Back when I was a newspaper reporter, I usually tried to identify exact locations when writing an article about some upcoming event.
Even if the location of the venue was common knowledge, such as, for example, the Neosho Auditorium (officially the Civic), I would as a rule include the address in whatever article I was writing, generally when it was before the event. I don’t know if I did that every time, but I know I tried to be conscious of it. I should note that I’m not criticizing anyone but myself here, for those times I didn’t do it.
The main reason to include an address was, as I constantly have to remind myself, new people are moving into our area all the time. It’s easy to forget that not everybody just automatically knows where everything is (or, much less, knows about local history, but that is a different discussion and one I’ve touched on before).
But another reason it is important for newspapers to record addresses, or at least general locations, is for the sake of history. To paraphrase something my friend and editor of the Neosho Daily News, John Ford, once told me, journalists are really the front line recorders of history.
Those words came back to me recently while researching a photograph.
The picture is actually a postcard, dated Jan. 27, 1910. The front of the postcard is a photo of a line of people seemingly waiting to enter a large barn-like structure. Stretched across the front of the building is a giant banner that reads “Christ Died for You.” The building fronts a tree-lined street. There isn’t much in the background to speak of, or least no identifiable landmarks. The caption reads, “Tabernacle. Neosho. M [Missouri]. Rev. I.E. Honeywell. Evangelist.” On the back of the postcard is the date mentioned above and this message, signed by a Kate Veerkamp: “We are having wonderful meetings at this tabernacle. About 300 converts to date. Egbert and Fern are the couple farthest to the right. Will write letter later.” It is addressed to Mrs. E.H. Skelly, Audrain C [County], Mo.
Nowhere does is state where this tabernacle is located, exactly. No big deal, I thought. It shouldn’t be that hard to find out where this place was. However, an internet search turned up nothing. Well, that’s fine, I thought. It just means a visit to the library. So on my lunch hour one day last week I scrolled through microfilm of newspaper pages from the Neosho Times. I targeted early January 1910. Bingo! Sure enough, I found several articles about this big revival happening in Neosho, led by a Reverend Honeywell. Given the beginning of this column, I think you see where this is going. To my disappointment, not one of the articles gave an address, or even street, where the revival was happening. They all simply said it was at the “Neosho Tabernacle.” And that’s it. No mention of where the Neosho Tabernacle was located. I’m sure that in 1910 pretty much everyone reading the Neosho Times knew exactly where the Neosho Tabernacle was. Not so in 2013. Until I or someone else finds a reference somewhere, all we can do is speculate based on what we see in the photograph, which doesn’t give us much to go on.
I was able to confirm from one of the articles I hunch I had, that the Neosho Tabernacle was erected special for the revival and was most likely a temporary structure. Of course, that only makes it harder to find out where it was.
Part of the issue is just a local thing. We tend to give directions based on landmarks and aren’t that concerned with street names. However, I’ve also seen the same tendencies apply in a few local history books as well. What happens when those landmarks aren’t there anymore? How will people 100 years from now know where something was? Incredibly, in some of those same books locations of something given based on who lived nearby at the time the book was written! To state the obvious, people do move. And they don’t live forever, either.
Meanwhile, I’m still looking for the site of the Neosho Tabernacle. I can always look at microfilm of another newspaper from that same time, such as the Miner & Mechanic, and see if it makes any mention of an address, or at least street, for this Neosho Tabernacle. I can also keep searching in the Neosho Times for more articles about the revival, either before or after. Perhaps there is something else to be found about the tabernacle being erected or, perhaps, dismantled.
Maybe I’ll get lucky and find it on an old fire insurance map, if one so happened to be issued the same year the tabernacle was standing, or better yet a plat map.
Or I could ask someone more knowledgeable than I. But it’s more fun to find out for myself.
At any rate, I think this stands as an example of how important it is to document specific locations. Future generations will appreciate it.
Wes Franklin serves on the board of directors of the Newton County Historical Society. He is also public relations/events coordinator for the City of Neosho. Call him at 658-8443.