Many mining towns were nothing more than temporary camps where miners stayed long enough to mine the desired minerals and then abandoned when the deposit played out. It was a point of pride for a town to celebrate a decadeslong anniversary, which meant it had arrived, becoming a destination valuable in itself. Though settlers had lived in the general area of what was to become Joplin since before the Civil War, the city itself had not been incorporated as Joplin until 1873. The intervening years marked explosive growth as the lead and later zinc mines fueled development of the downtown along Main Street, railroads and interurban systems, electric and gas utilities, schools, semi-professional baseball teams, stylish residences along with the mines and mills that financed them all. So when Joplin's 50th anniversary rolled around in 1923, the city was anxious to pull out all the stops to display its thoroughly modern character.
Plans for the Golden Jubilee began in April 1923. The Chamber of Commerce awarded a contract to the J.F. Craig Decorating Co., of Kansas City, to take charge of the "Golden Jubilee and Home-Coming." Craig and partner J.V. Jack explained they would advertise with large posters in larger district towns and use poster services for smaller towns. They proposed "motor car banners, envelope sticker, inserts and approximately 10,000 special invitations to prospective out of town visitors." "We see wonderful opportunities for Joplin," said Craig. "Our plans are to make it the largest event of its kind ever staged in the southwest."
The next day, the Rotary meeting held at the Connor Hotel was broadcast on radio station WHAH. J.V. Jack was on hand to describe the company's plans for 80 booths in the Overland building at Second Street and Wall Avenue. Each commercial booth in the hall would cost $100. Lights would be stretched across the ceiling with more lamps suspended from the columns. The color scheme was ivory and green, supplemented with foliage and flowers. An orchestra would supply music throughout the hall. On the vacant lot across the street, an "old-fashioned country fair with rides and concessions" would be stationed. The plan was to reproduce as much as possible some old Joplin landmarks. The rental money would cover advance money for staging the event. The Rotary Club announced their own plans to advertise the upcoming jubilee in conjunction with the Ozark Playgrounds Association.
Prior to the weeklong celebration, the city announced plans for a cleanup campaign to prepare for the many expected visitors. The Globe reported that Mayor Taylor Snapp set aside April 22 to 29 for a committee of volunteers to supervise the "scrubbing process." Residents were urged to remove rubbish piles, trim lawns and trees, clean up alleys, backyards and vacant lots "that scenic Joplin might present the nattiest possible aspect to visitors to the city's fiftieth anniversary." The seven railroads arranged for reduced rates for visitors to Joplin over the jubilee.
Another project for the jubilee was inviting former residents to attend. Within five days of letting the contract, the chamber already had a list of 158 former residents to receive special invitations. Chamber secretary James Gibson asked for more names and addresses to be submitted as the goal was to invite 10,000 former residents for the event. He also issued a call for "old vehicles" for a planned parade. "An ox team, stage coach, old-fashioned bicycles, hacks" were desired for the "Old Settlers" parade. A girls ballet and historical pageant were planned by dance instructor Margaret McConnell with more than 150 girls participating.
As the days approached, food was another concern. On Thursday of the jubilee, 5,000 pounds of beef were to be barbecued at Schifferdecker park for visitors. The barbecue for "old-timers" was complete with a fiddle contest, sports and games. Of course, band music and speeches were scheduled through the day.
On Monday, June 11, the jubilee began at 7 p.m. with Mayor Snapp's speech at the exhibition hall. The hall was open from 2 to 11 p.m. each day. Tuesday saw a floral parade of decorated cars from clubs, fraternal orders, businesses and individuals. Prizes totaling $200 were awarded for the most attractive entries. The parade ushered in the Jubilee Queen Ethel Henderson on her own float. That evening at the Joplin Theatre at Seventh Street and Joplin Avenue she would be crowned in a ceremony with more than 200 participants, dancers, singers, instrumentalists and other performers. In all, the program with 23 numbers played to a capacity house.
The antique vehicles parade displayed more than 30 vehicles Thursday afternoon. A boys harmonica contest was held at the barbecue. Food for a crowd of 10,000 persons was prepared for the barbecue. The Junge Baking Co. won the city-beautiful commercial class award. Hockerville sent a 25-piece band to march in the parade "as an especial courtesy." Miss Henderson the Jubilee Queen was adorned with diamonds supplied by city jewelers and valued at a quarter million dollars ($3.7 million in 2019 dollars) as she presided over the parade.
On Saturday, the last parade wound through Main and Joplin "between two walls of solid humanity which extended into the middle of the street." The crowd estimated at 75,000 persons followed the parade to the exhibition lot. The people filled "every available inch of space, crowding into the exposition building, dancing or catching the dancers."
The jubilee was unanimously declared a complete success. Gibson noted volunteers, merchants and manufacturers discussed the possibility of creating an annual event. Craig Decorating Co. was praised for its thoroughness and fairness in "providing the city and its visitors with a royal good time." The Globe estimated that more than 100,000 persons from out of town celebrated Joplin's Golden Jubilee.
Bill Caldwell is the retired librarian at The Joplin Globe. If you have a question you’d like him to research, send an email to email@example.com or leave a message at 417-627-7261.