Friday, May 5, 2017

Kirke Mechem (1889-1985)

Baseball Player, Chess Player, Editor, Author, Historian, Poet, Playwright
Born December 20, 1889, Mankato, Kansas
Died June 5, 1985, Santa Clara County, California

Kirke Field Mecham was born on December 20, 1889, in Mankato, Kansas. Before the Great War, he was a stenographer for the Southwestern Journal in Kansas City, Missouri. On October 25, 1917, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served overseas with the 137th Infantry, 35th Division. Mechem's unit arrived on the front lines in France on June 18, 1918. Several months of heavy fighting and heavy casualties followed. After the Armistice of November 11, 1918, Mechem served as editor of The Jayhawker in France, a service paper. (I presume The Jayhawker in France was a paper for Kansans.) He also wrote poems and other pieces for papers back home. He was released from service on May 10, 1919.

Kirke F. Mechem was at various times in his life editor of The Legionnaire, a paper of the Thomas Hopkins Post of the American Legion in Wichita, Kansas; editor of The Price Current, a commercial newspaper; and author of poems published in Harper's Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, Weird Tales, and newspapers in Kansas and elsewhere. He wrote at least two plays, Who Won the War? (1928) and John Brown (1938), which won the Maxwell Anderson Award. Mechem wrote John Brown while on a thirty-day vacation spent in a Santa Fe railroad caboose on Wakarusa Creek. Living on salmon, potatoes, and coffee, Mechem wrote out his play in longhand while he reclined in a caboose bunk.

From about 1930 to 1951, Kirke Mechem was secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society. He edited Annals of Kansas, publiched in two volumes in 1954 and after. His articles and other publications for the Kansas Historical Society included "The Bull Fight at Dodge" (Kansas Historical Quarterly, Aug. 1933); "The Mythical Jayhawk" (Kansas Historical Quarterly, Feb. 1944); and The Story of Home on the Range (booklet, 1950). Some other credits:
  • "Baulny Hill" (poem, Topeka Daily Capital, 1919)
  • "These Ageless Themes" (poem, Harper’s Magazine, Nov. 1922)
  • "A Bob Ballade" (poem, The Saturday Evening Post, Dec. 6, 1924)
  • "Night Specters" (poem, Weird Tales, July 1932)
Mechem's son, Kirke L. Mechem (b. 1925) is a well-known composer of choral music and other works. The elder Mechem's wife Katherine was a pianist.

Kirke Mechem died on June 5, 1985, in Santa Clara County, California, at age ninety-five.

Kirke Mechem's Poem in Weird Tales
"Night Specters" (July 1932)

Further Reading
Mechem's articles for the Kansas Historical Quarterly, listed above, are available on the Internet.

Text copyright 2017, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

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