Historic Joplin Highlights: Connor Hotel’s legacy, collapse, story of man buried alive

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JOPLIN, Mo. – The area’s most elegant, million-dollar Connor Hotel was not only a hotel, but Joplin’s main gathering spot for decades. Located downtown, it facilitated major growth for the city and surrounding areas.

“It was the most fabulous building in Joplin and you can even make the argument, the most fabulous, grandest building in all of Southwest Missouri,” said author of Joplin’s Connor Hotel Chad Stebbins.

Connor Hotel’s glory days

“Joplin had this reputation of kind of a wild mining camp still before the Connor was built. There was a lot of lawlessness and crime… Having a building of this magnitude kind of gave Joplin the reputation of a decent place to live. Almost a world-class city with this hotel there,” said Stebbins.

Construction on the hotel began in 1906 and was completed in 1908. The hotel is the product of Thomas Connor who died March 1907, one year before the hotel’s completion.

Prior to this venture, Connor owned the Joplin Hotel. It had been thought that Connor would simply expand the Joplin Hotel by a couple stories, but instead he demolished it to build the opulent Connor Hotel.

He planned on naming the hotel a title such as the “New Joplin Hotel” or the “Catherine” – after his mother – but his heirs, his nieces and nephews, decided to name it Connor Hotel in his honor.

The location was ideal. Fourth and Main was “the place to be” and the “heart of Joplin” at the time, according to Stebbins.

“It was easily the most important location in the city…. There’s no other place in Joplin that even compares to all the activity at that one location,” he said.

Over the years, the hotel featured restaurants, multiple dining rooms, a coffee shop, barber shop, beauty salon, roof top garden, billiards room, cigar shop, and a bar (until prohibition closed it in 1919). It even ended up having its own orchestra, newspaper, and entertainers.

The Connor Hotel grew in extravagance in 1928, when Barney Allis bought the hotel and almost doubled it in size with an annex.

“It went from 250 rooms to 400 rooms. It had five restaurants in it when the annex opened… With 400 rooms, Joplin really began to market itself as a convention hotel and attracted some of the leading conventions from around the state and all this money poured into Joplin,” said Stebbins.

The Connor was so much more than a hotel. With all its elements, it was considered “the spot” in Joplin.

“If you wanted a night out, that’s where you went… The roof garden was really the social scene for Joplin,” said Stebbins.

For some, Connor Hotel was a residential place of stay rather than a temporary one, with rates as low as $30 per month. There were as many as 100 people living there, according to Stebbins.

The Connor also booked some famous and infamous guests, such as Harry Truman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Gene Autry, and a member of Bonnie and Clyde’s gang.

Fight for rehabilitation, decision for demolition

Due to the condition of the hotel and estimates of renovation costs, demolition of the building was on the table. By the 70s, parts of the roof were falling off and there was a massive pigeon problem, among other issues.

Petitions fighting for the rehabilitation of the Connor Hotel garnered 3,214 signatures. Locals wanted the money that was to be spent on demolition to go into renovations.

“There was a great movement to save the Connor… A lot of people realized that we were destroying our history. So people signed petitions to stop the demolition,” said Stebbins.

Relocating the Joplin Public Library to the building was considered.

But many businesses were in favor of the demolition of the hotel, with some wanting a brand new library, or some other structure, to be built in its place.

Its unexpected collapse: two workers killed, one buried alive

In 1978, it was finally decided that the building needed to be demolished. The demolition was scheduled for 8 a.m. Sunday morning, November 12. On Saturday, November 11, the beams of the building were notched for placement of dynamite that was set to be planted the next day.

Shortly after 9 a.m. on Saturday, workers heard a deafening rumble. The nine-story building collapsed unexpectedly. Unsure how many workers were in the building at the time, dozens of volunteers used machinery to search for buried men.

The disaster made worldwide news and two workers were found dead. But one man, Alfred Summers had yet to be found.

Larry Wood’s Buried Alive explains that Summers was fully conscious when the collapse happened. He was pinned between two slabs of heavy concrete. He eventually wiggled free into the crawl space above him. From the dust and a crushed acetylene tank, Summers thought he was going to “choke to death.”

“Thick clouds of dust erupted so quickly that the upper part of the hotel was hidden from view as it plummeted to the ground… Bystanders, unable to see more than a few feet in front of them, stood frozen in panic and awe,” states Buried Alive.

Hours became days. Members of Summers’ family stayed near the site awaiting his rescue.

He slept occasionally and began to hallucinate. “Visions of water and food crisscrossed through his mind,” according to Buried Alive.

The thought of death began to haunt him. He reminisced on his life, the good and bad.

On Tuesday afternoon, three days later, Summers was found. Men dug by hand to free him, but it was still a lengthy struggle to get him out carefully.

“Finally at approximately 7:30 p.m., over 82 hours since the Connor Hotel had collapsed, Al Summers was lifted head first out of his underground vault…,” states Buried Alive.

Summers felt like he’d been reborn. He gave up drinking and became a better man to his wife and stepson. He later died in 2012.

Connor Hotel is remembered fondly by those who were lucky enough to experience its golden years. To learn more, check out Stebbin’s book on Amazon.

Sources: Buried Alive by Larry E. Wood, Joplin's Connor Hotel by Chad Stebbins, Joplin Public Library

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