A good many legendary journalists have passed through Kansas City. A good many stayed here.
But we’re writing about Frederick Bonfils, infamous for many things — being shot by the irate lawyer for a cannibal, just one.
OK, yes, the scoundrel did make The Denver Post a big deal. But when’s the last time you picked up an issue of the Kansas City Post? Yeah.
The West Point dropout was first noticed in Kansas City for his “Little Louisiana” lottery and its mysteriously few winning numbers.
During the oil booms, Bonfils ran ads for cheap lots in the rapidly expanding Oklahoma City. The rubes never noticed the tiny, tiny type: His own “Oklahoma City” platted out in the Texas dust.
In 1895, he bought a runty rag called The Denver Post with Harry Tammen, an outgoing barkeep who sold fake scalps, allegedly lifted by Geronimo.
Many appalling things have been said about this partnership, likely all of it true. Billing themselves as crime-fighting editors, they were also blackmailers.
Their sheet was lurid, scandalous. The public gobbled it up like, well, like Alferd Packer devoured fellow prospectors up in the snow-choked Rockies.
Trying to spring Packer, The Post claimed his lawyer cheated him. Offended, the attorney shot both Bonfils and Tammen in a scuffle in their red-painted office. (Not for nothing was the paper called the “bucket of blood.”) The shooter got off; the editors were caught jury tampering.
Dubbed the “Katzenjammer Kids” after naughty cartoon characters, the partners snagged the Kansas City Post in 1909. Their secret partner: J. Ogden Armour, a meat-packing scion wanting better press for his electric and street-car systems. The Kansas City Star was hammering him.
“Yellow journalism” had arrived. The tabloid’s red-ink headlines were “noisy, colorful, libelous.” Also Democratic and pro-Pendergast.
Corruption hardly fazed these two. The editors split $500,000 hush money/blackmail in the Teapot Dome oil lease scandal, which tarred Warren G. Harding and jailed both his interior secretary and Sinclair Oil’s founder. Bonfils and Tammen cruised merrily along.
To boost their image, they sold cheap apples, honey and fish, gave away movie tickets. But in 1922, they hooked another sucker and sold. (The more sedate Journal-Post finally yielded to The Star in 1942.)
Bonfils’ memory still loiters on a downtown corner at 1200 Grand Blvd., a pretty little commercial property he erected in 1925.
Boomers will recall its Wonderland Arcade pinball and video games. More respectable today, the Bonfils Building’s ornate Venetian Renaissance style graces the NAIA headquarters, or National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
In 1926, Bonfils made noises about buying The Star after Laura Nelson Kirkwood, daughter of the founding publisher, died.
Thank God, our city was spared.
Then Bonfils died in 1933, and Denver was spared.