Evermore Genealogy

“Missouri Town Might Assure Stockton as Atheist Target”, 1963

An article on Liberal from the September 4, 1963 Lawrence Daily Journal World. Front page news items were “80 Persons Die in Swiss Crash”, “2 Negroes in School in Spite of Wallace”, “Khrushchev Tour Indicates Moscow Changing Strategy”, “Topeka Youth Crackdown Set”, “Johnsons Meet Swedish King”, “KU Soph Admits Breaking Windows Windows in Rival Frat Home”, “Baldwin Backs Swimming Pool”, “Report Due Over Health Studies in Classrooms Here”, “City Commission Delays Action on Nursery School”, “Cooler Readings Still Forecast”, “Glowing Talk Made Here on Perry Project”.

Marvin Vangilder, who wrote the article, became a historian of Carthage, Missouri and was still publishing articles in 2009.

Photo of Marvin Vangilder from his website

Lawrence, Kansas, Wednesday, September 4, 1963


By Marvin Vangilder
The Carthage Press
Written for the Associated Press

Liberal, Mo., may have a message of assurance for some residents of Stockton, Kan., who have become disturbed by plans for an atheist center there.

Speaking from experience, the western Missouri town can say to the Stockton people: “Never fear. Christianity will prevail.”

Stockton was selected last month by Mrs. Madalyn Murray of Baltimore for an atheist information and education center. The woman, who won her suit to have declared unconstitutional required prayers and Bible reading in public schools, has accepted a tract of land near the north central Kansas town “to teach the concept of man living with man, rather than man living with God.”

Liberal was founded in 1881 as an atheist center by George H. Walser, an Illinois lawyer who was a disciple of Robert G. Ingersoll, agnostic leader. Walser, who was an officer in the Union Army, came to Lamar, Mo. after the war, became Barton County’s first superintendent of schools, later prosecuting attorney, and then a member of the Legislature.

He branched out into other lines. One was land speculation. Out of this dream the realization of his dream — a town free of churches, and among other things saloons, but one where a man might pursue any line of thought or belief without interference or complaint.

He was joined at the townsite by G. W. Baldwin, an atheist financier, and a host of other agnostics, free thinkers and later spiritualists. Soon there was a bustling community on the prairie just fine miles east of the Kansas line.

Its Catalpa Park became the site of a large pavilion and ampitheater, with an open stage and a well-kept race track. There conventions of various groups of atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, spiritualists and others attracted delegates from throughout the world. Horse racing was sometimes part of the entertainment. Walser established the Instruction School, then the Liberal Normal School and Business College which later merged with the new Freethought University. Classes were held at the Universal Mental Liberty Hall. Famed mediums came for seances in Spiritualist Ha..

Christians were not encouraged to settle here. But they took up the challenge by establishing the town of Denison, across the tracks of the Memphis and Fort Scott Railroad. Some Liberal merchants even moved into the new town.

A major political battle started the downfall of the great experiment. On the eve of 1888 presidential election, the community was assembled in Universal Mental Liberty Hall. Walser, a Republican, spoke in favor of Benjamin Harrison and Baldwin, a Democrat, lauded Grover Cleveland. After the meeting the hall was “closed for repairs” and never again opened under non-Christian auspices.

Later that year a renowned medium, Dr. J. B. Bouton, came to Spiritualist Hall. Questions addressed to deceased loved ones were written on a slate and passed upward to the “spirit world.” In each case the slate quickly returned bearing an answer. But in the midst of the session, the building caught fire.

Bent on escape and still wearing the robes and trappings of their profession, two associates of Dr. Bouton descended from the attic through a trap door. The two confessed they had been supplying the answers when the slates arrived in the attic “spirit world.”

The Christians of Denison soon began moving en masse across the tracks. The Methodist Church bought Universal Mental Liberty Hall and converted it into a house of worship. The Denison Christian Church was moved to Liberal.

By 1900, less than 20 years after the launching of the project, the power of the founders had been broken. Conversions of former atheists and agnostics, churchmen said, numbered in the hundreds. And most of those not converted eventually departed. Walser retired to his country home to write poetry.

Liberal today has five large and active churches with membership encompassing the majority of the town’s 612 residents.

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A neighboring article is “K.C. Mayor Happy over Racial Tone” about the lowering of racial barriers in Kansas City. Below is an ad for “Wanted, Corrugated Boxes and Newspapers” for Lawrence Paper Co.

McCrory-Otasco has an ad for shotguns with “FREE!” Remington “SHUR SHOT” shells with the purchase of any one of the guns. A bicycle basket was 99 cents and flashlight batteries were 11 cents each.




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