A history buff tracks the past from Volker

bill-daySome step into history easily, often people who lived much of it and paid attention.

Among them is Merrill William “Bill” Day of the Volker neighborhood.

Day, 67, worked as a bus driver and a milkman and saw streetscapes change before his eyes.

His grandfather was a streetcar driver, and his father a mechanic and his mother an accountant who both worked in the Westport area.

Many know Day as a guy who rides a bike, takes his dogs to parks, and talks history.

City history books and publications decorate his living room. The computer next to file cabinets in his bedroom contains a collection of historic photos, including some he took himself.

Day recently posted photos of the Van Horn Elementary School (previously known as Mellier Place School) in Volker on the History Buffs Facebook page.
Day recently posted photos of the Van Horn Elementary School (previously known as Mellier Place School) in Volker on the History Buffs Facebook page.
Day recently posted photos of the former Mellier School in Volker on the History Buffs Facebook page.

He’s a regular on online history sites like the Local Kansas City History Buffs on Facebook.

Two dogs curled up at his feet recently while he looked at pictures.

One shows a horse-drawn Manor bread delivery truck, which still operated when he was a Volker kid in the 1940s and early 50s.

“They were real close,” he said of the bakery then in Westport. “Maybe it was a little nostalgia (for them.)”

Mouse click: There’s a Zesto that used to be at Westport Road and Wyoming Street, now a vacant lot.

“That was a big spot,” he said. “All the kids worked there, that was their passage to adulthood.” Another picture shows Norm, who used to manage Zestos.

Click: David Beatty’s hifi store that stood at Westport Road and Genessee Street in the 1960s, the place to go for electronics.

Click: A box-like thing that used to be common in shoe and department stores. As children, he and his brother would stick a foot into it and peer in the top for an X-ray view of their bones.

“That was before they knew how dangerous it was,” he said.

Click: Kiddie Land Park at 85th and Wornall, where Whizzo the clown was a big draw. As children, Day and a young friend once encountered the star outside a show.

“He had a cigarette dangling from his lips and he was pretty well shot,” Day said. His friend shouted something and the clown flipped the boys the bird.

“Whizzo wasn’t going to take any crap,” Day said.

Click: A sad boy mopes decades ago at a grade school in Volker.

The story behind that, Day said, was “The boys lost to the girls in a softball game – he was kind of broken up.”

There are many other pictures of Kansas City dating to at least the early 1900s. Old cars and old buildings seem to call from other eras.

As for a flood picture, he said, “The 1903 flood was a bad one – that’s why they moved Union Station out of the bottoms, put it where it is now.”

There are the strip clubs and sleazy bars that graced downtown before its rebirth, the blight of signboard hill before Crown Center.

A picture of Fairyland Park years after it closed shows it reclaimed by nature, trees growing through the skeleton of a roller coaster.

The Brookside neighborhood in 1903 looks desolate, he said, because “there were hardly any houses out there then.”

Day still collects old pictures and takes new ones himself to keep the record going.

“I can’t get enough history,” he said.


3 responses to “A history buff tracks the past from Volker”

  1. Bill, a one man vocal history buff; thankfully someone is keeping the records together. And I thought you just liked frisbee & dogs & bikes. Keep sharing the stories.

  2. […] we met Volker neighborhood resident Bill Day who is keeping the history of that area […]

  3. John Thomas Avatar
    John Thomas

    It’s wonderful that Mr. Day is doing this.

    There’s also a great little article titled “Where did the name ‘Volker Park’ come from?” that was just posted on http://kcrockhistory.com.

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