Show Me The State | KBIA

Show Me The State

Missouri has had a curious history, with many iterations and incarnations powered by changes in its political, cultural and religious climate. Show Me The State explores Missouri’s strange and misunderstood past as it relates to the present.

Each episode focuses on one particular piece of folklore and investigates what really happened, why did it happen and how has that shaped the state today?

The Show Me The State team looks at ghost stories, legendary political maneuvers and hometown heroes across the state. Host Kristofor Husted sits down with the people who know the story best to get as close to a first-hand account as we can.

Frank Vess Portell family. The woman with the guitar is Nellie Hopkins Portell. She is wearing button shoes, and has the Gibson Girl hairstyle. The man with the fiddle is Francis "Brazz" Politte. His descendants are known as the Brazz Polittes.
Courtesy of Kent Bone.

French settlers colonized southeast Missouri over 200 years ago. And with them came the French language and culture.

They mined the lead belt region and created an insular community in Old Mines revolving around house parties, music and church.

Over time they developed their very own dialect called “Paw Paw” French that was used well into the 20th century. But then it started to disappear.

Phylloxerated vineyard in Yountville, California. Fall 1907.
Special Collections, USDA National Agricultural Library.

About 150 years ago in the vineyards of southern France, winemakers start to notice their vineyards aren’t looking healthy. They rack their brains but can’t figure out what is devouring the crops. Samples are taken, scientific investigations mounted and letters for help are sent out across the globe.

Missourians and Texans tell this story the same way up until that point. But here’s where the versions diverge.

Courtesy of Sandy Davidson

In 1969, graduate student Barbara Papish hands out an underground newspaper on the University of Missouri Columbia campus. The Free Press Underground issue features a cartoon on the cover depicting police officers raping the Statue of Liberty and Lady Justice. The words “With Liberty and Justice For All” encircle the image.

One of the few photos showing William Preston Hall (left) with Ed. L. Brannan and Bert McCain behind the big barn in about 1915.
Courtesy of the Schuyler County Historical Society

On some days in the early 1900s, you could walk out to the railroad tracks near the Iowa border and watch rail cars full of horses moving in and out of Missouri. Occasionally, also in those cars are elephants, lions and monkeys. 

Missouri businessman William Preston Hall is trading in horses for wars and exotic animals for circuses. He hires his neighbors in Lancaster to care for the animals, supply the feed and more. It’s not uncommon to see an elephant wander by your kitchen window.

Courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri (photo by Aviva Okeson-Haberman)

Helen Stephens starts high school in Fulton in 1931. She’s a gangly, gravelly-voiced farm girl dressed in homemade clothes. Her classmates tease her with the unfortunate moniker “Popeye.” Helen takes it in stride with humor, attempting to own her identity - a feat for any teenager.

Paul Okrassa, St. Louis Globe-Democrat / From the collections of the St. Louis Mercantile Library at the University of Missouri St. Louis

When the St. Louis Arch was being built in 1964, no Black workers had been hired for the construction crew.

That didn’t sit well with Black activist Percy Green, who wanted to let the world know that a federally funded national monument was guilty of racial discrimination. To protest, he climbed the halfway-constructed arch.

Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, National Archives

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s journey to becoming a worldwide author is interlaced with pure hardship.

On the morning of July 17, 1894, Laura has gathered together her life savings, her belongings, and her husband and daughter. The pioneer woman packs them into a covered wagon - like the one she herself traveled West in as a child. 

Gerald Massie / The State Historical Society of Missouri

Today, on a map, Lake of the Ozarks looks like a sprouting, twisting tree root that covers 86 square miles. The over 1000 miles of shoreline are dotted with resorts and cabins. 

But that’s not what it originally looked like. It used to be just a river, the Osage River, bending through the middle of Missouri. And legend has it, whole towns still exist on the bottom of the lake. And if you get to just the right spot in the lake, you can hear the phantom bell toll of a church steeple that reaches up from the lake bed. Whole trees float up from the bottom of the lake. Sunken cemeteries rest on the floor. And large man-eating catfish hunt near the dam that created this whole lake.

James T. Thorp Scrapbooks, 1840-1955, The State Historical Society of Missouri

In the steamboat’s glory days right before the Civil War, there would be on average, 60 boats traveling through different ports along the Missouri River each day. Cargo of agricultural products, furs and settlers would move up and down the river. From St. Louis to Montana.

But, the river was turbulent and unpredictable back then. Many steamboats sank on the trip, yet companies kept putting more boats back on the river.

University of Missouri Journalism School yearbook 1946.

In the 1940s and ‘50s, designated police officers and university administrators were on the lookout for gay students and faculty.

There are documented cases from the era where officials planted undercover officers in restrooms or set up peep holes and two-way mirrors to spy on men. They were looking for any suggestion of “gay activity.”

Courtesy of Kaye Malins/Walt Disney Museum

Walt Disney famously spent a good chunk of his youth growing up in Missouri. Just ask the residents of Marceline, Walt’s boyhood town.

Walt was born in Chicago in 1901 but moved to a farm in Marceline in 1906. It’s in Marceline that Walt finds his inspiration for many moments in his films (like Peter Pan, Ferdinand the Bull, Lady and the Tramp) and in his plans for Disneyland's Main Street U.S.A. But it’s also the place where Walt falls in love with rural America and the idealistic, small-town vibe.

He fears the charm and tight-knit community feeling of the Midwest will eventually disappear preventing future generations of kids from experiencing a childhood like his.

How does he want to preserve that slice of Americana? With a theme park, of course. And so begins the ill-fated journey to build a theme park in Marceline.

Courtesy of Friends of Jim The Wonder Dog

How many tricks can your dog do? Sit? Stay? Rollover?

Can your dog pick out a single person in a crowd based off of their clothing? What about predict the World Series winner?

Jim the Wonder Dog allegedly could. From his humble beginnings in Marshall, Missouri, to his ultimate test in front of an academic crowd at the University of Missouri, Jim has been a symbol of hope during the trying times of the Great Depression.

But what was Jim actually – scientifically – capable of? And why is Jim, to this day, still so important to Missourians?

Rosemary Belson / KBIA

Did you know Missouri and Iowa almost went to war in the 1800s? Each claimed ownership over a strip of land along the border and believed it had the right to tax the people living there.

Several surveyors drew different lines leaving the disputed land in a tug of war between two petty governors for years.

Stuck in the middle was “The Hairy Nation” – a community of transplants with varied backgrounds – longing to know where they belonged and what their identity was.

Before this story is over, trees with honey beehives will be chopped down, a sheriff will be kidnapped and ragtag militias with kitchenware and garden tools as weapons will march to meet at the border to settle this dispute once and for all.

Columbia Missourian 1976-1979 (courtesy the Missouri Digital Heritage Collection)

How do you pronounce Missouri? And why do you say it that way?

Legend has it former Gov. and Sen. Kit Bond took a poll during his gubernatorial races during the 1970s and '80s to see what Missourians preferred to say and how his pronunciation could help his strategy to win his election.

In our latest episode, Show Me The State digs into that legend while examining how politicians, like former Sen. Claire McCaskill and former Gov. Jay Nixon, use their pronunciation to signal certain values to their constituents. 

Courtesy of Rhonda Chalfant

What would the state look like today if the capital wasn't Jefferson City? But Sedalia?

That almost happened 120 years ago. 

Sedalia champion John Bothwell was determined to make Sedalia a state institution and for 30 years he was relentless trying to make the town something more than the location of four railroads and premiere brothels. Ultimately, he makes a play for the biggest state institution in a surreptitious political maneuver that surprises everyone.

Courtesy of Parker Smith.

If you grew up in 1970s Poplar Bluff, you likely heard of the story of Doc Annie. Legend has it, Doc Annie was a witch-like woman who operated a haunted hospital in the woods. She kept fetuses in jars of formaldehyde there. She also would throw babies into an old well called “the pit.”

High school students and young people would drive into the Ozark Foothills looking for Annie’s spooky hospital and tell ghost stories about her.