Carrie Westlake Whitney and Carl Busch: "A Christmas Greeting to Kansas City Children"

Local History
Carrie Westlake Whitney
Carrie Westlake Whitney, director of the Kansas City Public Library

In 1932 a poem titled “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” appeared in the newspaper, written by a local poet. The first stanza and the fourth read: Do you remember way back when / (Say, thirty, forty years) You never saw your sweetheart’s limbs / But judged her by her ears?

Not a soul had appendicitis, / Nor thought of buying glands, / The butcher gave his liver away, / But charged you for his hands.

I’ll spare you the other five.

The author of these verses was well-known to many Kansas Citians, though not for his poetry.

His name was Edward F. Swinney, and for decades he was the president of the First National Bank. I mentioned this bank, located at Tenth and Baltimore, in my blog about William T. Carnes. It’s the building in which the Central Branch of the Kansas City Public Library is now located, and in which I am now typing.

The bank president’s office has been maintained by the library, and can still be seen by the public. Rechristened the Chairman’s Office, it’s in the southwest corner of the first floor, so when you come in the front door of the library, turn left and head west, just past the stairway.

Besides being president of a bank, Swinney also served for 30 years as a member of the Board of Education — a good part of that as treasurer.

I mention Swinney because the Kansas City Star for December 19, 1909, carries a brief story about the bank president, telling us that, after nearly two months of not feeling quite well, he was taken to the hospital the day before. He was operated on for appendicitis.

On the front page, right next to the story about Swinney, there ran another short article, with a Carthage, Mo., Dec. 18 dateline. It told of “Miss Buehlah Aspinall, a pretty society girl of Carthage,” and William Perry of Los Angeles. They had met six days earlier and apparently had hit it off. Jokes about “their apparent fondness for each other” led to a dare from friends, which resulted in a late night visit to the house of a Judge Hubbard, who performed the wedding. (This story also made page one of the Kansas City Journal.)

On page 13A of the same issue of the Star, another story tells us that the temperature in Carthage got down to zero that night, and that many homes, already without water, were now without natural gas for heat.

Another article on that same page told of money being raised to provide a Christmas tree and other items to the 115 orphaned boys who lived at the Perry Memorial Home, 912 Westport Avenue. The home was run entirely on subscriptions by the Sisters of Charity, and subscribers had come through at the last minute.

The Shriners of Ararat Temple, also in the spirit of the season, were preparing Christmas baskets for the “worthy poor” of Kansas City. The baskets would contain “dinners and toys for the children,” and would be distributed the day before Christmas.

The Journal also reported that the night before the downtown streets were filled with “a mass of shoppers.” The story states that (quite differently than what we experience in 2011) December 18, 1909, was the “first evening” of the season that the stores had been open for business, and that “the shopping district was overwhelmed,” as it “reached its flood.”

Page 5C of the Star presented the special results of the collaboration of two fairly well-known citizens of Kansas City.

In 1909, Carl Busch was not yet Sir Carl Busch. That was still a little less than three years away.

Carl Busch
Carl Busch

Busch was born in Denmark, on the Jutland peninsula, in Bjerre, on March 29, 1862. His father, George Ludwig Busch, was a lawyer, and though he and his wife Ida surrounded their children with music (including hiring a governess as well-steeped in music as she was in general education), Busch senior was intent that his sons follow him into law.

Carl tried to live the life his father had planned for him, even studying law at the University of Copenhagen, but could not shake the love of music that had been implanted during his boyhood. Having taken flute lessons, as well as having taught himself both the violin and the cello, young Busch enrolled in the Royal Conservatory, where he studied violin with Valdemar Tofte and composition with Niels Gade. His father finally acceded, and Busch was able to focus his energy on his music. He won a scholarship to the Brussels Conservatory and became a member of the Brussels Symphony Orchestra—until he was dismissed for skipping rehearsals. He skipped the rehearsals to compose.

He headed for Paris, becoming a street and café musician, which established contacts through whom he met Benjamin Godard, Charles Gounod, Anton Rubenstein, and Camille Saint-Saëns. When a profession engagement for the summer fell through, he journeyed back to Denmark.

It was around this time that former Copenhagen music publisher Thyge Sogard was appointed Denmark’s vice-consul in Kansas City. He and Busch began corresponding, and Sogard encouraged Busch to form a quartet and come to Kansas City. Busch (now playing viola) and three friends formed the Gade String Quartet, and, with barely enough money to get there, headed to America’s heartland.

They arrived on January 1, 1887. Kansas City didn’t seem to need a quartet nearly as much as Sogard had thought, and soon the four pursued individual paths. Busch slowly began to make a name for himself, as a teacher, a conductor, and eventually as a composer. While mastering English, he became director of the Philharmonic Choral Society, and this sparked his relationship with Sallie Smith, who sang and taught piano.

Like Beuhlah of Carthage and William of Los Angeles, Carl and Sallie got engaged six days after they met. They married on December 28, 1888, six months after they met. They remained married until Sallie’s death in 1939.

In 1892, about five years after Busch arrived in Kansas City, Antonín Dvořák also came to the United States. By the time Dvořák arrived in New York, he was already well established as world renowned composer. Busch had become more and more known in Kansas City, but was just 30 years old, and his real acclaim as a composer was yet to come.

However, the Bohemian Dvořák and the Danish Busch shared something besides the viola. At a time when most classically trained American composers were looking back at Europe for their musical inspiration, Dvořák and Busch were both exploring the richness that lay in the varieties of American folk music. Shortly after his arrival, Dvořák wrote articles about American music, concluding that Native American and African-American music should become the jumping off point for a truly American music.

Around this time he took African-American composer Harry Burleigh as a pupil, and asked Burleigh’s guidance in discovering traditional spirituals. In the first half of 1893, Dvořák wrote his ninth symphony, From the New World, which shows the impact of that exploration.

Busch did his own exploration into the cultural foundations of American music, and began to draw strongly from Native-American melodies, as well as his love of the Midwest. The Missouri Valley Room has several of Busch’s scores, including “A Chippewa Lament,” “Indian Rhapsody,” “The Four Winds, from the Song of Hiawatha,” “Six Indian Songs, from the ‘Hiawatha’ of Henry W. Longfellow,” “Liberty Memorial Ode,” “Five Songs from the Ozarks,” and “The Kansas City Spirit.”

The Midwestern tributes make me wonder about the impact Busch may have had on composers like Aaron Copland and Kansas City’s Virgil Thomson.

In 1908 Carrie Westlake Whitney included a short biography of Carl Busch in the third volume of her three-volume History of Kansas City. (Howard E. Huselton, though, authored the entry, instead of Whitney.)

In the text of her presentation on Whitney, given at the Central Library in 2010, Pulitzer Prize winner Shirley Christian gives the year of Carrie’s birth as 1854. This is supported by her death certificate, as that document, while not giving a date of birth, lists her age as “about 80.” Her entry in the 1880 census, though, gives her age as 29, which would make the year of birth 1851, or perhaps later in 1850.

So, Carrie Westlake was born sometime around 1851-1854.

Christian locates the place of birth as Fayette County, a section of antebellum western Virginia, which, because of the Civil War, would break from the major part of the state and reorganize with other western counties into the new state of West Virginia. By the time the war started, though, the Westlake family had relocated to Missouri, near Sedalia.

Christian’s research provided some information I had not known before. James Steele Whitney was not Carrie Westlake’s first husband. In 1875 she had married E.W. Judson in Sedalia. In 1881, when she was hired to work for the library, “she signed her name as Carrie W. Judson.” No records have been found for a divorce or Judson’s death.

The fact of this earlier marriage helped me make some discoveries.

I had tried to find Carrie in the 1880 census, but could not locate any listing for her under either Westlake or Whitney, nor could I find a marriage license for the joining of a man named Whitney to a woman named Westlake.

When I found that Carrie’s married name was Judson, I checked the 1880 census to see if there was a listing for a Caroline Judson or a Carrie Judson. And I found her.

Carrie Judson’s occupation was listed as “Book Keeper,” as that of Mary Hughs, another young woman living at the same address. Both Carrie and Mary were listed as boarders in a family’s house.

James Greenwood served as Kansas City Superintendent of Schools for 29 years, which, given the revolving-door nature of that position for the last two decades, a century ago seems an oddly stable time. After Greenwood retired in 1913, he stayed on another year as an adviser to the district. He literally died at his desk in the department of education one morning before most of the other employees had arrived for work.

Historians have long wondered how Carrie Judson (the 1880 census lists her marital status as married) and Greenwood met.

The 1880 census tells us that James Greenwood and his family owned the house in which Mrs. Judson and Miss Hughs were boarders. We know that Greenwood was impressed with her. He said that she was the smartest woman he had ever known.

When the Board of Education passed a resolution on March 3, 1881, that a Librarian be hired at $30 a month, the members gave Greenwood the authority to find and hire a qualified person. In less than two weeks Carrie Judson started as the first public librarian in Kansas City.

I mentioned that someone else had written Busch’s short biography in Whitney’s History. For Whitney’s own entry in the second volume, however (since there is no byline for anyone else), it appears that she probably wrote her own account of her life.

According to this “she was born on a large plantation in Virginia” and “received her education in private schools.” Her marriage to Judson is not mentioned, and her marriage to Whitney is contained in one sentence that gives the date of their wedding and the date of his death just over four years later.

This short bio focuses on her time as head librarian, beginning with her appointment by the school board in 1881, when the library’s holdings numbered about 1,000 books and going through 1908, when she had increased the holdings to over 90,000. The bio then lists her professional affiliations, and her achievements with the children’s and reference departments, moving the library forward until “it ranks among the advanced libraries of the century.” The bio ends by saying, “Mrs. Whitney’s biography is the history of the Kansas City Public Library.”

I’ve not come across anything that suggests how Carrie Westlake Whitney and Carl Busch came to join their talents for the project that reached its fruition in the Sunday edition of the Kansas City Star on December 19, 1909. Both had lived in Kansas City for over two decades, and had risen to positions of cultural importance in the Kansas City community. Busch continued to gain respect as a composer and conductor, and Whitney, besides her History, had published poetry and articles, and was sought after to deliver speeches as a librarian and as someone who knew how to develop reading skills in others.

We know that children were extraordinarily important to Whitney in her work as head librarian, that she focused a great deal of energy in building the children’s program for the library. We also know that Busch composed many pieces especially with children in mind, both as listeners and as performers. Whitney was a widow well into her 50s, and Busch was happily married, but in his late 40s. Neither ever had children.

However it may have happened, somehow they joined forces.

So, now we turn directly to the song that appeared on page 5C of the Kansas City Star on that Sunday before Christmas, December 19, 1909.

To download an image of the song as it appeared in the paper, along with the drawings that appeared above and below the music and lyrics (and reflected the themes of both), right click the link and choose "Save File As".

JPG: "A Christmas Greeting to Kansas City Children" (original 1909 newspaper image)

On our home computer my wife and I have software that allows us to create and print sheet music (my wife has her Master of Music degree in piano performance, with an emphasis in pedagogy, and I occasionally write songs). To download a PDF document of the song, which you can open to look at, and even print your own copy, right click the link and choose "Save File As":

PDF: "A Christmas Greeting to Kansas City Children" (sheet music)

The song was written for voice and piano. It has two stanzas with a refrain. The stanzas are written in 2/4 time, and the refrain in 3/8, and the stanzas are marked Moderato and the refrain Allegretto. The combining of the meter and tempo in the stanza section gives a sense of calm and silence, while the refrain picks up the tempo, and the 3/8 meter gives a feel of dance and movement.

Since the lyrics of the stanzas focus on the religious aspect of Christmas, describing Bethlehem on the night of Christ’s nativity, and the lyrics of the refrain embody the secular part, telling of jingling sleigh bells, Santa Claus, and prancing and dancing reindeer, the lyrics and their accompanying music reinforce each other in both the religious and the secular parts of the song.

If you look again at the song as it actually appeared in the Star, you can see that even the drawings illustrating it reflect these two themes. The top drawing is a more formal triptych, which frames a silent, snow-filled wooded scene , while the bottom drawing is alive with rambunctious action, with an obviously jovial Santa—bag of toys just behind him—who waits slightly hunched, with arms opened for the more than a dozen children sprinting towards him. Neither Santa nor the children can be contained by the long, horizontal rectangle that frames the scene.

While I regret that the playback function of my software cannot do justice to the nuance of the tempo change in the song, you can hear the music below as an MP3:

MP3: "A Christmas Greeting to Kansas City Children"

The next year, 1910, the school board decided that the position of head librarian should be held by a man, and Carrie Westlake Whitney was demoted to assistant librarian. That was the same year that the school named in honor of Edward F. Swinney opened its doors.

In 1912 she was allowed to “retire.” She and her assistant librarian, Frances Bishop, had the deepest of friendships and had lived together since the death of James Whitney. Carrie lived over two decades after leaving the library, dying in April of 1934.

Carl Busch continued to expand his cultural impact, winning awards for his compositions, earning his doctorate, and receiving a knighthood from the king of Denmark. His wife Sallie preceded him in death in 1939.

Busch died on Sunday, December 19, 1943—34 years to the day that the song he had co-written with Carrie Westlake Whitney for the children of Kansas City had appeared in the Sunday paper.

May you have a blessed and merry Christmas.

My special thanks to my wife, Hemdah Salonimer-Horner, for her invaluable help in analyzing “A Christmas Greeting to Kansas City Children.”

About the Author

Dr. John Arthur Horner of the Missouri Valley Room has a Ph.D. in Dramatic Art from UC-Santa Barbara, as well as a deep love of history. He is an award-winning playwright and member of the Dramatists Guild of America. He lives in Independence with his wife, two pianos, and their multitude of books.

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