THIS STRANGE TOWN–LIBERAL MISSOURI
A HISTORY OF THE EARLY YEARS
1880 – 1910
BY J. P. MOORE
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The Spiritual Science Association and the Old Spook Hall
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:
ARTICLES OF ASSOCIATION
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
A. L. Andrews
N. A. Suydam
J. H. Branson
L. L. Suydam
S. E. Branson
J. B. Miller
J. W. Adams
Mrs. J. W. Adams
Lottie H. Greeley
M. A. Cowley
Minnie A. Owram
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.