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Coronavirus cabin fever? Learn some history from your car

With the continuing coronavirus pandemic, students may not return to finish the current school year. Can it possibly be an ideal time to learn history? It can!

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Robert White | History Columnist

But wait. The museums are closed and we can’t venture out into the public – at least in situations with more than a few people. Social, or physical, distancing is now the norm. But history is not just found inside museums. There are many sites you can visit that are typically overlooked in your busy life. They’re outside and easy to access from the safety of your car.

Some things like battlefields and aircraft are a little too big to be housed in a museum, and with a little help from the Internet you can discover these treasures. Interested in Civil War history? You can follow the Battle of Westport, the Battle of Lone Jack, and other Civil War events right in our own back yard. You can also drive the routes of the Oregon and Santa Fe trails and, moving into 20th Century history, visit Whiteman Air Force base where “The Great Artiste” is displayed. It’s the only aircraft to fly both atomic bomb missions and is parked at the main gate.

With each of these sites, you can make it a kind of “see for yourself” treasure hunt to discover what has made this nation the great nation that it is, all in our own backyard. Or at least within a short drive of your home.

Sometimes the best education comes from the back routes into an area that we drive past every day. For example, how the original settlers of Kansas City overcame the hills and bluffs of the Missouri River that obviously would have stifled trade. Try driving to the West Bottoms passing under the Broadway Bridge onto Woodsweather Road. Then, having found your way in, leave via the streets to Southwest Boulevard. Picture what it was like in the heyday of the Kansas City Stock Yards or the Kansas City floods that brought that era to an end. Many of the buildings still have their painted signs on the sides, advertising what they produced or sold over 100 years ago.

Perhaps you can take a drive around Loose Park – kind of an epicenter for the Battle of Westport. Cannon balls and bullets have been found south of the park on 56th Street, so Loose Park helps identify part of the terrain of the battle.

At one point, there was a restaurant, the Wishbone, on Main Street, about where the Hilton Hotel is, and it had a cannonball buried into its foundation, indicating that the battle spanned present day Brush Creek, covering miles of territory, including the Plaza. That was before the Pendergast concrete treatment. That’s history. Loose Park, itself has a history. It was donated by Jacob Loose who was half of the Loose Wiles Biscuit Company that later became Sunshine Biscuit Company.

There are several sites other sites including the Liberty Memorial and the National World War I Museum grounds, and the Wheeler Downtown Airport. At the airport you can still view an old four-engine Constellation airliner – the backbone of TWA – that allowed TWA to challenge Pan Am for various intercontinental routes after World War II. The airplane is a major part of Kansas City history with an interesting chapter in the life of Howard Hughes.

Sometimes, the lack of the people teaches us, as well. Two years ago, on our 30th anniversary, my wife and I took a Thanksgiving Day train trip from Lee’s Summit to Union Station. Downtown Kansas City was a ghost town, and we had some time to kill before taking the Southwest Chief to a financial conference in Arizona. We hopped the new light rail. It was eerie. There was virtually no auto traffic and all the shops were closed. We got off in the City Market to explore on foot and discovered the Chinese Market was the only business still open. We even witnessed a traffic accident between what seemed the only two cars in the area! We returned to Union Station in time for an Anniversary Dinner at Lydia’s before boarding the train and heading west on a trip in which there were virtually no other passengers.

It would prove to be a lesson for today.

The key to getting through the quarantine is to think out of the box. Do it safely, and go with an open mind. Do your research before you go and have a great time doing it.

Celebrate life… at a safe social distance.

–Bob White is a Certified Financial Planner who lives in the Pleasant Hill area.  A graduate of Pembroke Hill School and the University of Kansas, he majored in Economics and minored in history.  In addition to local, Kansas and Missouri history, he has an interest in its unique aspects–the events missing from the history books and timelines that paint a more complete picture.


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