up, and really, so should we all.

You have some time to wash your car and get your hair cut, but that’s not all that should be filling your to-do list: You really need to bone up on essential Kansas City information. A whole lot of out-of-towners are headed this way, and you don’t want to seem clueless, do you?

We’re here to the rescue with what we’re calling “Fifty Things Every Kansas Citian Should Know” (listed in no particular order). Even at 50, we know we left a bunch of stuff out. But it’s a start.

We hope you give it a read. After that, you are free to buy yourself a new outfit before our guests arrive. Something in Royals blue would be nice.

1) The most-visited piece at the world-class Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art? You might suppose it’d be a famous painting. But the Nelson’s staffers say it’s probably the ancient Egyptian known as Meretites — or to be precise, the elaborate funerary assemblage from the 2,300-year-old noblewoman’s tomb. (Say it “me-ret-IT-es.”)

2) The Kansas City Chiefs won Super Bowl IV on Jan. 11, 1970, beating the Minnesota Vikings 23-7 at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans in front of more than 80,000 fans.

3) The famous song “Kansas City” promises some women, some wine and definitely a good time at the corner of 12th Street and Vine. But don’t take it too literally; there is no such place. Not anymore. But do pose for photos under the commemorative sign that marks the historic intersection at the renovated park that has been there since 2005. The crazy little women? Good luck! (You can, however, find a jazz museum, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and more at 18th and Vine.)

4) It doesn’t really matter whether you say “Plaaaza” or “Plahza.” What matters is knowing that the elegant shopping district, the brainchild of developer J.C. Nichols, is a Kansas City original (though it’s modeled after Seville, Spain), considered the first suburban shopping center.

When it opened in 1922, the area around Brush Creek was considered, as we say these days, “out south.” We now know the 15-block Plaza as a mix of stores, restaurants and apartments. Plus lovely courtyards, fountains and other public art such as a sculpture of Mr. and Mrs. Winston Churchill.

By the way, you can hardly call yourself a Kansas Citian if you don’t know what happens every Thanksgiving evening on the Plaza. That’s when the switch is flipped on the Plaza Lights, one of the city’s most enduring holiday traditions. Throw in some softly falling snow and you’ll feel like you’re in a dream.

5) Ask any minor with a big coming-up birthday: Kansas and Missouri have very different liquor laws. For one, Kansas grocery and convenience stores are not allowed to sell full-strength beer, wine and liquor; you’ll need to go to a real liquor store if you want more than “near beer” in Kansas.

Missouri? Shop till you drop. Its grocery stores have some of the most complete wine and liquor selections around.

6) The most iconic piece of public art in Kansas City might well be “The Scout,” a Sioux on horseback that has looked out over downtown since 1922. (“The Scout’s” home, Penn Valley Park, happens to be in the midst of a $7 million beautification.)

A 2008 Star Magazine cover story, “If Statues Could Talk,” asked readers what the Indian or its steed might say if given the chance. Our favorite was this line, spoken by the horse: “Tonto, I don’t believe we’re in Kansas anymore.”

7) Kansas City is not one of the 10 largest metropolitan areas in the country (not even close — 27th), but it does boast one of the nation’s largest urban parks. That’d be Swope Park, which at 1,805 acres is more than twice the size of New York City’s 843-acre Central Park.

True, Kansas City is also not Manhattan. But it’s easy to forget just how many attractions can be found inside Swope: the Kansas City Zoo, Starlight Theatre, Lakeside Nature Center, Kansas City Community Gardens, Southeast Community Center … not to mention (OK, we will) park amenities like golf and disc golf courses, a pool, ball diamonds, soccer fields and various trails. Get out and explore.

8) Burnt ends — barbecue gold — are cut from the pointed end of a brisket and then barbecued to their charry best. (Or cut after cooking. Chef’s choice.) Fattier than the rest of the cut, they are commonly found inside sandwiches, baked beans and grill masters named Bubba.

9) Spaceships? Hair curlers? World-class art? No matter your position, the “Sky Stations” atop the Bartle Hall pylons downtown have sparked conversation since their 1994 installation by artist R.M. Fischer as part of the city’s public art program. The aluminum and steel artworks were funded by the expansion of the convention center and are meant to recall the art deco works inside Municipal Auditorium.

10) Kansas City is the City of … yes, Fountains. Glad you got that one. And every April, the fountains get turned on, on Fountain Day. (It was April 10 this year.)

11) Do you know the difference between North Kansas City and Kansas City, North? North Kansas City (“Northtown”) is the small city just north of the Heart of America Bridge; I-35 runs through it, too. Northtown’s main arteries are Burlington Street and Armour Road.

Kansas City, North, is any part of Kansas City, Mo., that lies north of the Missouri River (in both Clay and Platte counties).

“The Northland” is everything north of the river, including all of the above as well as other communities such as Parkville, Gladstone and Liberty. Technically, we suppose, Des Moines is the Northland, too.

P.S. When you hear a commercial announcer shouting about “on Barry Road in North Kansas City!” — he’s wrong. Barry Road is several miles north of North Kansas City.

12) Speaking of North Kansas City, many of its north-south streets are in alphabetical order, moving west to east: Atlantic, then Burlington (or Buchanan), Clay, Swift (?), Erie, Fayette, Gentry, Howell … you get the idea. “Dwift,” anyone?

13) In both Kansas and Missouri, if your windshield wipers are on, your headlights must be, too. “It’s the law!” as the frequent interstate signs will remind you (and state troopers, too).

14) Given that Walt Disney grew up partly in Kansas City (and found inspiration in a local mouse), you’d think Disneyland would have opened here. No. But in 1973, KC finally got its own theme park, Worlds of Fun. The theme was borrowed from the Jules Verne book “Around the World in 80 Days” — hence WoF neighborhoods Americana, Europa, Scandinavia, Africa and the Orient.

Attractions that spanned sections even changed names accordingly: The no-longer-there overhead cable ride was “Sky Hi” in Americana but “Ski Heis” by the time you got to Scandinavia.

15) Shawnee Mission is a school district and a postal district, but not a city (though Shawnee and Mission both are). Confused yet? It’s named for the old Shawnee Indian Mission in what is now Fairway.

16) May 20, 1957, was a day of numbers for one south Kansas City neighborhood: 44 dead. 531 injured. 7-inch hail. The F5 tornado that ripped through Ruskin Heights was nearly a half-mile wide and traveled at 42 mph, according to the National Weather Service. It was one of 35 tornadoes in the central Plains that day, beginning its journey in Williamsburg, Kan., before lifting up in Knobtown, Mo., 1 hour, 38 minutes and 71 miles later.

17) The “S” in Harry S. Truman’s name stands for nothing, according to the former president himself. It was a compromise between the “S” names of his grandfathers, Anderson Shipp Truman and Solomon Young.

18) True, we love air-conditioned comfort, but Kansas Citians also love spending warm evenings under the stars at Starlight Theatre. The Swope Park theater with its iconic towers opened in the summer of 1951, and throughout that decade, summer seasons of 10 locally mounted Broadway-style shows were typical.

Fifty years ago, the summer of ’62, eight shows graced the big Starlight stage, starting with “The Music Man” and ending with “Bye Bye Birdie.” Star showcases filled the early 1970s (“The Pearl Bailey Show,” “The Roy Clark Show,” etc.), and by the 1980s, just four musicals made up some seasons.

This summer, six shows fill the bill, but one of those, “Aida,” will be indoors and nowhere near Swope Park: at the new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts downtown.

19) You know the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s famous “Shuttlecocks.” But did you know that the museum is intended to be the net in the oversized game of badminton? That’s why there are three shuttlecocks on the south lawn and one on the north lawn. One sailed over the net!

20) Westward ho! Most of us know that the fur trading activity of the early 1800s — abetted by Lewis and Clark’s enthusiastic reports from their famous expedition — fueled much of our country’s expansion into the western territories. But did you also know that the starting points of the Santa Fe, Oregon and California trails were in Independence?

The Santa Fe Trail was first to emerge, in 1821, as a trade route with Mexico; the Oregon Trail was next, in 1843, as a migration route for western settlers. The California Trail was famous as the route that would deliver — or, more usually, would not — western emigrants their fortunes in gold.

All three had their beginnings at the principal “jumping off point” in Independence, and all three would ultimately help change the face of American history. Learn more at the National Frontier Trails Museum at 318 W. Pacific Ave., Independence. Or just come out for Santa-Cali-Gon Days, the Labor Day weekend festival named for the trails.

21) The bull on a pylon you can see from I-35 downtown? That’s a Hereford. The bull and the former headquarters of the American Hereford Association were dedicated in 1953 by none other than the president of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Mr. Big ’n’ Beefy lost his original perch in 2000 but rose again two years later, this time across the interstate in Mulkey Square Park. Just one reason we’re Cowtown. (Another: the old stockyards in the West Bottoms.)

22) You might think Kansas City’s best-loved dog parks are right next door (oh, the barking!), but the best-behaved neighbors let their dogs run till they drop at some of these popular off-leash dog parks: Shawnee Mission Park off-leash area, Stoll Park in south Overland Park, Penn Valley Dog Park in Kansas City, Gregory O. Grounds Park in Blue Springs and Wayside Waifs Bark Park in Kansas City (for a fee).

23) Who needs an “All-Electric House”? You do, especially if it’s 1954 and futuristic, gee-whiz inventions like 19-inch “big screen” TVs and germ-killing lamps fill your electric dreams. Billed as “California living” back in the day, the Johnson County Museum’s irresistible attraction was originally a project of Kansas City Power & Light Co. designed to showcase the latest innovations in modern electric living.

Walk the entire home, touch the pink laminate countertops and pull back the bamboo curtains at this perfectly preserved 1950s home at the Johnson County Museum, 6305 Lackman Road, Shawnee.

24) Oops! The large south Kansas City neighborhood and school district known as Hickman Mills was originally to be known as Hickman’s Mill. A clerk in Washington recorded it incorrectly on the federal post office application in the 1800s.

25) When you say “anchorman” in Kansas City, you probably think Larry Moore at KMBC. He started at Channel 9 as a reporter in 1968, as anchor climbed to the top of the ratings in the 1970s … and then left town.

KMBC, meanwhile, sank like a rock after axing 30-something co-anchor Christine Craft in 1981 supposedly for being too old, too unattractive and not sufficiently deferential to the men on the news set. Two trials followed. In the midst of all the bad press, Moore returned to KMBC and stayed.

No doubt other KC stations salivate at the thought of Moore signing off one of these days. True, Channel 9 recently hired a new co-anchor, Len Jennings, for KMBC’s 5 p.m. news, but as for Larry, “no R-word plans yet,” he says.

26) If you’re looking to mellow out on a Friday or Saturday night, your first move should be to turn on the radio: KCUR, 89.3 FM. Chuck “Haddock” hosts “The Fish Fry” (8 to midnight), serving up commercial-free “blues, R&B, soul, jumpin’ jazz and zydeco.” There’s nothing else like it. (Real name: Haddix.)

27) Around here, it’s usually pretty easy to figure out roughly where a high school is — most school districts just add directionals to their name. Hence Northeast, East and Central high schools in the Kansas City district and, in the suburbs, Blue Springs South, Shawnee Mission South, Olathe East, Blue Valley West, etc.

Not so in Kansas City, Kan., where the schools are mostly named for people (Harmon, Washington, etc.). And the North Kansas City School District mostly sticks to place names for its high schools, because adding “South” or “West” or whatever would sound strange: East North Kansas City High School?

There actually is a North Kansas City High School. The others are Winnetonka, Oak Park and Staley.

And by the way, the NKC school district covers far more territory than the city of North Kansas City. (See item on North Kansas City/Kansas City, North.)

28) One dark day: On July 17, 1981, during a tea dance, two skywalks collapsed in the Hyatt Regency hotel’s lobby atrium. The death toll would be 114 souls, with more than 200 people injured. (Just last year the hotel became known as Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center.)

A memorial is planned for Hospital Hill Park across the street.

29 Another dark day: On Nov. 29, 1988, six Kansas City firefighters died at a construction site for Bruce R. Watkins Drive in south Kansas City when a burning trailer containing 25,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil — five times what later destroyed the federal building in Oklahoma City — exploded.

In 1997, five people were sentenced to life in prison for setting the fire, but their guilt has been called into question. In 1991, the Firefighters Fountain at 31st Street and Broadway was dedicated to all fallen KC firefighters.

30) Think this last winter was typical for KC? Uh, no. Remember the winter of 2009-10, when Mother Nature dumped 44 inches of snow on us? But that was the most in almost 50 years.

Since 1981 (and not counting this last winter), Kansas City has averaged about 19 inches of snow per winter season. The most snowfall ever was in 1911-12, when we got 67 inches. The least was, yes, 2011-12: a mere 3.9 inches, “topping” the record of 4.5 inches in 1922-23.

31) The hottest Kansas City summer on record was 1934, with an average temperature of 84.9 degrees. 2010 ranked 15th at 79.7.

Perhaps the heat wave most people remember was the one of 1980, when for 17 straight days in July temperatures vaulted past 100 degrees — killing 176 people.

32) The east side of Missouri has Anheuser-Busch. But this side has Boulevard Brewing Co., which is still locally owned. Boulevard was founded by John McDonald in 1989 and sold 1,747 barrels of beer in 1990, its first full production year. Number of barrels sold last year? 157,277. Boulevard is the country’s 10th largest craft brewer. Biggest seller: Unfiltered Wheat.

33) “Christopher Elbow” may sound like something you’d see the doctor for, but chocolate-loving Kansas Citians know better. Elbow, a Liberty native, worked as a pastry chef for Emeril Lagasse’s Delmonico in Las Vegas and the American Restaurant here. Now he’s renowned for artistic, pricey “artisanal chocolates.” (He has a shop in San Francisco, too.)

And don’t forget Elbow’s collaboration with Boulevard Brewing — Chocolate Ale, which comes out once a year and can be hard to get — and his unique and decadent Glacé Artisan Ice Cream (get it at the shops south of the Country Club Plaza and in Leawood).

34) In 1856, the Great White Arabia steamship went down, felled ultimately by a snag from a walnut tree in the Mighty Mo. In 1988, she began to come up, saved by five families determined to excavate and preserve her cargo.

The Steamboat Arabia Museum, in the City Market downtown, tells the story of what river travel and westward expansion looked like in the mid-1800s and showcases settlers’ near-perfectly preserved artifacts — Wedgwood china, shoes, boots, clothing, weapons, razors, doorknobs and more.

35) Going to Leavenworth is fine. But being sent to Leavenworth is something else entirely: Leavenworth County is prison central, home to the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks (the military’s only maximum-security prison), the Midwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility (for members of the military sentenced to less than five years), the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth (medium security for federal inmates), Lansing Correctional Facility (a state prison) and Corrections Corp. of America’s privately run prison.

36) If 10 people are in a room, odds are five will pronounce the south Kansas City road “WORnall” and five will say “WorNELL.” The verdict? According to the John Wornall House Museum, it’s the first option, with a slight accent on the first syllable. The road is named after John Wornall, an early Jackson County farmer and banker.

37) The Kansas City Royals won their only World Series on Oct. 27, 1985, beating the St. Louis Cardinals four games to three in what was known as the “I-70 Series.” Pitcher Bret Saberhagen was named series MVP. Twenty-seven years later, fans are still hoping this will be the Royals’ year.

38) Kansas City hosts hundreds of serious and not-so-serious running events each year. Google search to get details on these popular ones, or just continue to shuffle around your own neighborhood (free T-shirt not included): Groundhog Run, Hospital Hill Run, Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, Kansas City Marathon, Sprint Thanksgiving Day 5K and Family Stroll …

39) Kansas City is the barbecue capital of the world. Just ask any Kansas Citian. Back in the day, the stockyards provided cheap meat that was slowwwwww-cooked over native hardwoods like hickory and fruit trees. As for KC-style sauce, it’s typically tomato- and molasses-based.

40) What’s in a name? Plenty. Lore has it that “Possum Trot” and “Rabbitville” were in the running before “Town of Kansas” was agreed upon, which then became “City of Kansas” as it grew, and ultimately, Kansas City. Such a great name, there are two.

41) Six-year old Bobby Greenlease, son of wealthy auto dealer Robert Cosgrove Greenlease Sr. of Mission Hills, walked calmly out of Notre Dame de Sion grade school with a woman claiming to be his aunt on Sept. 29, 1953. Six ransom notes, 15 phone calls and $600,000 later, Bobby still had not been returned to the Greenlease family.

The kidnappers, Carl Hall and Bonnie Heady, were captured in St. Louis within a few days and executed in Missouri’s gas chamber together less than three months later. Bobby Greenlease’s body was found buried in Heady’s front yard in St. Joseph.

42) “In Cold Blood” (1967), “Mr. & Mrs. Bridge” (1990), “Kansas City” (1996) and “Ride With the Devil” (1999) were all largely filmed here. Still up for debate: Was the Raytown of television’s “Mama’s Family” our Raytown? The studio has always been mum.

43) Community Christian Church at 46th and Main streets was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The “Steeple of Light” illuminated beams are visible Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from dark until midnight.

44) Short on gas and near the state line? Head for Missouri. Due to a difference in the state gas tax, you can often find gas 10 cents cheaper per gallon.

45) The Union Station Massacre took all of 30 seconds on June 17, 1933, and saw convicted felon Frank Nash and four law enforcement officers killed during a shootout in front of Union Station during Nash’s transport from Arkansas to the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth, from which he had escaped a few years earlier.

The FBI identified “Pretty Boy” Floyd and Adam Richetti as gunmen; Floyd was shot dead later in Ohio, and Richetti was convicted for the murders and died in Missouri’s gas chamber. You can still see the marks on the front of Union Station that for years were thought to have come from the bullets.

46) The American Royal, an every-autumn-since-1899 horse and livestock show, was first known as the National Hereford Show. It picked up a new name, the story goes, after an Iowa State ag school dean returned from the British Royal Agricultural Fair and declared that the KC show compared favorably with the Brits’. The American Royal, meanwhile, is also at least part of the reason our major league baseball team is known as the Kansas City Royals.

47) Why do your baggage tags say MCI instead of KCI? MCI = Mid-Continent International, the airport’s name in the planning stages. When it opened in 1972, it was Kansas City International Airport. But “KCI” doesn’t fly as a three-letter airport code because K’s (along with W’s) are reserved as prefixes for broadcast station call letters.

48) The Jacksons’ (yes, those Jacksons) Victory Tour launched right here in Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium in 1984. It was the last concert tour featuring all of the Jackson brothers together, including Michael. Tickets were $30 each, an unheard-of sum at the time. Fans went crazy for the moonwalk, songs from “Thriller” and the other brothers, too, presumably.

49) It’s perfectly possible that back in the 1930s, “Boss Tom” Pendergast sank some of his political foes in several feet of concrete — say, beneath City Hall or Municipal Auditorium. Pendergast did, after all, own a concrete company. But, rumors to the contrary, the king of corruption apparently did not lay anyone to rest under Brush Creek on the Plaza. In 1991, when the Army Corps of Engineers was working on a Brush Creek flood control project, it found the creek was paved with just 10-12 inches of concrete — “insufficient,” The Star pointed out, “for burying any but the skinniest political enemy.”


50+

We could probably do another 50-item list of famous Kansas Citians. Here, though, is just a sampler of people who called this area home:

Ed Asner, a native of Kansas City, Kan., is best known for playing newsman Lou Grant on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and on the drama “Lou Grant.” He won multiple Emmys for both shows (and others).

Thomas Hart Benton — artist, teacher, scholar — was born in Neosho, Mo., and lived in many places around the world, but it’s hard to argue that his “home” is any place other than Kansas City; his residence and artist’s studio accept visitors most days of the year in the Roanoke neighborhood. Or see his works at the Nelson or other world-class museums around the globe.

Bob Berdella was Kansas City’s most notorious serial killer. Berdella owned a curio shop in Westport called Bob’s Bazaar Bizarre. Between the summers of 1984 and ’87 he sexually tortured and killed six men in his Hyde Park home (it has since been razed). In April 1988, a man escaped from his home wearing only a dog collar. Berdella died of a heart attack in prison in 1992.

George Brett is the greatest Royal of all time. Brett (playing career: 1973 to 1993) won three American League batting titles, flirted with hitting .400 in the 1980 season (he wound up at .390), and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on his first ballot in 1999.

Don Cheadle, who was born in KC, has appeared in the “Ocean’s” films, “Crash” and “Hotel Rwanda,” which earned him a best actor Oscar nomination.

2008 “American Idol” winner David Cook grew up in Blue Springs.

Actor Chris Cooper grew up in the Kansas City area and, as a young man, worked as a laborer during construction of the sports stadiums. He has appeared in such films as “American Beauty,” “October Sky” and “Adaptation,” for which he won a best supporting actor Oscar.

Joan Crawford and Ginger Rogers are classic movie stars with roots in this area. Before she went Hollywood (and won an Oscar for the 1945 film “Mildred Pierce”), Crawford worked as an elevator operator at the old Harzfelds department store downtown. Rogers, born in Independence, is known for tripping the light fantastic with Fred Astaire, but she was a heck of a dramatic actress, too — and won an Oscar (for “Kitty Foyle,” 1940).

Len Dawson played 14 years with the Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs. He helped lead the Chiefs to victory over the Vikings in Super Bowl IV and was named the game’s MVP. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.

Walt Disney lived in Kansas City from 1911 to 1917 and attended Benton Grammar School as well as weekend classes at the Kansas City Art Institute. In his spare time, he liked to visit Electric Park, an early-20th century amusement park that inspired certain features of Disneyland.

Grammy-winning rocker Melissa Etheridge is a 1979 graduate of Leavenworth High School.

Grammy-nominated, tuxedo-wearing R&B singer Janelle Monae was born in Kansas City, Kan.

Former “fastest man in the world” Maurice Greene was born in Kansas City, Kan. He has four Olympic medals (two gold) and is a five-time world speed champion.

Legendary saxophonist and native son Charlie “Yardbird” Parker and pianist, composer and bandleader William “Count” Basie ruled Kansas City jazz in the 1930s, cementing Kansas City’s place on the national jazz scene.

Three funny guys from Johnson County who’ve done both TV and movies: Paul Rudd (a grad of Shawnee Mission West), Jason Sudeikis (West again) and Rob Riggle (Shawnee Mission South).

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