***Bringing the Past to Life: A Local Historic Biography Series***
We are very excited to present to you our very first digital monologue of this new series. Thank you to
Humanities Kansas for giving us the opportunity to share this work in digital format for the very first time. We thought it only fitting to kick this series off with Emerson Carey.
Emerson Carey - By Jason Probst
(Character notes - Emerson Carey is a big, somewhat imposing man. He had a square jaw, and wasn’t afraid to work. Some of the early pictures of him show someone who looks like a modern day football player. He was a Tycoon, and saw opportunity everywhere. He was industrious and efficient. Think Stately, with a healthy dose of no-nonsense, in the trenches attitude and work ethic)
I imagine whether Hutchinson “won” the Kansas State Fair or “stole” it from Topeka is a matter of who’s doing the telling. It’s true that it was a bitter fight that lasted more than 10 years. And it’s true that moving the fair to Hutchinson required some … negotiation.
I know it was a blow for those who thought the fair belonged in Topeka. Even the local newspaper couldn’t accept defeat - and in 1950 published a piece titled “A bunch of Western Kansas politicians stole the fair for Hutchinson.” (Slight, devious smile) But I’ve seen many a fly make a bull waggle its tail. I’d say we did much the same here in Hutchinson. This community recognized the importance of the fair to its future. And those “Western Kansas politicians” recognized the value of having a state fair in the center of Kansas. We just had to make Topeka waggle a little.
My name is Emerson Carey. I am, first and foremost, a businessman, something I’ve always been proud to call myself. I’ve been successful in coal, fur, farming, transportation, and ice. But I’m best known for my success and innovation in the salt industry.
Success, however, wasn’t something that came to my family naturally. My father, Samuel, moved our family often, always looking for a new opportunity just over the next hill. I was born Jan. 22, 1863 in Marion, Indiana. But we soon moved throughout Indiana and Illinois.
At 13, I was earning $10 per month working on farms. I gave my father $20 to set out to again find his fortune. This time in Sterling, Kansas. Later that year, my mother, Nancy, headed south with the rest of the family. Along the way, we stopped at the tomb of President Abraham Lincoln. I was stricken by this man’s character and resolve, and vowed that I would do my best, in my life, to emulate him. That vow guided me well.
My father met us in Nickerson, with 10 cents in his pocket. That’s how our lot began in Kansas. But it wouldn’t stay that way for long. By 1879, we moved to McPherson County where I again worked on farms. My father moved the family to Halstead. But I remained, ready to set out my own path. It was during this time that I made a decision that would forever change the course of my life.
The farmer I worked for offered $17 per month. But I wanted to make $18. When he refused, I packed up everything I owned - which wasn’t much - and walked to Hutchinson. In no time, I was working in Marshall Hale’s coal, building material and hide business - making $25 per month. After a childhood full of moving, and searching for the next opportunity, I decided that I’d make my home in Hutchinson and dig out something good for myself.
I set out to start my own coal venture, and with the help of R.E. Conn, opened Conn and Carey - specializing in coal, lime, hair, and hide. Within a year, we showed a profit of $2,700. My half was more than twice what I would’ve made with Hale.
In 1887, Ben Blanchard stumbled upon a vein of salt in South Hutchinson - which sparked the salt boom of 1888. That, in turn, increased demand for coal and building materials. Profits soared, and I was able to invest myself more fully in the community. I volunteered with the fire department, and played on the local baseball team. That’s also the year I married Anna May Puterbaugh, and built our home on the corner of 10th and Main. Through the years, we had four wonderful children - all boys!
Yet, every boom comes with a bust. Just a few years earlier the world was looking up, but in 1889, I was forced to sell everything to cover my debts. Even our nice new home. But I paid 100 cents on the dollar for everything I owed!
My coal operation continued to thrive, and I focused on another venture, the Hutchinson Ice Company. Oddly enough, ice is how I found my way into salt. I realized that the steam used to run the refrigeration compressor could also be used to evaporate salt brine. In time, and after some battles with the Salt Trusts of Chicago, I established the Carey Salt Company as an enduring legacy in Hutchinson. We were known for producing some of the purest salt in the world.
From 1908 to 1916, I served in the Kansas Senate. It was in this role that I helped Hutchinson “win” or “steal” the Kansas State Fair. Depending on one’s perspective. Topeka had us beat out of the gate, with a 10 year agreement to host the state fair. But it wasn’t official. Meanwhile, Hutchinson had issued bonds, purchased land and done everything it could to compete. The city offered to deed the land to the state, in exchange for naming Hutchinson home of the official Kansas State Fair.
Of course, easterners see it differently. They said I “pork-barrelled” the legislation to ensure broad support. Linking the legislation to issues that were important in other rural, farming districts. By the looks of things here today, I’d say the state made the right choice.
After several years battling cancer, I passed away on Aug. 17, 1933. My friends and associates immediately set to work in my memory. They designed and built a fountain at the north end of Carey Park, adorned with grand arches and lighting. On Oct. 24, 1935, the community held a parade, and a service in front of the fountain. Gov. Alf Landon and U.S. Senator Arthur Capper both spoke. Seating was reserved for all of my employees.
The choice to walk into Hutchinson with only a quarter to my name, made all the difference in my life. This city gave me opportunity. It gave me a family, and a home, and I spent my entire life abundantly grateful for it. Everything I have, I owe to Hutchinson.