The package from Red Rocks arrived today. I was thrilled to receive my long-awaited DVD “Mary White.” The movie made back in 1977, tells the story of William Allen White’s high-spirited 17-year-old daughter who died tragically, not from a fall from a horse as the Associated Press had reported, but according to her father in the editorial he wrote after her funeral – her death resulted from “a blow on the head which fractured her skull, and the blow came from the limb of an overhanging tree on the parking.”
Red Rocks, William Allen White’s Emporia home, is now the largest historic site in Kansas. The White family donated the house to the Kansas Historical Society in 2001.
But, for 45 years this imposing three story home at 927 Exchange Street, was where the Sage of Emporia lived with his wife Sallie, son William Lindsay and daughter Mary White.
It’s a fascinating place for the curious to visit. I’ve been fortunate to drive up to Red Rocks twice this month. The first time it was closed for cleaning, but fellow reporter Amy Bickel and I pleaded with Jennifer Baldwin, the site administrator, who was dusting for a grand opening the next day.
She graciously let us in. The home appears to still be inhabited by the Whites, with Sallie’s china on the table, lovely pieces of art work and first edition books filling the bookshelves. And we could sense the White family’s spirits as we walked through the rooms.
We sat in White’s study where his portable Corona typewriter was the only object on his desk. He could type 85 words per minute with two fingers.
Jennifer said the room was never so clean when he was alive. In fact, White had two piano legs placed under the desk to make it sturdier for the weight of his papers.
I was sitting on the sofa, in the study, by the bay window when Jennifer mentioned that it was here his casket was placed for his viewing.
What’s really cool is that you can rent the study, the grounds, even the porch of the home for special events. Wouldn’t it be inspiring to write in his study? The cost for that room is just $25 an hour. Or have a lovely reception on the wrap around porch where several American President’s including Theodore Roosevelt once sat discussing the state of the world.
In Mary’s bedroom there was a bed, a desk and chair. One worn shoe was under the bed. Jennifer said Mary was a minimalist.
We saw the legendary journalist’s white tile circa 1921 bathroom, and the very bathtub where he soaked and relaxed enough to dream up the seed of an idea for a Pulitzer Prize winning editorial. Bickel thought the tub looked too small for the larger than life man. She imagined him big and portly. He had stature, but in reality he was only 5-foot, 4-inches tall.
State archivists have completed a new conception of the house, and are including more information about Mary and William Lindsay and his wife Kathrine White, as well as their daughter Barbara White Walker and her family, who continue to run the Emporia Gazette.
They are certainly making it appear like the White’s are home. When I stopped for my second visit last week, to pick up the “Mary White” DVD, no one answered the door. But there was William Lindsay Whites shiny black Cadillac, with the pristine whitewalls, and the Gazette vanity tag, parked under the car port.
I knocked. No one answered. I knocked again, silence. Maybe that day W.L. just wasn’t in the mood for a visitor.
Kathy Hank’s Kansas Journal also runs every Tuesday in the paper. Have story? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org