My Grandfather's Prison
A Story of Death and Deceit in 1940s Kansas City
Publication Year: 2009
Published by: University of Missouri Press
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Title Page, Copyright
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The guard shined the flashlight along the wall, searching through the predawn darkness for the prisoner in the basement, finding him crumpled on the floor. For twenty-five hours the man had been held in solitary confinement, in what the inmates called the Hole and the guards the Dungeon. The jail staff had given him a bare mattress for ...
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I grew up in a family without grandparents. My father came from Mexico, and his father, a poor, devout Catholic, died before I started school. I never set eyes on him. My father’s mother, who lived well into her nineties, I met only three times in rare family visits to the Old Country, and I can recall her in mere fleeting images, small and ...
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I started with his death certificate. It listed my grandfather’s parents as Joseph P. Lyons and Mary Connors and noted that they had 1893, and settled in Kansas City, Kansas, five years later. I also found a ship manifest from the Britannic, in its day the fastest sail on the tracts placed her in the Kansas City area just before the turn of the ...
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In the spring of 1948 when my grandfather was killed in his prison, the Lyons family plot was full, so they buried him down a long slope in Mt. Calvary’s old section. Alone much of his life, he lies join his family for visits to the cemetery on Decoration Day. “We’d leave flowers, and I’d ask my dad, ‘Who was James Lyons? Why ...
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If you died on the streets, they more than likely delivered your body to the potter’s field next to the Kansas City Municipal Farm. The pauper’s cemetery was a sloping two-acre tract, and over the years more than a thousand metal markers were shoved into the yellow clay, each carrying a slip of paper bearing a name and a number ...
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When the guard’s spotlight landed on James Lyons the jail announced that officers had looked in on him several times down there in the Hole and that he seemed to be fine, and they suggested that even though he was not yet forty years old, he must have had ...
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On Wednesday, May 26, 1948, there appeared in the morning paper a small four-paragraph item that ran deep in the inside pages. Headlined “Dies at Municipal Farm,” the Kansas City Times reported that James Patrick Lyons, thirty-nine, of Fifth and Main streets, had...
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Once the guard’s flashlight spotted my grandfather’s body in solitary confinement, the word quickly began to make the rounds. It spread fast, real fast. It circled first among the guards and then up around the jailhouse cell blocks above the basement Dungeon and then swiftly out onto the streets of the city, too. The news landed ...
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It is the house that Truman built. He was presiding judge of the old administrative court then. That was back in 1934, and Truman dedicated the new Jackson County Courthouse in downtown Kansas City just days before he left for Washington as the freshly elected Democratic senator from Missouri. ...
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Every day before noon Charles B. Wheeler arrives for lunch at the Westport Flea Market restaurant. Now swallowed up by the city, the Westport neighborhood is actually older than Kansas City. It was the stepping-off point for settlers headed west to Texas and the Oregon Territory. The town of Westport was here long before there was a Fifth ...
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The guard with the flashlight, Frederick H. Coleman, worked the overnight shift. He went out to the Farm in his khaki-brown uni-until the sun was up the next morning. He was already in his late sixties by 1948, and this was just a job in retirement that he took after years toiling as a housepainter and wallpaper hanger. He was a big ...
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And then I knew I was done. Because even though I never quite realized it, it was some kind of an inner peace that I been searching for all along. I had embarked on a journey hoping to find a grandfather and maybe his killer too but had instead discovered something ...
Page Count: 162
Publication Year: 2009