SMITHVILLE — For the first time, two historic photos taken in Smithville in the summer of 1919 will be displayed together.
In commemoration of a long unheard of party welcoming home area World War I veterans, the Smithville Historical Society, in partnership with Smithville American Legion Jim Nelson Post No. 58, will have a celebration in memory of those who served, including the two images.
“The rural town of Smithville turned out in force 100 years ago,” Dewayne Knott of the American Legion said. “There were orators, a band, a movie, dancing, food and speeches by local dignitaries lasting from 11 in the morning to midnight.”
No one knows anymore that this event had happened, Bob Hazlett of the Smithville Historical Society said. Not the old people or the young people of the community.
Until recently, no one at the Historical Society or the Legion did either.
“No, we didn’t,” Frank Justice of the Patterson House Museum confirmed.
But then a photo was discovered by a local resident going through his uncle’s belongings. Seeing something that appeared to say Smithville on it, he put it in the hands of someone he figured could get it to the right people.
“One day I was at the Chamber of Commerce, they asked if I was with the Historical Society and I said I was. So she handed me this,” Hazlett said, pointing at a photograph, “it was a rolled up, crumpled thing.”
Hazlett spent a month steaming the photo in his bathroom, ultimately making it flat enough to scan a digital image. While looking at the photo, he saw a building and a man he recognized. It didn’t take him long to come up with a theory.
Hazlett determined an image hanging at the Smithville American Legion was taken on the same day as the mystery photo because of the identical location and William Patterson being identified in both, wearing the same outfit.
“So I went over to the archives where I volunteer,” he said, “and went through the newspapers of 1918 and 1919 and finally started to find some of this stuff.”
At least three articles were published about the event, some leading up to it with another covering after. Based on what he found in old copies of the Smithville Lake Herald, the event depicted in the photos was a welcome home party held in June 1919 for WWI soldiers.
Hazlett couldn’t wait to share what he had discovered.
The Smithville Historical Society and American Legion agreed this should be commemorated for the 100th anniversary of soldiers returning from the Great War.
“This was a big deal,” Hazlett said. “They invited people, they pretty much commanded people, from the whole area to come to this event.”
With speakers coming from Kansas City and Liberty, Hazlett pointed at the images and said everyone turned out in their Sunday best to honor the soldiers who had fought.
Beginning at 6 p.m. Saturday, July 27, at the American Legion Post No. 58, 2607 Missouri Highway 92 in Smithville, those soldiers will be honored again.
“Featured will be WWI displays, a soldier reenactor, music from the period, food, an orator, music bingo and brief biographical sketches given by a historian of some of the soldiers who were photographed that day,” Knott said.
A suggested donation of $10 will include a full meal with the same menu served 100 years ago. Also available will be posters featuring both images and the articles written back then.