Longtime residents detail moments in Cape history

Monday, November 14, 2005
Mary Frances Kinder described earlier life in Cape Girardeau as she remembered it Sunday along with a panel of longtime residents, including Dan Cotner, left, and Joe Russell. (Fred Lynch)

Discussion on city's history is well-attended; another program is planned for February.

More than 400 years of combined memories and stories of Cape Girardeau's past were revisited through a panel of five individuals Sunday afternoon at the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The Historical Association presented the first of four "Remembering Cape Girardeau" programs, which featured the panel of longtime residents, Alton Bray, Dan Cotner, Louise Duncan, Joe Russell and Mary Frances Kinder. Over the next year, in conjunction with the city's bicentennial, the Historical Association will present the programs.

"History is popular in Cape Girardeau," said Dr. Frank Nickell, a Southeast Missouri State University professor who served as moderator for the program. "It's helpful today that we share these stories and memories. So often we're more concerned with things like innovations or the price of gasoline that we overlook the things we cannot measure, the value of community, friendship and stories."

Most of the panel members had lived in Cape Girardeau for the majority of their lives, with the exception of periods of serving time in the military or attending school.

Bray, a former registrar at Southeast, has lived in the city for more than 60 years, and 43 of those years were spent working at the university.

Westward expansion

"The biggest change that has taken place in Cape Girardeau is the westward expansion, the growth of this city," he said. "When I started working on campus, there were only four buildings and now look how much it has grown."

Russell said a subtle change he's noticed in his many years of living in the Cape Girardeau is the ability to cross the Mississippi River.

"In the olden days, the river was a barrier," Russell said. "Today we have the Emerson bridge and now it's so easy to get across the river."

Many memories of the Mississippi River were shared by the panel.

Kinder recalled a time in 1936, when she was 10 years old, that the river froze completely across. Her father took Kinder and her brother to see the unusual sight. And when her father and brother wanted to walk across it, they locked Kinder in the car because they thought it was too dangerous for her to cross.

"It was a wonderful sight though," Kinder said. "I saw people walking across, a couple cows and even a truck going across the frozen river."

Duncan, an African-American, shared the positive changes for the black community which took place during her life.

"For my race over the years, I remember the jobs that opened up, you could pick where you wanted to go to school and where you wanted to live," she said. "Those were important events that occurred for my race."

A thriving downtown in the city was something all panel members remembered while growing up. Public street cars traveled up and down Broadway and numerous businesses lined the street.

Parades were, and still are, big events taking place in Cape Girardeau.

"The circus parades were wonderful," Kinder said. "I remember the elephants, horses and cages with wild animals would roll along Broadway."

Instead of traveling down Broadway toward the Mississippi River, the panelists can remember the parades moving up the street and into Fairground Park, now known as Capaha Park.

Nickell asked all the panelists what improvements they would like to see take place in the city of Cape Girardeau .

Most all agreed that the inadequate public transportation is something that should be improved.

"Public transportation is almost disgraceful in this town," Duncan said. "It would be an asset to the city to get some sort of public transportation like a bus."

Community members were tightly packed in the Convention and Visitors Bureau and Nickell joked that the next "Remembering Cape Girardeau" program will need to be held at the Show Me Center.

Robert Hamblin, chairman of the Historical Association, said another program should take place sometime in February.

The first "Remember Cape Girardeau" program was videotaped and will be placed in Southeast Missouri State University's Center for Regional History archives.

jfreeze@semissourian.com

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