Kansas State Teachers College
Take a Good Look at Emporia; It's Your Home Away From Home
June 28, 1946
Come, walk down the friendly streets of Emporia and know the scenes and sounds of America's most famous little town. Cast aside for awhile the print-page cloak of "In Our Town" and put away the editorial columns of the Gazette where one man poured from his soul the story of the town forget for a moment the Emporia of literature and journalism and see for yourself what there is here that could bring a man's heart to perch on the tip of his pencil.
"Emporia," you used to say, when the fellows asked about it, "Emporia, you know, Bill White's town."
But now Bill White is gone and is probably swivel-chaired on some copy-littered cloud, irking Peter with stinging editorials on "What's the Matter with Heaven?" Bill White is gone and you can ask now, "What is left?" Has Emporia gone with him? Was the town whose name he put on every tongue in America just a landscape on the vivid canvas of his artistic mind to vanish when that mind chose to rest at last; or is there really an Emporia; a town that Bill White did not create, but a living, flowing timeless part of America that somehow White was able to transpose upon the slender columns of the Gazette?
The answer is there for you as you swing down Commercial Street from the College, the waves of warm south wind splashing in your face.
"The restless, sighing winds of Kansas tell a thousand tales that are undreamed of by the winds that blow in any other sky,"
Emporia couldn't go along with Bill White when they bore him out to Woodlawn. Emporia is alive. Se the light-laughing Mexican girls striding up Commercial from the tracks, the ebony of flowing hair, the soft-poured coffee brown of skin, the autumn colored prints of summer dresses. Here the low Castillian of their voices lending rhythm to the corn tasseled Kansas twang.
Listen to the farmers on Saturday afternoon, lounging near the courthouse, their blue denim streaked with sweat-salt stains, their talk filled with wheat yields and subsidies and the tyranny of Washington. Se the cowhands with their hard, high heels and soft felt hats and tight jeans, pushing hopefully into the recreation places, in for a day from the Flint Hills.
"There is a certain wholesome manhood in the character of the Kansas man that is comforting to know."
Walk down one side of Commercial and back up the other, past the wide store windows, the grocery stores and fashion shops, the pharmacies and saddle stores and see the balls of tinder twine in the hardware store, the gardenias in the flower shop. See the stout farm wives trading their eggs for a week's supply of groceries and the young veteran's wife clutching a quarter's worth of lunchmeat and a loaf of bread.
Go down across the tracks, wander through the streets of Little Mexico, and stroll beside the brook that winds through Peter Pan Park.
"There is a sluggish little 'crick' in Kansas whose water has a flavor and a sparkle dearer than any wine."
Stand around in the clamor and dirt of the Santa Fe shops and listen to the railroaders' talk of Whitney and Johnston and Senator Taft. Walk up to Sixth Avenue and hear the other side of it around the Broadview or the Electric Power Building or the Emporia State Bank.
You can eat in the air-conditioned dignity of the Topic or the Polka-Dot or get a homey four-bit meal with the college kids at Coles.
On Merchant Street near the post office, a simple sign across the front of a plain, square Building reads, "The Emporia Gazette," and inside the typewriters click and the old press grinds as it always did.
From a fourth-floor window in the college administration building you can look out over the swell of land that sweeps down to the Neosho.
"There are scenes in Kansas all over Kansas that are more thrilling than the rugged grandeur of the mountains."
At night you can hear the backfire of the youth-laden jalopies and the laughter of the college girls in front of Romines or Moores and when you walk, under the old elms, back to your room, studying the patterns of streetlamp-glow on the pavement, you know why the wrote, "What a lovely town is this Emporia."
Emporia has mourned and missed Bill White, but it did not go with him.
Editor's Note: Mac later described this first newspaper assignment: "These are the most important words I ever wrote. The reprinting of this article in the Emporia Gazette led to my employment by the Gazette, which led to a lifetime career in journalism, something I had not contemplated. Also, one year to the day after this appeared I married the editor of The Bulletin Peg Lou Wichert who had assigned this piece."