Saturday, October 03, 2009

A Man to Remember: Thomas H. Swope

100 years ago today one of Kansas City's most generous benefactors, Thomas H. Swope, died at his sister-in-law's home in Independence. In the future (100 years ago) there will be three murder trials resulting from the death of Thomas Swope. But that's a story for another time. Today we remember Thomas Swope, the man.

How well do we remember him? Every day, we do, his name at least. In spite of the fact that he died 100 years ago, his name is still spoken in Kansas City probably thousands of times a day. By sick people and pregnant women on their way to get affordable (or free) health care. By men and women planning a day of golf. By children visiting the zoo that's housed in his park. By concert and theater goers on their way to see top acts and performances at the Starlight Amphitheatre. His name lives on in so many ways.

I will spend the whole night tonight typing obituaries and memories of the man who died 100 years ago today. But earlier this day I made a pilgrimage to the memorial mausoleum where the ultimate philanthropist of our town is laid to rest. Assuming there would be memorials, floral tributes, and more marking the centennial anniversary of the somber occasion, I was both breathtaken and disappointed when I finally found the place. There are no markers pointing the way. The only clue I had to go on was "you can see the mausoleum from the Swope Park entrance." Looking off in the distance from the entrance you can see it alright, about two miles away, up in the hills. But I got there. You go in the golf course entrance off Gregory Boulevard and head all the way to the end of that road. And this is what you'll see.

A walk down these old rock steps brings you to this:

The bronze plaque:

It reads:

THOMAS H. SWOPE
MDCCCXXVII MCMIX
HIS WISDOM CONCEIVED
HIS GENEROSITY GAVE
TO THE PEOPLE
OF KANSAS CITY
THIS NOBLE EXPANSE
OF FIELD AND FOREST
FOR THEIR PERPETUAL
ENJOYMENT

Opposite this stands the Thomas. H. Swope Memorial Fountain, too pretty for my cell phone cam to do justice to.

It was one of the prettiest things I've seen in Kansas City, the resting place of Thomas Swope. But my little party was all alone there. There was nothing to suggest that the place had seen visitors lately or often. No floral tributes from civic leaders, or notes of thanks, no historical markers telling the story. Asking around afterwards, nobody I spoke with who grew up in this town had ever heard about the place either, though 100 years later they all thought highly of Col. Swope.

Read the articles I type about Thomas Swope in the coming days, and learn about his contributions to our town, and his generosity. Compare the city leaders of Thomas Swope's time to the city leaders of today. People should teach their kids about the men who ran fresh water, electricity, and sewer lines into every Kansas City home, and who built a light rail system that ran all over town and as far as St. Joseph and Excelsior Springs, all this using 19th Century technology. And let's hope that the next generation of Kansas City's leaders can look to the accomplishments of these men for inspiration about the possibilities of progress, as opposed to that which inspires the current lot of rascals who are calling the shots today, i. e., money from corporations and special interest groups.

He's resting in peace, Thomas H. Swope, October 21, 1827 ~ October 3, 1909.

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