To the best of my recollection, I must have been about 7 years old when my granddad said, “Teddy, come and go with me to the stockyards, and I’ll treat you to ‘the Paris of the Plains.’ Hop in the truck.”
The truck was a brand-new 1950 Chevy pickup with stock racks, and we headed down to the barn where he had a half a dozen full-grown hogs corralled in the loading pen. They were happy to jump in the truck, and down the road we went.
The stockyards were down over the bluffs from Downtown Kansas City in the West Bottoms at the foot of 12th Street. The aroma was the first thing I noticed. Two or three men were standing there to unload the hogs, so we didn’t hang around very long, but nevertheless it was an exciting trip for a little boy. From there we drove up through the heart of the city, past Union Station and up to the Liberty Memorial, and pulled into a parking space.
“Have you ever been up here before?” my granddad asked.
We both hopped out of the truck and hurried to the observation deck so he could show me the grand view of the city. Looking north out across the newly mowed lawn, my granddad pointed out Union Station and all of the train sheds. There was even a passenger train pulling into the station.
“That’s the Southern Belle, which will be heading for New Orleans,” he said.
Then he pointed out what seemed to be the tallest building of the downtown skyline, the Kansas City Power & Light Building.
“If you look over there you can see City Hall and the County Courthouse,” my granddad said, “and over here the golden dome of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, a Catholic Church.”
He also pointed out the Jones Store, the Hotel Kansas Citian, and the big building behind Union Station as the H.D. Lee Company headquarters. About that time he slapped the britches leg of his overalls and pointed out the H.D. Lee label on them.
“They call this city the “The Paris of the Plains,” he boasted.
My response to that was “That’s a pretty highfalutin name for a rough-cut cow town, isn’t it? It’s not very French! Besides the Plains are a hundred miles west of here.”
“Well, I’m not sure of who coined the phrase,” he said, “but it began years ago, when a journalist compared Kansas City to Paris, France, because of the sin-soaked night life. It was during the city’s jazz heyday, usually defined as the period between the first and second world wars, the Pendergast era of corruption and vice. But while Paris of the Plains is a nickname, it’s more than the sum of its parts. The name sings, and the song is about – let’s say – je ne sais quoi.”
“I don’t understand French,” I said, “but I’ll take your word for it.”
“I see clues in those sign boards over there,” he went on to say, “People in Kansas City drink Falstaff and Country Club Beer, but they also play Steinway pianos. They are right on top of all the new and upcoming fads, such as that new Admiral Television Set Roy Beets recently purchased. Kansas City is a state of mind, it’s a real city, and it’s our city.”
From there we toured the Liberty Memorial and its museum, where I got another history lesson, but then my granddad was good at that sort of thing. My grandfather, Ted Noland, passed away many years ago, but left an indelible imprint on my life, and I still think about him often.
Reference: “Paris of the Plains: Kansas City from Doughboys to Expressways,” by John Simonson.
To reach Ted W. Stillwell, send e-mail to Ted@blueandgrey.com or call him at 816-896-3592.