Happy Hollow Fires, Rats, Caves and Ghost Whistles

Happy Hollow was one of those places like Smelterville where everyone knew there were problems, but solutions always seemed to escape. When the Lorimier School Parent-Teachers Unit complained in 1952 about open sewage flowing through the hollow near the school, creating a health hazard for the children, one councilman mentioned the possibility of erecting a fence around it.

Mrs. Lloyd Brooks, chairman of the Lorimier committee, countered, “I don’t know of any city that has a hole like that in the middle of town – and then thinks enough of the hole to fence it in.”  (Click on the photos to make them larger.)

1966 Happy Hollow fire

The Missourian’s September 16,1966 photo caption said “Happy Hollow burst into a sudden inferno Thursday night, spewing fire and sparks and sending up a choking cloud of smoke to the southeast, limiting visibility and damaging residences. Two firefighters, Victor L. Pierce, left, and Capt. Charles Benton, drenched by water and perspiration, pour a stream of water into the billowing clouds of smoke.”

Fire could smolder through winter

The story continued, “Flames were brought under control Thursday night. However Fire Chief Carl Lewis said a fire of this nature is extremely hard to eliminate. He explained that smoldering is now beneath the surface of the dump and could continue for an extended period, possibly through the winter.”

Smoke nearly choked her

Mrs. F.M. White, who lives near the site of the fire at 512 rear William, said the smoke nearly choked her and her husband to death.

Firemen fought the flames through the night and were continuing the attempt to conquer the smoldering mass today. At one time, there were 11 firemen at the scene. Chief Lewis said the fire was the largest of this nature in more than 20 years.

Similar fire in 1934

The June 16, 1934, Missourian reported, “A fire which converted “Happy Hollow” and its rubbish heaps into a roaring furnace shortly after noon today was brought under control by firemen after a two-hour battle. No damage except to trees was done, as firemen worked in 100-degree temperatures to extinguish the blaze.

“The blaze started about 12:15 o’clock of undetermined origin and smoke and fumes filled the Happy Hollow ravine, which is located east of Frederick Street between Merriwether and William streets. Scores of automobile bodies, tons of paper, old clothes, boxes, barrels and other junk went up in the blaze. The fire department’s big pumper forced water from a hose line attached to a hydrant at William and Frederick streets, and the stench from the smoldering rubbish drove a curious crowd to cover.

“Firemen were aided by volunteers who helped turn the rubbish heaps so that water could penetrate them. The main part of the blaze was confined to a pile of rubbish about 25 feet deep. The place has long been used as a city dumping ground.”

Happy Hollow Cave

The area was full of attractive nuisances. The January 18, 1952, Missourian talked about the Happy Hollow Cave: City Engineer John Walther said today the city would be interested in razing and closing Happy Hollow Cave in exchange for the sandstone blocks of which the cavern is constructed.

The Missouri Pacific Railroad probably owns the cave, which is located in Happy Hollow, south of the railroad’s freight yards on Independence Street. Lorimier School is near the yards. The Lorimier School Parent-Teacher-Unit says the cave attracts children and is an unsuitable place for them to play.

The cave was built nearly 100 years ago as a cooling cellar for the old Hanney Brewery, but was abandoned decades ago. Since then it has become a hangout for vagrants, drunkards and other characters well-known to the police.”

Cavern not easy to raze

May 2, 1952: “A dragline crew today was destroying Happy Hollow Cave, the man-made cavern police called a hangout for vagrants and thieves, and parents called a menace to children.

The first, or east compartment of the cavern was dug up and filled Thursday and today the crew was working on the second compartment, which reaches under the Cape Coal Co. yard. Some difficulty is being encountered. The highest point of the arched ceiling is some 30 feet below the surface of the ground… And the sandstone block ceiling of the cave does not yield easily to the steel teeth of the bucket. Neither do the brick-lined wall of the connecting passageways.

The plan is to remove all the dirt from the top of the vaults, pull out all of the curved ceiling, then fill in the hole, leaving the vertical walls standing.

Rats! Guess who got THIS assignment

When the job called for writing about the sewage treatment plant, getting up on a cold morning for a quarry rescue or going to the dump to count rats, I was the guy. On one of those Friday night bull sessions over at Arlene Southern’s house, we were griping about our jobs, like workers always do. When the discussion came around to me, I said, “They ought to hire some high school kid to write the obits and briefs and that kind of junk to free us up for the important stories.” When I looked around the table, everybody was grinning at me. That’s when I realized that’s exactly what jBlue had done – I WAS that kid.

The Missourian was pretty strict about not inserting yourself into a story, but I was given some latitude in this unbylined piece on September 26, 1966. The Google copy was pretty blurry, so I couldn’t grab it all.

“Superior brand of chiggers”

A Missourian reporter spending a couple of hours with a camera at Happy Hollow Saturday afternoon found that the no-dumping signs placed at the former city dump have had very little effect.

He also found that the Happy Hollow is evidently the happy home of uncounted hundreds of rats. The rat in the photo wasn’t alone. By actual count, it had at least five others in the same pile of trash. Farm statistics of rat populations, quoted by the Missouri Extension Office at Jackson, show that for every rat sighted there are 50 others nearby.

The reporter’s notes added, ‘In addition to rats, garbage and mud  – which comes from either sewer or seep water – Happy Hollow also breeds a superior brand of chiggers.'”

Happy Hollow is cleaned up

After decades of discussion, most of Happy Hollow has been filled in and cleaned up, at least the area from William Street to River Campus. This view is looking north from William on November 9, 2010.

South Fountain extension

This is South Fountain looking north toward William Street.

Aerial view of the area

This is the aerial I ran yesterday with the Houck Railroad bridges story.

Speaking of which, I posed the question, “I wonder if ghost whistles of Louis Houck’s engines can still be heard in the neighborhood at night. I’m sure reader Keith Robinson will tell us much more about the railroad.”

Keith outdid himself with this one.

Ghost whistles in the night

The area of Happy Hollow might well hear ghost whistles in the night.

Just south of the Morgan Oak viaduct, was the location of the untimely death of my great-great grandfather, Jesse Robinson in 1901 when my great grandfather, Goley Robinson was working for Houck’s Southern Missouri & Arkansas Railroad. The SM&A was the progenitor of all the tracks in downtown Cape and to the south.

According to the Coroner’s Inquest Report, Jesse was apparently run over by an SM&A train backing down the tracks when a double-bit crosscut saw that he was carrying over his shoulder caught the back end of one of the cars. He was 56 years old and my great grandfather was 19. As result, the Robinson family ended up in a house on the Louis Houck estate until the family could get on their feet.

Goley and his younger brother, Ivan, were locomotive firemen on a number of Houck’s railroads until they finally became part of the Frisco and Missouri Pacific. My great grandfather stated that he would sound a wavering whistle every time he passed over the spot where his father died.

 

 

Houck Railroad Bridges

I was planning to write about Happy Hollow, but I ran across so many good stories I decided to hold off until I can do it justice. Here’s a piece of the Happy Hollow neighborhood that has what Missourian blogger James Baughn says may have been the oldest bridge in Cape Girardeau.You should read his blog entry about two bridges here that spanned Good Hope and William Streets. Reading his account will boost his traffic stats and save me some typing. (Click on any photo to make it larger.)

Louis Houck decided to use area between Independence and William Streets for his railroad depot, rail yard and other facilities. You might remember the large three-story stone building near where the federal courthouse is today. I wish I had some photos of it, but it was torn down before I started documenting things like that. This trench and overpasses provided a south approach to the rail yard.

Aerial of South Fountain area

The bridges were taken out and the area filled in when South Fountain Street was extended to River Campus. River Campus is on the left side of the photo. The approach to the old Mississippi River Traffic Bridge is at the east end of Morgan Oak.

View south from William Street

The street was still under construction when this was shot November 9, 2010, but it is open now.

I wonder if ghost whistles of Louis Houck’s engines can still be heard in the neighborhood at night. I’m sure reader Keith Robinson will tell us much more about the railroad.

 

Train Cars Hop Track

Twenty-seven railroad cars squashed together in a massive pileup Monday morning (March 7, 1966) about a mile north of Neely’s Landing. Two crew members were hurt and two workers were injured later during the clean-up operations, the Missourian story said.

“It’s one of the worst train wrecks I’ve ever seen,” a railroad worker of 44 years commented.

Frisco on regular run

The 76-car Frisco freight train was on its daily St. Louis-to-Memphis run when the cars in the middle derailed almost directly in front of the main cut of the Westlake Rock Quarry, a 200-foot bluff to the west. The Mississippi River was about 150 feet to the east, but no cars went into the river.

Conductor and brakeman injured

Engineer J.H. Davenport lost contact with his crew after the pileup. He found that the conductor, A.L.Bailey, and the rear brakeman, R.L Becker, were injured and “shook up.” He phoned for help from the home of Sylvester Hitchcock at Neely’s Landing. The two injured crewmen were taken to the Frisco Hospital in St. Louis. Neither was seriously hurt.

Massive cranes came from St. Louis and Memphis

Two wrecker crews worked with giant cranes mounted on railroad flatcars to clear the tracks. A crew from Memphis, with a 250-ton crane, worked the wreck from the south. A St. Louis crew, working with a slightly smaller crane attacked from the north.

Bulldozer shoved, pushed and rammed

Gerald Ford of Neely’s Landing used a bulldozer to help push the freight cars off the tracks. As the steel cable on the crane pulled one end of the cars, the dozer shoved, pushed and rammed the other end.

What caused it?

It was working this wreck that I stumbled onto a technique that came in handy over the years. Nobody would comment on the cause of the derailment, so I tried getting the workers aside and asked, “You’ve seen a lot of these things. When you’ve pulled apart ones that looked like this one, what did you find?”

The engineer said he thought the cause might have been a spreading of the rails or a break in the rails. One of the crewmen said that one of the wheels might have frozen and jumped the tracks.

Cable whipped back on workmen

Two crewmen were injured when a cable whipped back striking about six workmen and catching the legs of two of the men.

I learned from experience to be wary of cables. One of the first things Dad taught me when I was a kid hanging around his job sites was to always step on, not over, a cable on the ground. That way you’d be thrown to the side instead of being cut in half if someone suddenly took up the slack without warning. I saw enough tow cables go whipping around to always stay a cable-length away when they were under load.

It was a cold night

This must have been one of those nights when Frony said, “Let the Kid handle it.”

I was going to comment that we didn’t have any access problems at the scene, but the last paragraph of the story says that a Frisco official grabbed a Missourian photographer (me) as he was taking a picture of the wreckage. He warned the photographer and a Missourian reporter not to get too close. Another reporter who did not have a press card was told to leave.

Frisco was better than the B&O

That’s still better than the treatment I was used to getting when the B&O Railroad would pile up a train in southern Ohio. Their railroad bulls were of the ilk and era of the days when hobos were rousted from the trains by clubs and worse. To add to the problem, they had law enforcement powers and were quick to threaten you with arrest for trespassing on their right-of-way. Derailments were common because their tracks were in miserable shape, with rotted ties and spikes that were loose or missing.

I thought I had them when a trainload of new automobiles piled up south of Athens, Ohio. Before I headed to the scene, I stopped by the county courthouse to see who owned the land alongside the track. I called the farmer to ask if I could cut across his field and shoot the wreck from his property. “Sure,” he said. “You’re welcome.” Then, just as I was starting to put the phone down with a sly smile on my face, he finished his sentence. “You do remember, don’t you, that the Hocking River is flooding. You’re going to have to be about nine feet tall if you’re going to stand there.” Drat!

Train wreck photo gallery

Some of these images are redundant, but I figure Keith Robinson and his train buff buddies will find details in them that the rest of us will miss. Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side to move through the gallery.

 

 

Cement Plant Dust in 1963

After I ran the aerial photo of dust coming out of the Marquette Cement Plant stack in 1966, Keith Robinson commented, “My dad took photos in 1963 from the top of the 16-silo mass. You could see the dust build-up on top of the buildings and vent louvers.”

Then to go one better, he sent me these two photos. He’s right. The whole place looks like it’s dusted with flour. (Click on any photo to make it larger.)

Dust piled up like snow

The louvers and roofs of the building look like it’s been snowing. Even the piles of coal have a coating of white.

Cement plant in 2010

This photo was taken in the fall of 2010 looking pretty much in the same direction as the photo above it. The conveyor system is used to move the cement to waiting barges. Shipping by water is the most cost-efficient mode of transportation.

Thanks to Keith and his dad for the photos and information.

 

 

Copyright © Ken Steinhoff. All rights reserved.