Meet the Past Looks at the Life and Career Of Kansas City Star Founder William Rockhill Nelson
July 6, 2012
As much as any other individual, William Rockhill Nelson (1841-1915) was responsible for the Kansas City we live in today.
The co-founder and editor of The Kansas City Star, Nelson used the power of the press to improve his city. And he used his personal fortune to create the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Nelson - portrayed by actor Ray Starzmann - returns to his old haunts as part of the Library's popular Meet the Past series on Wednesday, July 25, 2012, at 6:30 p.m. in the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.
Conducting the interview is Library Director Crosby Kemper III. The program will be taped by KCPT for later broadcast.
Born in Indiana, Nelson became a lawyer and was the campaign manager for 1876 Democratic presidential nominee, Samuel J. Tilden.
He failed in his efforts to run a store in Georgia, but did emerge from the experience with the nickname "The Colonel." As fellow newspaper publisher William Allen White explained: "Not that he was ever a colonel of anything...He was just coloneliferous."
Nelson took over the Fort Wayne Sentinel, which was owned by his father, but only a year later - in 1880 - he moved to Kansas City with his partner, Samuel Morss, and founded The Star. At the time it was one of four papers in the city.
Nelson's stated intention with the newspaper was to be "absolutely independent in politics, aiming to deal by all men and all parties with impartiality and fearlessness."
Of his management style it was said: "He would ask for something only once. Then he bellowed."
Nelson quickly became a crusader, putting the power of The Star behind the creation of a parks and boulevard system and spearheading the drive to rebuild the city's fire-ravaged convention hall just 90 days before the scheduled 1900 Democratic National Convention.
For more than 30 years he lorded over the city's political landscape.
Nelson developed the city's Rockhill District (just east of what is now the Country Club Plaza), constructing his palatial home Oak Hall and dozens of still-standing smaller houses for the manor's employees.
His will specified that upon the death of his wife and daughter, Oak Hall would be torn down and the 30-acre estate turned into an art museum. Proceeds from the $6 million estate went to building and buying art for the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, which opened in 1933.
Ray Starzmann is on the staff of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. A native of Philadelphia, he attended Girard College and later earned a political science degree from Park University in Parkville, Mo. A veteran Chautauqua performer, Starzmann has portrayed Harry S. Truman on numerous occasions, including the first season of Meet the Past in 2010.
Admission is free. RSVP onlineor call 816.701.3407. A 6 p.m. reception precedes the program.
Major funding for this season of Meet the Past has been provided by the Courtney S. Turner Charitable Trust, Ken and Cindy McClain, and the J. B. Reynolds Foundation.