Adrian Zink's Hidden History of Kansas on....


So far we've seen the gang's first bank robbery in Kansas and members of their gang captured here and giving out pertinent information to authorities. However, the most infamous thing connecting Bonnie and Clyde to Kansas is their "death" car.  At 3:30 p.m. on April 29, 1934 the duo rolled up to 2107 S.E. Gabler street in Topeka and stole Ruth Warren's 1934 Ford V-8 sedan (a favorite of Barrow's). Seven-year old Ken Cowan of Topeka witnessed the theft. He said he and his friends were playing in a grassy field across the street when they noticed a woman on the running board of a passing car looking for keys inside vehicles, and then driving off in the Ford with Barrow. Mrs. Warren came out and yelled to the boys, "Did you see anybody take our car?" They replied that they had.



The wildest use of automobiles at that time...and likely the game of Automobile polo, or, Auto Polo for short. Officially invented in 1911 by a Ford dealer in Topeka named Ralph Hankinson, he came up with the game as a publicity stunt to sell cars. In this promotion, he promised the game of polo...but with cars instead of horses. In the July 20, 1912 event, two teams squared off against each other - 2 cars per team with 2 men inside. In each car the driver focused on getting to the ball and avoiding collisions while the malletman hit the ball. The tops of the Model T cars and its doors were removed for better visibility and so the malletman could stand and swing the mallet. Over 5,000 spectators came to a Wichita alfalfa field to witness the wild spectacle. The concept for the sport had likely been around for a few years, but Hankinson gets credit for the first widely publicized games. From then on the sport exploded in popularity nationwide.



When Esther Swirk Brown (1917-1970) heard how inferior the school was that her black maid's children went to, she was appalled. The community of South Park, in suburbanizing Johnson County, had recently built a brand new, modern school for the 222 local white children. The 44 local black children went to the Walker School, a school with subpar classroom materials, inferior heating, dirt floors and it didn't even have indoor plumbing. There was not even a high school option for black children either. In 1947, Esther was a normal, 30-year old Merriam, Kansas housewife. Her husband was an Army Air Corps veteran and they had two small children. Being the daughter of Jewish Russian immigrants, though, Esther had felt the sting of discrimination before and empathized with the African-American children of the county.

Raising the issue at an all-white school board meeting, she was met with jeers, name-calling and was even hit with an umbrella by an angry woman. Refusing to be intimidated, she told the crowded gymnasium, “Look, I’m just a Kansas housewife,” she said nervously. “I don’t represent these people, but I’ve seen the conditions of their school. I know none of you would want your children educated under such circumstances. They’re not asking for integration, just a fair shake.”

Soon after, Brown met with African-American residents of the county and raised money for a legal case against the school district. Not only did she go door-to-door to raise funds, she even promoted the case at a Billie Holiday concert. The local chapter of the NAACP got involved and they organized a boycott of the Walker School. Brown got a backlash soon after, with a cross burned in her yard, her husband being fired from his job - by his own father, telephone threats and even an FBI investigation into whether she was a communist. The investigation charged that she had, "actively agitated Negroes, getting them to assert right to send children to school for white children." Her bravery was contagious, and black families in the county were inspired to stand up as well. Being the late 1940s, this was unprecedented. The Civil Rights movement hadn't even begun nationwide yet, and Brown v. Board of Education wasn't until 1954!