Hearne: A Look Back as Joplin Braces for ‘Twisterversary’

Dateline: Joplin…

I come to you now from the land down under, Joplin, Missouri. Where in less than one month, this humble burg will commemorate a one-year anniversary of the brutal devastation visited upon it by an EF-5 tornado that took "at least" 161 lives and left key portions of the town in ruins.

But first let me say this.

To drive into Joplin today from Kansas City you would scarcely notice a thing out of order. While the well-documented damage was significant, you’d almost need a Tornado Damage Map to find the areas that were wiped out. Which if you recall, is exactly what the Joplin Convention & Visitors Bureau put out resulting in a wave of anti "tornado tourism" among locals. KCC covered that story in January.

Make no mistake, the evidence is there, you just have to come upon it.

Now let’s take a look at a town probably most of you know little about, then I’ll bring things up to date over the next day or two while I’m here looking over a little town that says it’s proud of its past and is shaping its future.

First off, while at 50,000 residents Joplin is less than half the size of even Topeka, somehow it seems more urban. Like more of a city city. Don’t get me wrong, wildly sophisticated it’s not – but then neither is Topeka. It just feels bigger and more urban (but not urbane) somehow.

And as is often the case in many small towns, it’s always interesting to peruse the list of famous folks that are from there. Check out some of Joplin’s escapees.

Atop the list I first saw is Tony Alamo, described as a "religious evangelist, convicted child sexual abuser and polygamist." He’s followed by the likes of serial killer Billy Cook, studly 1950s television and movie actor Robert Cummings, golfer Hale Irwin, MLS soccer star Jack Jewsbury, troubled, former KC Royals catcher Darrell Porter and actor Dennis Weaver.

Quite the list, huh?

Then there’s that artist dude – what was his name? – oh yeah, Thomas Hart Benton. Benton hung out in Joplin – or as a friend from here calls it, "JoMo" – and drew cartoons for a newspaper called the Joplin American as a teen.

There’s more.

New York Yankees superstar Mickey Mantle got stuck playing minor league ball here in 1950 with the same team celebrated KC announcer dude Bill Grigsby started his broadcast career covering. And of course, NBC anchor Brian Williams lived here and started his TV news career on KOAM TV.

I can only imagine the memories Williams must have.

By the way, there’s a ton of Thomas Hart Benton murals and paintings floating around, including in the town’s super cool, historic new City Hall inside the elegant, former digs of the Newman Mercantile Store (circa 1910) in downtown Joplin.

There’s also another very Thomas Hart Benton-like mural, commissioned just two years back, from Benton’s grandson Anthony Benton Gude. Check it out here and note that instead of horses, it’s populated by classic American sportscars.

Which reminds me of an interview I had with Gude way back in 1992 wherein I asked the 29 year-old, then-budding artist if there were any similarities between his art and that of his famous grandfather.

"I see little or no similarities," Gude told me. "But a lot of people see something. I’ve been around his paintings all my life. We spent pretty much every summer together in Martha’s Vineyard, until he died when I was 12."

However, while the young Gude may have been anxious to differentiate himself from his famous forebear, trust me, the good people of Joplin couldn’t disagree more.

Total Benton lookalike was the verdict everyone I spoke to at City Hall said of his mural.

In fact, I can all but assure you that if Gude’s work didn’t look nearly indistinguishable from THB’s, not only would it not be hanging prominently in Joplin’s City Hall, it wouldn’t be hanging there at all.

One more thing, before we move on to news about next month’s disasterversary…

It even turns out Gude has turned into one of those goofy twister chasing dudes – I kid you not.

"He is also a storm chaser," Martha’s Vineyard Gazzette reported four years back. "The recent bout of violent weather in Kansas left him on generator power for a month at the farm, but it provided good work material.

“ ‘I’m trying to get close enough to hear one roar,” Gude told the Gazzette. “That’s my goal in life.’”

The City of Joplin’s goal: never again to hear that roar.

Read more here: http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?p_action=doc&p_docid=0EAF3E67A40ABA59&p_docnum=1&s_dlid=DL0112042723264231944&s_ecproduct=SUB-FREE&s_ecprodtype=INSTANT&s_trackval=&s_siteloc=&s_referrer=1000029836&s_subterm=Subscription%20until%3A%2012%2F31%2F2015%2011%3A59%20PM&s_docsbal=%20&s_subexpires=12%2F31%2F2015%2011%3A59%20PM&s_docstart=&s_docsleft=&s_docsread=&s_username=kcstarsub&s_accountid=AC0109072214141209745&s_upgradeable=no#storylink=c
This entry was posted in Hearne_Christopher and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Hearne: A Look Back as Joplin Braces for ‘Twisterversary’

  1. tiad says:

    “…not only would it not be hanging prominently in Joplin’s City Hall, it wouldn’t be hanging there at all.”

    Syntax, Jr., syntax.

    Maybe you meant:

    “…not only would it not be hanging prominently in Joplin’s City Hall, it wouldn’t be hanging at all.”

  2. WAIT, WHAT? says:

    OK, wait a minute.

    There’s a mile-wide swath of empty lots with nothing but streets and you say with a straight face that “you’d almost need a Tornado Damage Map to find the areas that were wiped out.”?

    You’re joking, right?


    This is about the silliest thing I’ve ever read.

    Ladies and gentlemen, let me present a photo from the path of a tornado “you’d need a map to find:”



    Yeah, in that picture, you can hardly tell.


  4. smartman says:

    Wrong Disaster
    The disaster you should be following is the train wreck that is Kyle James. Kyle took his game to Brookside, Thursday night into Friday morning, and took some Oriental boom-boom-pow to his cranium from a white boy. Word is Sly has boys from the gang of eight tailing him off the books. Kyle is making the squid look like Nancy Reagan. Sly is nothing more than the polished turd in his family. The local media is giving The James Gang more passes than Standords does for shitty comics. You need to 007 your Fiat back to KC where the real action is.

  5. STAY TUNED says:

    Next week, Hearne visits Iraq, where you can hardly tell there was an eight-year war!

    Plus, there’ll be a side trip to Japan, where the effects of last year’s tsunami are barely noticeable.

    smartman, the only person with a boner for Kyle James is Tony Botello. Literally.

  6. Hearne says:

    Easy, Jeezy…
    I didn’t say you couldn’t find tornado damage if you looked, I said it was easy to miss if you didn’t. Like if you drove in via nav from KC thru Pittsburg and went straight downtown as I did.

    For one thing, many of the places like Home Depot have been rebuilt. And since you’re such an expert, why don’t you tell me who thought up the tornado map in the first place; the convention and visitors bureau of Joplin. And why do you think they felt the need to put out a map? Because it was “impossible to miss”?


  7. paulwilsonkc says:

    I’m from Carthage/Jopin, lived there till college
    My ex-inlaws missed the path by what looks like less than a block. Another friend lost rentals, but not his home. I knew people at St Johns when it hit and its stuff a horor movie can’t do justice.

    I took Chelle down 3 weeks after the storm and I was amazed at how lost I was, with no landmarks to go buy.

    A friend from down there called just as it hit, told me to down load an app on my phone and tune in to Jasper County Safety on the police scanner. I did. Two things I’ll never forget, first dispatch calling a car and asking the officer to go to 20th and Connecticut as fast as possible. He officer, sounding shell shocked replied, “I’d be glad to…………. I just have NO idea where that is……”. The second was a car calling the station asking what they should do with bodies in the street…. showed they move them or block the road?

    A nightmare for those people….

Comments are closed.