Monday, May 27, 2013

1940: 3335 Harrison Street


Another in a series of posts based on the tax reassessment photos of 1940. Learn more here.

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 Harriet "Hattie" McKim lives here, alone. She turns 60 this year, though she tells people she's seven years younger, even the census taker.

The house was a bequest to Hattie from H.D. Lee, founder of the wholesale-grocery-and-overalls company that moved its headquarters here from Salina, Kansas, just before the World War. Lee, who divorced his wife in Ohio before coming to Kansas in 1889, died 12 years ago. He had kept an apartment at the Sophian Plaza, and Hattie here on Harrison street. Twenty-seven years younger, she was his longtime companion, having moved with him from Salina. In polite company, she was referred to as his "ward." But that's another story.

Hattie McKim is an animal lover, especially dogs, and is known to take in strays. She would say her favorite was Don, a Belgian shepherd who died eight years ago. Don had been a gift from Lee, who bought him in 1919 from George Constantino, an Army lieutenant who had served in France during the World War.

The story of shepherd dogs in the war is familiar to fans of the late Rin Tin Tin, the German shepherd brought to the states from France and a subsequent star of silent movies. Unlike Rin Tin Tin, who was rescued from an abandoned German encampment as a puppy, Don the Belgian shepherd actually saw active duty in France. Constantino had been his master.

On the battlefield, Don wore a first-aid kit around his neck. His duty was to venture into "no man's land" looking for wounded soldiers, and either let them treat themselves from his kit, or bark so that help would come. Once, he left the trenches for two days, returning with an empty kit.

When the war ended, the Army's policy was to destroy all service dogs not fit for peacetime duty. Don, having been gassed and shell-shocked on the battlefield, was among the doomed until Lt. Constantino smuggled him aboard a troop ship returning to the United States.

Although his war experiences left Don in fear of thunderstorms and airplanes overhead, he enjoyed a long retirement as a Kansas Citian. On Armistice Day and Memorial Day, he would join the other vets for ceremonies at the Liberty Memorial, wearing his first-aid kit and showing off the "feather step" he had learned as a young military trainee.

He died one October, at age 18, in an animal hospital on Main street, where he was boarding while Hattie McKim was traveling back East. Per her instructions by telephone, Don was put into a flag-draped casket. He was buried when his mistress returned home, with full military honors. A uniformed veteran played taps over his grave.

And now Don is a memory in the house on Harrison. And in four years Hattie McKim will take the secret location of his gravesite to her own final resting place.

Don, veteran of the Great War.
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