Neosho unveils another mural for walking tour
December 07, 2008

A mural by Anthony Benton Gude is unveiled at a ceremony in Neosho by a member of the congregation of the Neosho United Methodist Church. Gude, the grandson of muralist Thomas Hart Benton, was chosen to be the first recipient of the Thomas Hart Benton Fellowship Award.

Rev. Gene Cole of the Neosho United Methodist Church reads one of the proclamations received from state and federal officials. With him, L-R, are documentary producer Paul Wannenmacher of Springfield, Crystal Quade, a representative from the office of Sen. Claire McCaskill and Rev. Larry Anderson of the Second Baptist Church, Neosho.

A mural dedication service was held at the Neosho United Methodist Church on December 6, 2008. Artist Anthony Benton Gude, the grandson of Thomas Hart Benton, was chosen to paint the sixth mural in a series of about 20 that will be part of a walking tour depicting the history of Newton County. Gude became the first recipient of the Thomas Hart Benton Fellowship Award.

The subject of the mural had to deal with the Tipton Ford train wreck of August 5, 1914 in which a motorcar full of people was stuck by a freight train riding on the same track. Most of the victims were returning from Lakeside Park near Joplin after having attended Emancipation Day ceremonies. The aftermath of this tragedy was said to be the first time that blacks and whites intermingled when they met in mourning on Neosho Square attempting to identify the dead.

In his message before the unveiling of the mural, Dr. Steve Roark (pictured), president of the Newton County Tourism Council, threw out mental images of, Old Yeller to set the mood for what it's like to mourn. For those who haven't seen the 1957 movie,Old Yeller was a yellow mongrel stray that sought acceptance in a family that at first spurned him. The dog earns his keep after a series of adventures proving his worth. However, sadly after being bitten by a rabid animal Old Yeller has to be put to sleep by the oldest son of the family who had learned to love him.

After extensive research Roark in a very graphic PowerPoint presentation showed pictures of twisted metal that was the result of the impact of Kansas City Southern Locomotor 805 and the motor car, a Missouri and North Arkansas passenger car with a capacity to hold 75 people or more that was shoved 650 feet down the track. His research revealed that the locomotive left Joplin full of fuel that ignited on impact and created 900-feet of scorched earth.

Archival information quotes a Mr. Hughes of Joplin, who was on the freight train, regarding valiant efforts to bring any survivors to safety. John Brennan, the KCS engineer, who died later from injuries he suffered is said to have saved about eight people before a second explosion occurred. Before dying he wanted to be exonerated for any wrongdoing, proving that his orders were to pass the motorcar that no doubt was supposed to be on a side track.

"Only God knows the exact number of deaths," Roark said. Local Boy Scouts were asked to scour the area looking for possessions that might identify the victims. Not only people from the 4-state area but from Iowa, Washington and Illinois were said to be amongst the dead. Roark who questioned the accuracy of the death toll of 50-65 said that "a lot of people never were ID-ed."

Anthony Benton Gude stands next to the mural he painted of the 1914 Tipton Ford tragedy.

The objective was to create a mural that would depict the strength of the Christian faith in our community, Roark said. But how was "faith" to be painted? A committee from the church met to discuss the dilemma concluding that the mural should not be overly grim. The Neosho United Methodist Church had been selected to house the mural because of church minister H.A. Wood's role in eulogizing the victims and the membership at the time of M.E. Benton, father of Thomas Hart Benton.

Gude successfully argued that the mural had to contain a depiction of the crash, although he painted it in the background. According to the artist, the segregation of the blacks and whites in the mural was based on "historical accuracy." Gude said that in perusing photographs he couldn't discern anyone's features. The segregated crowd, however, he said, is contrasted by the colorless spirits shown gaining resurrection. And he called the vibrant summer flowers that he painted that were readily available an "expression of life."

Gude, who was born on the island of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, credits learning the tools of his trade after studying under Prof. John Burns at the School of the Museum of Fine Art in Boston in the late 1980s. In Burns' technical painting class Gude says he mastered the Venetian technique of painting, a system that employs monochromatic under painting to develop form and composition before the color is achieved by layering of tones. He continued his education at the Art Student's League in New York City concentrating on the anatomical correctness of the human form.

He and his family live on a small farm in the hills of southeastern Marshall County, Kansas. The farm was purchased in the early 1970s by Gude's grandfather, who bought it using the proceeds he received from the sale of a painting he created of it.

New Carver exhibits show the blacks' struggle for equality

A mural by artist Cedar J. Kindy illustrating the life and work of agricultural chemist and inventor George Washington Carver now hangs on a wall of the theatre of the George Washington Carver National Monument's Visitor's Center in Diamond. The piece, a triptych, won first place at the Thomas Hart Benton Festival held in April 2007. Crowder College, the Carver Birthplace District Association (CBA), and the Newton County Tourism Council (NCTC) of Missouri co-sponsored the competition. Depicted are Carver's childhood days living in a small log cabin, his achievements as a scientist experimenting with personal products, peanuts and cotton and his legacy conveyed to other blacks by way of a "Movable School."

A time line in one of the Carver Monument exhibits that is particularly provocative shows the struggle of Carver for educational opportunities and recognition side by side with overall milestones in the civil rights struggle. While the final names on the list include Colin Powell and Condi Rice, a glaring omission beyond 2007 is of someone to have achieved a more significant role...but a big white space awaits the black lettering of Barack Obama's name.

For those who have a fuzzy notion of the struggles of blacks in Missouri, once a slave state, several informational plaques document them, including how blacks had to struggle for an equal education after Missouri forbade it.

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