The stock market decline that began on Oct. 24, 1929, culminated with a crash on Oct. 29, 1929, plunging the United States into the Great Depression, which was ultimately felt across the industrialized world. Sedalia, which had been in financial difficulty prior to the crash, felt the effects of the depression as banks foreclosed on farms, workers lost their jobs, and businesses suffered loss.
The city responded to the crash in two ways. Until the closing of three banks in 1932, many Sedalians continued to deny that the nation was in the midst of an economic depression. Other Sedalians began to think of ways to advertise Sedalia as a shopping mecca, hoping to entice people to come to Sedalia, spend money, and thus improve the city’s financial standing.
The area south of Sedalia had begun to grow as a tourist destination after the construction of Bagnall Dam. In the late 1920s, the Union Electric Light and Power Company hired Stone and Webster Engineering Company of Boston to design and construct a dam on the Osage River and its tributaries the Niangua River, Grandglaize Creek, and Gravois Creek. Building the dam created jobs and brought money into the area.
The dam was completed in April 1931. The six generators provided electricity for a wide area. According to Ameren Power Company, the descendant of Union Electric, the dam was an engineering marvel and praised for its ability to create hydroelectric power. Few then anticipated the benefits of the Lake of the Ozarks that was created by the dam.
The Sedalia Chamber of Commerce did anticipate the effects of the lake on the area’s economic structure. In June 1931, it began to plan a “Good Will Tour” that would take Sedalians to visit the towns south of Sedalia to encourage their residents to shop in Sedalia and to assure them that Sedalians would visit the lake area for recreation.
Business owners and professionals were encouraged to sign up for the tour. Fourteen members of Kroneke’s Band volunteered to accompany the group and entertain them with music. Also accompanying the group was Uncle Ezra, a character in the “Happy Hollow” radio show broadcast by Kansas City station KMBC. The popular show was to present a program in Sedalia on Jubilee Days on July 23, and Uncle Ezra was advertising Jubilee Days as well as his show.
On the morning of July 14, 1931, a group of 90 Sedalia’s enterprising business owners gathered at the Chamber of Commerce office. Members of the group were dressed in white trousers, white shirts, and light colored hats. Each member of the group wore an identification badge and carried a horn and a whistle.
After a concert by Kroenke’s band, they crowded into three Missouri Pacific buses which group members described to the Sedalia Democrat as “comfortable,..the ideal way to make such a trip.”
Harry McNamara drove a “pilot car” that led the parade-like entourage south. The group planned to visit Eldon, Versailles, Stover, Cole Camp, Lincoln, Preston, Cross Timbers, Fristoe, and Warsaw. They were to return to Sedalia for a baseball game at Liberty Park where Kroenke’s Band would play before the game and between innings.
The trip was considered “most successful.” Over the next few weeks, the column will report the details and effects of the “Good Will Tour” and Jubilee Days.
— Rhonda Chalfant is the president of the Pettis County chapter of NAACP and the Pettis County Historical Society.