(To listen to the audio of this blog post, use the purple play button.)
· Kirch Split
William C. Kirch, Photographer ·
Part 2 – Conclusion
During the 1920’s, women’s first names were still mostly missing from newspapers. The publications identified a married woman as either “the wife of” or as “Mrs.”, followed by the initials of her husband’s first and middle name, then his surname. For the most part, married women were forced to agree to play by the unequal rules of the only game in town.
At least the U. S. Federal Census consistently documented some important details. The 1920 Census was taken in Greensburg, Kansas in January. While Mae Besore Kirch didn’t have her maiden name recorded, she did have her occupation. She and William were both listed as “photographer”. Under the column of industry or business, William was listed as “own shop”. May (spelled with a “y”) B. Kirch’s business was “photograph gallery”.
While the census showed the Kirches as sharing business responsibilities, their joint partnership—both in business and in marriage—was ending.
Prior to Christmas, William left Greensburg for a visit to California. Prior to New Year’s, Mae departed for Hutchinson and points further east. It’s unclear if Mae ever returned to live in their modern six-room residence with large shade trees.
On January 22, 1920, the Kiowa County Signal, a Greensburg newspaper, printed this notice: “All parties are hereby warned that I will no longer be responsible for bills contracted by my wife from and after Dec. 23rd 1919 either here or elsewhere. Will Kirch.”
In March, a summons was served on William. In April, Mae filed for divorce in Winfield, KS. Two months later, in June, the divorce was granted. The Arkansas City Daily Traveler noted: “Mae B. Kirch, of Winfield, was given a divorce from William Kirch on the grounds of extreme cruelty.”
Mae Besore Kirch, of Rozel (where she had been married), Pawnee County, Kansas was married again within three months of this divorce.
On September 8, 1920, Mae Besore, age, 30, and Bluford A. Sidener, 58, former president of the Mullinville State Bank (ten miles west of Greensburg), were married in Livingston, Montana. They returned to Kiowa County to live.
William remained single the rest of his life.
William Kirch continued to take photographs; he couldn’t help it. After the divorce he disposed of his last “photo car” that had become an “old eyesore” to at least one newspaper reporter. The once productive vehicle was quickly junked by the new owner.
Will was done with his walk-in photography business at Greensburg. However, he still enjoyed taking pictures of harvest crews, cattle ranches, and oil wells around western Kansas, and Dighton was always a special place to him.
Most likely, while living in LaCrosse as a youngster, Kirch became friends with the three Conard boys who became professional photographers. Eventually the siblings settled in different Kansas communities. William (also WB) chose Larned; Abner (AB), LaCrosse; and Frank (or FD), Garden City.
WB of the Conard Studio in Larned had temporarily hired Kirch in early 1914 as a promotion to take house portraitures.
In the later 1920’s, some of Kirch’s photos are identified as Conard-Kirch. Certainly, Will and his old friend Frank D. Conard, Garden City, had partnered up so Will could take his panoramic pictures of Kansas country. The photographs, sixteen inches wide and six inches high, were just the right shape for the level country landscape.
Most likely, 1929 was the final year of the Conard-Kirch partnership because that was when Kirch moved to Wood, South Dakota, where his brother Fred lived. Kirch began work with the Rise Studio, Rapid City, as a commercial photographer. Photos from this era display “Rise Studio, Kirch” identifiers. However, as expected, some of his photos of the Badlands of South Dakota are credited solely to an independent Kirch. One South Dakota postcard even shows a different business alliance;“Kirch-Woodson” is printed in the right-hand bottom corner.
By 1936, Kirch was again in Dighton taking photos, especially at the town’s 50th year anniversary celebration. He had returned to his earlier stomping grounds, at least temporarily. The federal census in 1940 also documents his presence.
William Kirch died in 1944 after helping with a Kansas milo harvest near Dighton. On November 8 he passed on as a result of doing what he loved, interacting with the outdoors. I’ll always wonder if he had a camera nearby, ready to capture one last image of the land he loved.
Despite his long personal connection with the people of Dighton, Kirch is buried in Locust Hill Cemetery, Rush Center, Rush County near his parents and one of his brothers.
William C. Kirch’s photographs and postcards live on today documenting earlier times, mostly of Kansas, displaying his excellent eye.
Until next time, happy writing and reading!
I appreciate Sonya (Reed) Thomas, Lane County Historical Museum for sharing the photos of Mae Besore Kirch and William Charles Kirch.
Matthew T. Reitzel, South Dakota State Historical Society, provided me direction to the South Dakota Digital Archives.
Stephanie A. Humphries, Cowley County Historical Society, and Lou Tharp helped confirm that Wm. Kirch and Mae B. Kirch of Greensburg were indeed the same Kirches who were divorced in the District Court of Cowley County.
Pat Bussen willingly shared his eye-popping, weather-related photograph of the church building taken during a storm chasing moment. Thanks, Pat.
Thanks to Cameron Herrell for his community service by taking photos of headstones and posting them on Find-A-Grave.
Thanks to Morgan Williams for sharing so many postcard images, telling the stories of the pictures, and asking unanswerable questions.
I also appreciate the remarkable work that Patrick Clement has done on researching and collecting invaluable information and material about Frank D. Conard and William C. Kirch. The family tree he’s posted on ancestry.com helps me better understand the many layers of connections.