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Dodge City Daily Globe - Dodge City, KS
  • Dodge City begins to capitalize on its history

  •      Tourism became a part of Dodge City's history even as the history itself was happening.  According to William Schillingberg's book, "Dodge City, the Early Years," there were curiosity seekers who boarded the train to see the famous frontier town as early as the 1880s.  Reenac...
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  •      Tourism became a part of Dodge City's history even as the history itself was happening.  According to William Schillingberg's book, "Dodge City, the Early Years," there were curiosity seekers who boarded the train to see the famous frontier town as early as the 1880s.  Reenactors on horseback were entertaining crowds of onlookers in the first decades of the 20th century.
         By the 1930s, the memory of Boot Hill had become legend. Several other western towns claimed they had the original Boot Hill.
         And people were beginning to plan family vacations by automobile.
         Someone made the connection and Boot Hill, the tourist attraction, was born.
         Located on the site of the original makeshift graveyard, the roadside attraction, with its cement boots and faces sticking up out of the ground, its witty makeshift grave markers and, of course, a souvenir shop, was doing pretty well during the 1940s and early 1950s.
         Then along came "Gunsmoke," a CBS television series set in Dodge City with a cast of iconic characters, and the effect on the attraction, and on the town, was almost immediate.
         Suddenly everyone wanted to see the town where Matt Dillon kept order and Miss Kitty kept everyone entertained.
         Plans were made to rebuild Front Street. Architects modeled the recreation not after the Gunsmoke model but after photographs and descriptions of the street in 1876.
         The writers of the Gunsmoke series had done enough research to add a few touches of reality to their setting. They included the Long Branch Saloon, an actual early Dodge City establishment, as an integral location in their saga.
         They created a headstrong proprietress named Miss Kitty and kept the chemistry between her and Matt just simmering in the background.
         They were writing the new Dodge City legend.
    Coming to life
         Dodge City's newest attraction, the Front Street Replica, opened in 1958.
         A mix of souvenir shops and old west artifacts, visitors were thrilled to be able to walk into the Long Branch Saloon, put their foot up on the brass rail at the bar and order a sarsaparilla.
         As plans were being made for Fourth of July celebrations that year, a local couple, Dr. Lewis and Rosemary Mock, came up with the idea of putting on a show in the Long Branch.
         They approached Ike Bassett, manager of the attraction, with the idea and started rehearsing.
         Dr. Mock was a local optometrist and also a skilled piano player. His wife, Rosemary, had a theater and music background. They put together an evening of period music, cowboy ballads, campfire storytelling and dancing girls.
         The show was so popular that someone suggested it should be done all summer.
         So "Doc" and Rosie and the rest of their cast started a tradition that continues today. The Long Branch Variety Show is easily one of the longest-running shows of its type in the country.
    Page 2 of 2 -      And the current version, performed seven nights a week all summer, follows the successful format created in 1958: a piano player that can serve as emcee while providing musical fireworks, a leading lady who can manage the whole show and a leading male, plus a few can-can dancers and a couple of variety acts.
         As the show was being expanded from the Fourth of July version to the summer-long version, someone made the inevitable suggestion: name the leading lady Miss Kitty.
         So Rosie created a saloon singer with red hair, feathers and a mole and played her virtually seven nights a week all summer for nine years.
         Rosie also wrote the show's theme song, "Down at the Long Branch Saloon." She published the sheet music for the song, complete with a formal portrait of herself as Miss Kitty on the cover.
         Doc and Rosie and the rest of the Long Branch gang became instant ambassadors for Dodge City. They appeared at ribbon cuttings, rodeos, parades and civic meetings around Dodge City and across the state.
         Rosie retired from the part after nine years and was replaced by Nellis Reinert, who played Miss Kitty for nine years, then Connie Hudnett (Penick), who played the role for nine years.
         The show, now in its 55th season, continues to entertain audiences nightly, continuing one of Dodge City's most popular traditions.
     

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