Security cameras have been installed at the Crowder College Longwell Museum and at last we can bring out the artwork from those vaults for display to the student body and the public at large.
The museum is open Monday thru Friday from 9 to 6:30. The famous art in this collection were rediscovered when I was reading the Longwell papers filed in 89 archival boxes at Columbia University. I came across their inventory of gifts to Crowder College. This is just part of their legacy to this area.
Dan and Mary Longwell are the subjects of the only book I will ever write. I dedicated five years and some money to the project because they lived in Neosho from 1954 until his death in 1968, and Mary’s departure in early 1980’s.
They had summered here from their marriage in 1938 until moving here in 1954. Dan had come to love the area from his 8th grade school year at Ragan School in southwestern Newton County.
Age 14 and eighth grade is an important year. That was the age G.W. Carver came to school in Neosho… which is being restored on Young Street. Dan Longwell attended Ragan School in western Newton County his eighth grade year but like Carver, Longwell continued high school in larger communities. But they both forever remembered “home” at age 14.
Dan Longwell graduated from Omaha, NE, Central High School and went straight to New York City. He attended Columbia University where he worked his way through school.
His first job was running a book store in Penn Station. He worked for Doubleday Publishing fifteen years and in 1936 created LIFE magazine at TIME INC, having been hired to do so by its publisher, Henry Luce.
His having designed the first picture magazine for the USA might not seem too important today, but I believe what he accomplished is especially important today! We should all follow his example.
Hitler was threatening the world in 1936 and Dan Longwell, having served his high school years in the Student Army Training Corps (SATC and forerunner of ROTC), and having excelled at history and English literature and the YMCA, he could see the that World War was eminent. He had a sense that America would be involved in the European conflict and later in the Pacific.
His knowledge of history and literature gave him acute intuitive insight: clairvoyance. Longwell was to current events what Carver was to the peanut.
From the very first issue he set the tone of LIFE magazine with the direct INTENTION of instilling the will and minds of the American public with patriotism. With his news photography and paintings he proved Americans could be proud of their homeland and its people, from coast to coast and border to border.
He was especially proud of being a Midwesterner and he taught the rest of the country what our people out here could accomplish. Naturally he did the same for all our special regions.
He was in charge of finding good authors while at Doubleday. He kept those author friends to later write for LIFE. LIFE magazine became the weekly living biography of the USA and Dan Longwell was the “Skittery genius” who gave it birth, brought it thru WWII, published the Churchill Memoirs and Hemingway’s OLD MAN AND THE SEA.
He and his wife, Mary Douglas Fraser, retired to Neosho in 1954. The only remaining memory of the Longwells is the Crowder College Longwell Museum. Dan and Mary were a big part of the beginning of Crowder, along with RV school superintendent Bob Anderson and McDonald County’s James Tatum.
The Longwell Museum is inside the Elsie Plaster Community Center. Inside the museum space are two rooms designated and locked off called the Vault. Inside the Vault are a collection of important artists whom the Longwells collected and had as personal friends.
This column next week I will relate the special relationships the Longwells had with these authors. The museum has also recently been able to obtain from the Joplin Library a full set of Bound Copies of LIFE. This wonderful accession is due to former Crowder music man, Bob Ensore’s learning that Joplin was de-accessing before moving to their new space.
He called Kerry Keckly and she arranged for the pick-up. I sent out my husbands empty bookcases which are on loan to Crowder.
We have endured some intense weather this week. A trip to a museum to see beauty can allow for reflection and relaxation.
Our two greatest citizens believed that! You can too.
By Judy Haas Smith
(Judy Haas Smith lives in Neosho.)