When Kay Barnes made her big announcement yesterday that she’s running for Congress, she made it crystal clear that she’s trying to tap into her small-town roots.
She made her announcement in her hometown of St. Joseph while standing in front of her mother’s home, with four generations of her family nearby. According to a statement on her Web site, the former Kansas City mayor said: “I never forgot I was a daughter of St. Joseph, and its values were never far from my mind.” Then, according to the site, she said she couldn’t wait to visit “communities in which our family, the Cronkites and Morfords, have roots, and they include, of course, my hometown of St. Joseph, plus Albany and Oregon, and Skidmore and Maitland and my favorite, Pumpkin Center, where my mother was born.”
Having never heard of this Harry Potter-sounding Pumpkin Center, I called up Google maps to take a look. Sure enough, there is a Pumpkin Center, Missouri. But when you zoom in and click on the satellite image, it shows only a desolate highway. No buildings. No people. No Cronkites and no Morfords.
So I called the library in nearby Maryville. Diane Houston, who handles the historical research, explained what happened. “When they put the four-lane highway in, it pretty much disappeared,” Houston said. “There used to be a town. But not anymore.”
The town-decimating road in question is Highway 71, which provides Maryville residents a straight shot to St. Joseph. When it went in, less than a decade ago (Houston wasn’t sure exactly when), it obliterated the town. “Nobody lives there now,” she said.
So, as our former mayor goes country, here’s a bit of advice: You should probably stump only in towns that still exist. -- Eric Barton