The Spiritual Science Association and the Old Spook Hall – This Strange Town

1880 – 1910

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The Spiritual Science Association and the Old Spook Hall

[pages 84-90]

The last of the early public buildings associated with the Freethought-Spiritualist era of Liberal to succumb to the caprice of fate and be destroyed was the old Spiritual Science Hall, commonly dubbed “Spook Hall.”

This old building, until the spring of 1962, stood on its original foundation at the northeast corner of Yale and Paine streets. The one-story frame structure, 24×34 feet, was built early in the year 1890 by the Spiritual Science Association, as a meeting place for that organization.

The Spiritual Science Association was formed and incorporated in 1889 by a group of Liberal citizens interested in the promotion of subjects of a “religious, scientific and spiritual character.” The building site was given by Mr. and Mrs. J. K. Belk, pioneer citizens of Liberal, who were participants in the movement. Funds for purchase of building material was raised by contribution among the members of the association. Labor, for the most part, was donated by local mechanics who were either members of the association or friends of the organizers.

The petition for incorporation was dated March 27, 1889, and was granted by the Barton county circuit court as of that date. The purposes and principles of the organization are set forth in the articles of association on record in the Corporation Department of the Secretary of State at Jefferson City, Missouri.

Following are some excerpts taken from a photostatic copy of the Articles of Association, as of record:


1. We the undersigned, do form ourselves into a religious, scientific society, which shall be located at Liberal, in the county of Barton and the State of Missouri. Said society shall be known and go by the name of the Spiritual Science Association.

2. The principal objects of this society shall be to erect, own and maintain a building or hall in which to hold public meetings of a religious, scientific and spiritual character, establish and maintain a library, and organize and carry on Sunday instruction schools, both for children and adults, where shall be taught lessons of Truth, Virtue, Temperance and Morality, the philosophy of a future life, individual responsibility, the immutable law of reward for good and punishment for evil doing, that all crime must be atoned for by the criminal. The science and philosophy of life teaches this, as we understand it, and from this inevitable law of nature there is no escape. Individual responsibility and accountability, when properly understood, is the incentive to a just, upright and virtuous life. Such is our religion and such our teachings to all, and especially to the young; with a proper and persistent inculcation of these great moral principles, we believe a society can be greatly improved and crime diminished.

We believe that the individual and personal benefits, and the mental and spiritual satisfaction and joy deriving from living a just and upright life does not end with our earthly existence, but goes with us to our spiritual and eternal home beyond the grave, where we take up the thread of our individual existence just where it was dropped in this life.

3. It shall be the duty of this society, as soon as practicable, to procure suitable grounds and erect thereon a building, or hall, for the use and purposes of this society, as heretofore stated. For these and other purposes, before mentioned, this association may buy, take by gift, bequest or devise any property, real, personal, or mixed, for the purposes set out in the foregoing articles of association, and may dispose of same for reinvestment for like purposes.

4. We do appoint for the purposes of this society, the following officers for the ensuing year, and until their successors are duly elected and qualified–namely:

For President, L. L. Suydam.
For Secretary, Emily Ashman.
For Treasurer, N. A. Suydam.
For Lecturer, Glasgow Thompson.


J. H. Ashman
Glasgow Thompson
Silas Andrews
Joseph Owram
A. L. Andrews
Jennie Noble
Jas. Colwley
N. A. Suydam
J. H. Branson
John McRae
Jennie Owram
L. L. Suydam
S. E. Branson
Mary McRae
J. B. Miller
Fannie Miner
Emily Ashman
J. W. Adams
Mrs. J. W. Adams
Charity Belk
Lottie H. Greeley
M. A. Cowley
Minnie A. Owram
Birdie Cowley
Frances E. Cowles
J. K Belk
W. S. Van Law
N. L. Rockwell

The foregoing is the end of the excerpts.

It seems it could be said, without bias, that the moral and ethical standards of the association, as proclaimed in its declaration of principles, are excellent and offer a good pattern for ideal human behavior.

At the meetings of the association there were lectures covering fields of interest to the membership; and for some years there was regularly held the Sunday instruction school. Mrs. Charity Belk was among the teachers, and Glasgow Thompson lectured regularly. Others lectured on occasion; and it is well authenticated that spiritualist activities were indulged in at the old hall, and at more or less regular intervals. There are those yet living, at the time of this writing, who recall that spiritualist “circle nights” were long held there twice weekly. These meetings were not open to the general public; but there were invited guests at nearly every “circle night.” These invited guests were usually limited to persons expressing a sincere interest and desire to investigate spiritualism.

The members endeavored to maintain strict decorum at all times. But there are old stories that occasionally pranksters would get in, who, with great glee, sometimes succeeded in turning the meetings into high jinks with the “spooks.” Because of these extraneous activities the old buildings came to be dubbed “Spook Hall.” The name stuck, even long after the name “Spiritual Science Hall” had been forgotten by all but a very few old-timers.

Records show that the date of the founding and the tenure of the association ran concurrently with the rise and decline of the spiritualist movement in Liberal and the big encampments at old Catalpa Park.

Every person whose name appears in the papers of the association was a well known a prominent citizen of Liberal at the time. Now each one of them has passed from among the living, and there presently remains of them only a memory in the minds of a few persons who were young then but now are old.

How true the words of George D. Prentice in his philosophic essay entitled “Death:”
“Generations of men will appear and disappear as the grass. The multitudes that throng the earth today will disappear as footsteps on the shore.”

After the association seems to have run its course, interest waned and audiences were hard to come by, the organization fell apart and the old hall property was sold back to the Belks for $200. The date of the sale was January 21, 1903. The instrument of transfer, a quit claim deed, was signed by W. S. Jones and J. H. Roberts, trustees. Jones was a wagonmaker, a trade now extinct as far as this region is concerned. Roberts was a merchant. Then on July 24, 1930, the property was bought by the Liberal school district, and used for school purposes until the building was disposed of. In the interim, while owned by the Belks, the old hall was used for public meetings of various kinds, including dances, and sometimes as a private residence.

With respect to activities at the old Spook Hall, the late Fred J. Gray, of Lamar, wrote in the Lamar Daily Democrat, date March 30, 1946, the following:

“Forty-three years ago the writer (Gray) was teaching in the grades of Liberal’s (schools). He attended the funeral services of Mrs. (John) Becker in the Spiritualist Hall, across the street east of the school building.

It was a service such as we have never witnessed elsewhere. It was fittingly adapted to the occasion and to the beliefs of the spiritualists in charge. The service was most impressive and to some extent weird. Bryant’s great poem, Thanatopsis ( a view of death), was read in its proper setting. It took on a new meaning and seemed most fitting for the occasion. It offered all the comfort that nature gives, “When thoughts of the last bitter hour comes like a blight over thy spirit.” Neither the deeply religious man nor the skeptic could find any objectionable sentiment in it.

This reading was followed by a discourse by the Hon. G. H. Walser. His subject was “The Chemical Laboratory of the Soul.” The discourse was esoteric, as the Hindoo would say; that is, no one but the initiated could understand it. In the course of his talk, Mr. Walser told of being present on three occasions when the deceased and he, himself, had communicated with the spirit of her departed son.

Because so much of Liberal’s early and unusual history revolved around the old hall, it was felt by some that it should be preserved as an historical monument, to stand as an interesting and visible link between the more or less turbulent days of Liberal’s formative years and the ever present time. Such movements are a trend of the day at this time, and this could have been a tourist attraction of much value to Liberal, linked as it was with the town’s beginning. With this in mind a few interested citizens did earnestly bring this to the attention of the public; also to the attention of the Board of Education, the City Council and the Chamber of Commerce, but were unable to generate sufficient interest to get anything done.

The school board offered to give the building to any responsible organization, for the purposes suggested, taht would move it from the premises, but there was no taker. So the old building was sold, and the buyer tore it down for the material.

And now old “Spook Hall” is gone, and a splendid opportunity to use it as an historical monument has been lost. Some imaginative future generation may justly and understandably criticize. Even some persons yet living may do so with a touch of nostalgia.

Like Shifting Sands – J. P. Moore’s “This Strange Town–Liberal, Missouri”

Checking with the copyright catalogue, I find copyright was made in 1963 by J. P. Moore but was never renewed, which means the book has entered the public domain. The author is long since deceased.

1880 – 1910


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Like Shifting Sands

[pages 91-92]

The movement of population and buildings from Liberal to Pedro when that rival town was founded as Denison, and then the return to Liberal after Pedro had spent its vigor of newness, and after old prejudices had lost their fire, was like sands shifting with the whim of the winds. The people actively involved in these mass migrations are now all, long since, gone to their final rewards; but some of the buildings may yet be identified.

The Pedro Christian church was moved to the west end of Maple street in Liberal and remodeled into a dwelling house. It is at the extreme end of the street on the south side. The S. J. Bowen store and post office building was moved to Yale street, one block and a half east of Main, on the south side, and remodeled into a residence. The house, third north from the Liberal Lumber Company yard, on the west side of Main street, is another. The Pedro hotel was razed for the lumber, as were several other business buildings.

The old business section of Pedro is all gone. As to the residential district, very little building has been done there in the past sixty years or longer. More old ones have been torn down than there have been new ones built. Some have been destroyed by fire. Some of those remaining have been kept in good repair, while others have been neglected to deteriorate with the elements, erosion and the lapse of time. Most of the houses in west Liberal (once Pedro) are occupied. But the people living there now, we fancy have little notion or concern of the hopes and dreams of the founders that the town would grow, and one day dominate Liberal. Nor does this writer imagine they are the least concerned about the intense rivalry that once raged between the two towns.

The great controversy is now only history and, perhaps, no one would care to see it revived.

Early Benevolent Societies – J. P. Moore’s “This Strange Town–Liberal, Missouri”

Checking with the copyright catalogue, I find copyright was made in 1963 by J. P. Moore but was never renewed, which means the book has entered the public domain. The author is long since deceased.

1880 – 1910


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Early Benevolent Societies

[page 93]

Liberal had benevolent societies earlier than the Spiritual Science Association. There were two, “The Brotherhood” and the “Women’s Guild” — the latter probably an auxiliary of the former. These were organized in 1882. Just when they disorganized and quit is not now known.

These organizations were dedicated to purely benevolent and charitable purposes. They did not go beyond that into the spiritual and scientific realms as was the declared purpose of the Spiritual Science Association.

Names subscribed as founders of the Brotherhood were: D. P. Greeley, E. A. Jewart, Harriet P. Walser, J. B. Bouton, T. R. B. Adams, F. L. Yales, J. W. Curless, Rach H. Yale and G. H. Walser. How the one woman happened to join in the forming of the Brotherhood, this writer has found no explanation.

None of these names appear on the petition for the incorporation of the Spiritual Science Association. All of both organizations are presumed to have been Freethinkers. If there was any area of conflict between the two groups is another thing of which there is no record.

Liberal’s Newspapers – J. P. Moore’s “This Strange Town–Liberal, Missouri”

1880 – 1910


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Liberal’s Newspapers

[pages 141-143]

A newspaper is always a valuable asset to any town, new or old. Liberal has always been fortunate in this respect, having not been without one for more than the briefest period since the very beginning. All of these, save one, for one reason or another have passed into oblivion

The first paper was The Liberalite, which name was later changed to “The Liberal.” Its publication was started within a year or less, after the founding of the town, itself. Mr. Walser was the owner and editor. Men who succeeded as assistants in publication, and whom were printers, in order, were Frank Green, E. H. Adams and Bryon Cowley, all of whom were Freethinkers. Because of the limited field from which to draw business, the newspaper was probably more of a liability than an asset financially to Mr. Walser, but it was just what he needed to promote the new town, and his beliefs. Mr. Walser took full advantage of the means.

Publication of The Liberal was suspended in 1889. Mr. Walser probably thought the newspaper was no longer needed to serve his purpose, as an equalizing influence had set in by that time, and the old antagonisms were less sharp. Besides, Mr. Walser’s interests were turning towards spiritualism at this period, a philosophy that generates little or no militant opposition.

In September, 1890, The Independent was founded by K. G. Comfort and W. A. Martin. Mr. Comfort was a practicing attorney at Liberal; and Mr. Martin, a native of the eastern part of the state, came here from Moundville. He apparently had had some experience as a printer. After about one year friction developed between the partners, and the business association was dissolved. Mr. Comfort retained ownership of the newspaper.

Desiring to continue in the newspaper business in Liberal, Mr. Martin founded the Liberal Enterprise, in November, 1891.

After a period, Mr. Comfort sold the Independent to Carl B. Hesford, who had worked as a printer on both the Independent and the Enterprise, and for Mr. Walser. Because of ill health, Carl closed down the Independent and the Enterprise, and for Mr. Walser. Because of ill health, Carl closed down the Independent in 1904, and sold the plant to Luther Liscomb. Carl went to California. Luther disposed of the equipment to W. T. Cowgill, a newspaper man who came here from Oklahoma. This was in about 1907.

Mr. Cowgill began publication of a newspaper named “The Republican.” Mr. Cowgill’s newspaper was powerless against the well-established Liberal Enterprise, and his publication quit after about one year. The plant was moved away.

A semi=monthly magazine, “The Orthopaedian,” published by Mr. Walser in 1899 and 1900, for about one year, discontinued for lack of subscribers and practically no advertising business.

During the years, the Liberal Enterprise developed into the best newspaper Liberal had had up to that time.

Then came the “Liberal News,” founded by J. P. Moore and C. L. DeLissa. The first issue was dated February 25, 1910. Fates favored the News. Mr. Martin sold his newspaper in 1913. In about a month the new owners folded the Enterprise, which, after more than twenty years, was no more. The new owners were strangers in Liberal and could not successfully compete with the News. The partnership of Moore & DeLissa was dissolved in September of 1910, seven months after the founding of the News. Moore bought the interest of the partner. Moore sold to Hal McDoowell in 1944, after thirty-four years of ownership. In 1955, McDowell sold to Mr. Aand Mrs. Edward Savage, the present owners.

So the News has weathered good times and bad, until thsi date, and continues in good strength.

Goodspeed’s history of Missouri, published in 1889, names three early Liberal newspapers of which this writer has found no other record. It says The Liberal Ensign was published by Scott & Searles, and later by Scott, in 1887-88, in some way associated with the publishers of the Sedalia Democrat; and that the Liberal Messenger was published in 1888-89.

According to the Goodspeed historian, Pedro had another newspaper, “The Pedro Enterprise,” published in 1887-88. This date seems to conflict with the date of the Ensign. No further particulars are given; though I recall having heard that, years ago, Jim Searles, member of a pioneer family, once published a newspaper in Pedro for a short while. I find it futile to attempt to reconcile these names and dates.

Mr. Walser’s Residence in Liberal–J. P. Moore’s “This Strange Town–Liberal, Missouri”

1880 – 1910


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Mr. Walser’s Residence in Liberal

[pages 45-47]

Mr. Walser’s first home at Liberal, as near can now be determined, was not within the original town plot. But it was about one-fourth mile south on a proposed extension, or commons, of the town’s limits, in a house he owned on his land. It is very probable that the house was there when he bought the property, yet he may have built it. Here he moved his family early in 1880, and here he lived during the process of platting the town and relating activities.

Among the town’s first buildings was a small frame structure built by Mr. Walser to serve as an office. From this office he carried on his law practice, and any other business matters, until about 1900. The building stood about where the present Edwin Lipscomb grain and elevator business office is located, on the east side of Main street at the south end of the business section.

The dwelling house above referred to, a two-story frame structure of about six rooms, was destroyed by fire in about 1887. The writer has been unable to learn the exact date. The house was rebuilt on its original foundation and still stands today in approximately its original form.

If Mr. Walser lived there after being divorced from his first wife and his marriage to Mrs. Hannah M. Allen is not known. But soon after his marriage to Mrs. Allen they were living in a small frame house owned by her, within the city limits. This house was originally a two-room structure. Either before or during Mr. Walser’s occupancy it was remodeled and enlarged into a six-room dwelling. It still stands and has been made modern. This house is located on Lot one, of Block eight, original town of Liberal, directly across the street south of the present Christian church on Yale street.

The town lot, of course, originally belonged to Mr. Walser, as part of the original town plot. On June 7, 1882, he sold the lot to Mrs. Fannie Baker for $25.00. Mrs. Baker and her husband, Frank, built thereon a small two-room frame house. The Bakers sold the property to Mrs. Hannah M. Allen on April 5, 1883, for $150.00. Some time after her separation from Mr. Walser, and while living at Denver, Colo., on July 14, 1899, the former Mrs. Allen-Walser sold to Ab Sweatt. Subsequent owners were F. W. Condict, and J. O. Pinkerton, Ethel and Charles Brand, Hubert and Gail Andrews, and presently by Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Snodgrass.

It was during Mr. Walser’s occupancy, and at this house, that his daughter, Lena E., was married to J. G. Todd, at that time a rising young Liberal merchant, and later a banker.

In 1890 Mr. Walser founded Catalpa Park, built and moved to a frame house there. This structure was destroyed by fire in about 1906. It had been a six-room cottage with full basement. It was rebuilt of concrete blocks, on the same foundation. Here Mr. Walser lived the remainder of his life. There he died.

This house was used during the middle and late 1920’s as a club house for the Liberal Country Club. The club was demised with the financial crash of 1929. After this the house remained a rental property until about 1940, when it was razed to clear the ground for a steam shovel coal mining operation. The whole of old Catalpa Park was a victim of this same commercial activity.

Communities, today, are clamoring for public parks. Liberal could have retained this beauty spot at a relatively low cost. But now it is gone. To restore it would entail a cost probably too great fo the community, at the present time.

Prologue–J. P. Moore’s “This Strange Town–Liberal, Missouri”

1880 – 1910


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(Once So Called)




[pages 3-5]

This treatise is a history of the beginning and early years of Liberal, Missouri. Liberal has variously been called an infidel town, an atheist town and “this strange town.” If the town has deserved or merited either, any or all of these appellations, and if bad or good, has always been a matter of individual opinion. This has all been because of the unusual purposes of the founder and the antagonisms he encountered in the early days of his efforts to implement his plans.

Exciting vocal and sometimes physical activities were generated within and roundabout, and continued in one degree or another for a number of years.

The founder of Liberal was a Freethinker and hoped to establish a community in which fellow Freethinkers might have the opportunity to join in forming a sort of colony, and enjoy living among those of kindred thought, unannoyed by opposition–and as an example to the world of the possibility of such. He had been raised in the Christian faith, but because of reasons satisfactory to himself, he had become dissatisfied with the dogmas of the church, as of that day; and the hierarchy he thought to be intolerant and narrow in its thinking. So in his town churches were to be excluded, with strong opposition to any teaching of the Christian religion. As to any other religion, there seems to have been no pronouncement.

In that day–1880–“Freethinker,” to the church, was an ugly word and meant “Infidel.” So the setting up of any such anti-Christian community quickly became a sharp and wicked thorn in the side of Christiandom, which was to be counteracted with all honorable strength. The result almost became an example of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object–but not quite. Which gave way, the reader may have the privilege of being judge. To simply say that friction was generated would be a mild statement. Word battles were wild and furious; and Liberal soon became known, not only as an infidel or atheist town, but as a very strange town.

Through the years, from time to time, there have come professional feature writers to journalize on Liberal and its eccentricities as “this strange town.” The reason will be seen as the reader peruses these pages. A previous “Story of Liberal, Missouri,” has been written on a more limited scope, and published some years ago; and a few pupils in the Liberal high school, students of English, have undertaken to write limited sketches on the subject–so strange is the early history of Liberal still thought to be, even after the passage of so many years.

It might be stated that in that early period there was a considerable movement towards Freethought across the country. But nowhere else, to this writer’s knowledge, did the cult crystalize to the point of founding a town dedicated to the proposition of that philosophy.

It has been the endeavor of this writer to chronicle, in more or less vivid detail, the peculiar history of early Liberal, to the end of correctness and fairness. And the writer hopes to present it in a style that will appeal to the reader, and at the same time preserve the dignity of all concerned. These few lines are a prologue to that story–the story of what has been called “THE STRANGE TOWN,” the town that was different.

In this history in a very few instances it has been found to be desirable to step a little beyond the period of 1880 to 1910, in order to complete an important story, or to relate its equally important sequel. This, I believe, will be appreciated by the reader.

Foreword–from J. P. Moore’s “This Strange Town–Liberal Missouri”

1880 – 1910


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[pages 1-2]

In presenting this history of the early years of Liberal, Missouri, a brief foreword seems appropriate.

I have endeavored to write only of the first thirty years of the town’s history–1880 to 1910. This covers the period from the founding until the death of the founder, which comprises an epoch in itself–the period in which the unique history for which Liberal is noted was made. Various “isms,” “ideologies” and eccentricities figured in the town’s genesis. It was all this that made the early history of Liberal different from the humdrum, colorless annals of the beginnings of the ordinary town across the country.

The founder of Liberal and the persons associated with him in the early and formative years were individuals of positive minds, thoroughly anti-Christian in their thinking and outspoken in their heterodoxy. As the town progressed with its main purpose, as might have been expected, this position drew the fire of those who opposed such. These differences resulted in many verbal clashes–and some physical activities, too. These situations have added spice to the history.

The conditions that lead to the temper of the town’s founder, and of those who joined with him, may be theorized as having been spawned in a period of reaction to an earlier period–one of extreme religious intolerance, when heretics were tortured and suspected witches were burned at the stake. When the founder of Liberal was born in 1834, a century and a third ago, echoes of the agonizing cries of the tortured and burned in the name of Christianity, at Old Salem, were yet more than faintly reverberating across the land. Te result was that with many individuals the reaction sent their thought pendulums swinging to the opposite extreme, in the Christian concept. The founder of Liberal was among the latter, and as a sanctuary for persons of kindred belief Liberal was conceived and became a fact. To what degree this primary influence still persists in Liberal, the reader of this history may form his own opinion.

I have tried to be accurate and factual in what I have written about the persons, activities and things. Parts of the narrative may shock the sensitivities of some readers: but it is all a part of the warp and woof of the cloth from which the town’s early history was cut. It is THE history and cannot now be changed. Any thing else would only be fabrication–not a history. I expect my writing to receive the approval of some and the criticism of others. In either case, the die is cast and the work will have to stand or fall on its merits.


Liberal, Missouri, 1963

List of Illustrations–J. P. Moore’s “This Strange Town–Liberal, Missouri”

1880 – 1910


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List of Illustrations

J. P. Moore, Author–Frontispiece

View of Main Street–8

Hotel Denison–24

Original Plat of Liberal–48-49

The Methodist Church–68

Christian Church–68

Walser Residence at Catalpa Park–78

Lake at Catalpa Park–78

Spook Hall–84

Liberal Brick Yard–110

Rock Quarry–110

The Burgess Tomb–120

Old Liberal School Building–140

G. H. Walser, Founder of Liberal–144

Table of Contents–J. P. Moore’s “This Strange Town–Liberal, Missouri”

1880 – 1910


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Table of Contents



The Beginning–7

Waggoner’s Addition and the Barbed Wire Fence–15

The Neutral Strip or No Man’s Land–20

Denison, or Pedro–22

Strong Prejudices–27< The Crusaders and the Columnists--30 An Early Pamphlet--32 Clark Braden's Pamphlet--38 Mr. Walser's Residence in Liberal--45 The Incorporation of Liberal--48 The Liberal City Cemetery--50 The Old Gold Well--55 The Saloons Came--61 The Churches Came--66 The Spiritualist Movement--71 Spiritualist Hoax Exposed--75 Catalpa Park--78 City Park and the Old Fire Bell--80 Early Public Buildings--82 The Spiritual Science Association and the Old Spook Hall--84 Like Shifting Sands--91 Early Benevolent Societies--93 Recollections of an Early Resident--94 Mr. Walser's Marital Life--99 A Midnight Burial--101 The Big Fire of 1887--105 Civil Liberal at Turn of Century--107 Industrially -- Early--109 The Cranks Came--113 The Town Pump and the Old Watering Trough--115 >Mrs. Burgess-Oster and the Burgess Tomb–118

Bitter Creek–122

Some Early Day Eccentrics–124

Briefs of Other Persons and Facts–133

Liberal’s Early Schools–139

Liberal’s Newspapers–141

Mr. Walser, the Man–144

Words of a Grandson–156

Freelove and the Common-Law Marriage–158

O. E. Harmon’s Story of Liberal–163

In Conclusion–166