Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Old Postcard Wednesday--Swope Park, Kansas City, Missouri




The exact spot shown on this old postcard is not given mention, but I found that it is the Thomas H. Swope Memorial Fountain. I highlighted copied text below and have included two photos that show better the lion near the column.

Swope Park was more than 1300 acres, was the third largest in America, and included some nice ammenities at the time this old postcard was published. I wondered what about those stats, if anything, has changed since around 1948. This is what I found:

Wikipedia notes that Swope Park is the "twenty-ninth largest municipal park in the United States." It also provides a global list of urban parks by size (both state and municipal parks included) that may not be complete, as it needs additional citations for verification. In the Wikipedia global list Swope Park ranks as 71st in size.

That information made me want to know what municipal park is now the third largest in the U.S.  Using Wikipedia's urban parks list -- and extracting those that are named state parks -- I found that Cullen Park in Houston, Texas would be #3. Determining the first and second largest municipal parks in the U.S. gets tricky depending upon the source. To prove how confusing it is I am sharing the following text from The Straight Dope (it has actually nothing to do with Swope Park but is interesting in context):
A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

What is the largest city park in the U.S.?

May 3, 1985

Dear Cecil:

I have worried for some time about what city in the U.S. houses the largest park. My worries began when I moved to Philadelphia, and a city map said Fairmount Park was the largest city park. Then when I came to Los Angeles, another guidebook told me that Griffith was the largest municipal park. Finally, I gave my organizational communication class at USC the assignment of finding out the Truth, and they told me it was Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. We have called park services, geography professors, and chambers of commerce, and are truly stumped. How about the straight dope?

— Eric E., Professor of Communication, University of Southern California, Los Angeles


Cecil replies:

Your class said the largest park was Golden Gate? Golden Gate Park (either 1,107 or 1,017 acres, depending on who you think made a typographical error) is not only not the largest city park, it isn't even in the top ten. (Remember, we're talking city parks — Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which is federally administered, is 24,000 acres.) If the feebs in your class had bothered to check with the LA parks and recreation commission — which, for Chrissake, is a local call — they'd have found that Griffith Park comprises 4,107.87 acres. Still, Griffith can't beat out Philly's famed Fairmount Park, which boasts 4,618 acres, according to the Fairmount Park Commission. Admittedly 379 acres of this consists of the Schuylkill, a river. Even deducting this, however, we have 4,239 acres of dry land, enough to beat out Griffith.

But Fairmount isn't the biggest city park either. It isn't even second biggest. The largest city park in the U.S. is South Mountain Park in Phoenix, Arizona, which presently comprises 16,169 acres and eventually will encompass 16,455 acres. Second place goes to another Phoenix park — Phoenix Mountain Reserve, now 7,358 acres, eventually to be 7,750 acres.

If it makes you feel any better, park acreage is probably second only to city population when it comes to exaggeration, misinformation, and fraud. The one comprehensive list I've seen, put out by the National Recreation and Parks Association, is filled with gross inaccuracies and omissions, skipping not only the two Phoenix parks but two of the largest parks in New York City. It does include NYC's Pelham Bay Park (2,117 acres), probably the nation's fifth largest city park, and DC's Rock Creek Park (1,754 acres), probably sixth. FYI, Chicago's Lincoln Park has 1,185 acres, which probably puts it around 12th, and New York's Central Park, at 840 acres, comes in around 15th.

— Cecil Adams

Given old Cecil's final paragraph, I thought I'd check out the stats at the National Recreation and Parks Association. Honestly, I could not find a list of any sort ranking parks according to size or anything else. If you want to try yourself, go here (and good luck).

But of Swope Park, trustworthy and interesting information is at your fingertips via the City of Kansas City Missouri website. This is a portion of the piece on Swope Park that answers my initial question about what might have changed since the old postcard was made:
Amenities:
Kansas City Zoo, Lakeside Nature Center, Swope Memorial and Heart of America Golf Courses, Kansas City Wizards training facility, Southeast Community Center, Starlight Theatre, Battle of Westport Museum, Camp Lake of the Woods, Kansas City Community Gardens and Beanstalk Chidren's Garden, disc golf course, KC Master Gardeners Demonstration Garden, Swope Pool, 2-mile Fox Hollow exercise trail, 1.37-mile bike trail, 3.35-miles of mountain bike trails, two tennis courts, three playgrounds, 10 shelter houses (eight reservable), numerous picnic areas, six ball diamonds (three lighted), cricket fields, and four soccer fields.

History:
At 1,805-acres, Swope Park is the crown jewel of the Kansas City, Mo. park system. As Kansas City's largest park, and one of the largest urban parks in the United States, Swope Park is home to many of Kansas City’s finest attractions.

Thomas Hunton Swope was born in Kentucky in 1827. After living in several states, he moved to St. Louis where he worked in real estate. He came to Kansas City in 1857 after purchasing some property here and later became the largest individual land owner in Kansas City. Mr. Swope was called "Colonel" Swope, but the title was honorary and not from military service.

In 1896, Colonel Swope donated 1,334 acres to the City of Kansas City, Mo. for use as a public park. With property acquisitions made over the years, the park now has 1,805 acres. It is Kansas City’s largest park and one of the largest urban parks in the United States.

Thomas H. Swope Memorial and Fountain:
After Thomas Swope's death in 1909, his body was kept in a holding vault until a memorial was built in Swope Park. A site was chosen on a hill overlooking the lagoon and the entire park. He was laid to rest at the memorial in 1918. The memorial appears to be based on a design drawn by George Kessler in 1915. The lions and decorative bronze were done by Charles Keck, the former president of the National Sculpture Society. The fountain and balustrade were completed in 1922-23, designed by the Wight and Wight architectural firm. The fountain is one of two solar-powered fountains that are operated by the City.

The Kansas City Zoo houses the Mary A. Fraser Memorial Drinking Fountain, Harry Evans Monty Memorial Fountain, Albert Elwood Shirling Sanctuary, "Bonfire and Meridian" sculpture, "Rock & Steel" sculpture, "Fishing Rock" sculpture and "Strange Strange Sam" sculpture.

Starlight Theatre is home to the Shirley Bush Helzberg Fountain and Jack and Martha Steadman Fountain.

Ken Ferguson sculptures, "Rabbit Hiding from Fox," "The Race Is Not Always Swift" and "Two Doves Sitting on a Branch Up High" are displayed at Lakeside Nature Center.
Here are photo/info links for a few of the marvelous sculptures featured at various sites around Swope Park:

These two images show the Thomas H. Swope Memorial Fountain more clearly than as seen on the old postcard:


 image: City of Kansas City, MO


image via mitraswipes


Finally, from the sublime to the startling, I will include a link to a 2006 hardcore hip hop song that includes lyrics mentioning Swope Park (at 3:58 on video), because the mere fact that this song exists is another
indicator of what has changed since the days when Swope Park was America's
third largest park...Riot Maker by Tech N9ne.

.


6 comments:

Rob-bear said...

Another delightful bit of history. Urban parks, like urban forests, are important to the life of any city. A patch of green in the concrete jungle.

rosaria williams said...

What a wonderful piece of history! Thanks for the visit, Lydia.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

do you watch The Big Bang Theory?

Well, there's an episode where Sheldon, Howard and the boys take a cricket to an expert to find out its genus - and he launches into a tirade about how being an expert on dung beetles has got him nothing but a broken marriage (the character's name was Crawley, i seem to remember)

Anyway, I got a very definite picture of Cecil Adams from his response, which seemed downright rude in places - he gave me the air of a man who was tired of answering daft questions about acreage and the inaccuracies of the NRPA and probably read the letter whilst shaking his hand at the sky and yelling "Damn you NRPA, damn you all to hell!!"

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

i started listening to the tune by Tech N9ne - there's someone with a few issues.

I have to say though that you usually find that someone being that vocal about what a baddass they are is compensating for something

Muhammad Israr said...

nice info...as i always said...you are an expert in desciribing postcards and pics :)

Lydia said...

Rob-bear~ I enjoyed learning more about Swope Park. This summer my husband and I intend to wander in Forest Park in Portland. It's ridiculous that, as much time as we've both spent in that city, neither of us has been in Forest Park!

rosaria~ Thank you, and it's always a pleasure to visit your blog!

Pixies~ "there's someone with a few issues" just cracked me up! Loved also your take on Cecil.

Muhammad Israr~ You are always so kind. Thank you.

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