Swope mystery lives on while park thrives

Michael Bushnell
Northeast News

This card, titled “Entrance to Swope Park, Kansas City,” may have been sent by a prominent Kansas City architect of its day.

The message reads, “Don’t know your address but suppose this will reach you. We are going to try to get the year’s program from the Shubert and the Willis Wood so that we can tell a long time ahead when grand opera is coming and you can make your plans to be here. Will write as soon as we find out. Loren and Mettye Middaugh.” The card was sent to Mrs. J. E. Jocelyn, Wichita, Kan., on Sept. 10, 1912.

Middaugh was a prominent local architect who designed a number of area buildings, including homes and churches that line Benton and Gladstone Boulevards, such as Eastminster Presbyterian Church and the old William Wallace mansion that once stood at the corner of Walrond Avenue and Gladstone Boulevard.

Most postcards showing the grand entrance to Swope Park feature the majestic stone pillars shown here, with the “new” Parks Department shelter as a backdrop in the card. This card, however, shows a view probably taken from one of the cupolas of the shelter, looking west on to the Swope farm and country home. The home can be seen in the background, almost in the center of the card.

Swope Park was a donation to the city of Kansas City made by Col. Thomas Swope, a prominent area real estate developer who arrived in Kansas City in the late 1850s amid promises of fortunes being made on the edge of the western frontier.

The 1,350-acre park was dedicated on June 25, 1896, with much fanfare. Mayor James Jones declared the day as Swope Park Jubilee Day, and a grand celebration was held near the park’s entrance on what is now Swope Parkway and Meyer Boulevard. Col Swope, however was not in attendance, choosing to visit the park earlier that morning in his carriage. Unrecognizable by many due to his reclusive lifestyle, Swope was well-pleased with the outcome, despite critics of the park decrying its location roughly three miles outside the present city limits.

Swope’s death in October 1909 made the colonel a household name for the next three years, given the mysterious circumstances under which he died. Swope complained of not feeling well during the evening of his death. His personal physician, Dr. Bennett Hyde, gave him a “digestive pill.” Later that night, Swope went into convulsions and died.

Over the next few months, a number of the members of the Swope household took sick and mysteriously died after being “treated” by Dr. Hyde. Hyde went to trial three times and was convicted once of murdering Col. Swope. He appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, and two more trials followed. One was declared a mistrial, and the other resulted in a hung jury.

After seven years and a fortune being spent in legal fees, the Swope family decided to forego any further litigation. Col. Swope’s death would forever remain a mystery.

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