Hidden History: Former Lyndon mayor, fire marshal orders sanity in Fourth celebrations

By Wendi Bevitt

In the early 1910s, commissioners at Kansas City, Kansas, started pushing for a sane Fourth of July celebration. Up to this time regulations were very limited. Fire related deaths had been reported as 4,500 in 1903, but with increasing fire awareness had dropped to 1,500 in 1914. Kansas City’s “Sane Fourth” model proposed limiting usage of fireworks as well as a cleanup day on the eve of the celebrations to remove trash and other fire hazards in urban areas. At this time, most buildings in Kansas were wood frame, and the chance of accidental fires was a real threat.

In 1915, newly appointed fire marshal Lewis T. Hussey adopted the Kansas City plan and started promoting its benefits in time for the July 4th holiday.

Lewis Hussey grew up in Coffey County, Kansas, graduating from Burlington High School in 1888. His family moved to Osage County, where his father, Jerry, became register of deeds and Lewis served as deputy until 1893.

Lewis eventually became city clerk and later mayor of Lyndon. As mayor, he led the way to the installation of a city water and sewer system, which had mixed reviews among the citizens of the town. He was also elected to serve as state representative from Osage County and also served as state oil inspector.

During his civil service, Lewis pursued a career in insurance, establishing the Metropolitan Accident Association. He then joined others in organizing the Osage Fire Insurance Company in 1908. His experiences as a civil servant and in the fire insurance field made Lewis a perfect choice for Governor Arthur Capper to appoint him as state fire marshal in 1915. Capper had already started instituting portions of the safety measures of the Kansas City fire prevention plan, such as a statewide clean-up day in April, but Lewis was the perfect person to enforce what had begun.

In his new job, Lewis took protecting Kansas citizens very seriously. He admonished that a “safe and sane” 4th of July celebration was the most consistent way for Kansas to observe the day and that it might be “too much to expect a complete return to sanity after the free range that has been indulged in the celebration in years past, but an effort needs to be made in most cities and towns for a more moderate and intelligent form of celebration.”

Kansas noted great success with the 1915 Fourth of July season, which had only generated minimal damages even though the holiday weekend had been three days long. This encouraged Lewis to push for even greater safety and fire prevention precautions, limiting the use of fireworks except by authorized exhibition committees and during certain hours. Lewis also created films to urge fire prevention and clean up. The “Safe and Sane” prevention program was not only limited to the 4th of July holiday, but eventually extended to the Christmas season to create awareness of the hazards of candles and electrical devices during the holiday.

By 1918, Lewis had to reel in his regulations. Business owners were upset at the inability to sell their stocks of fireworks to a public eager to take an active part in celebratory activities over Independence Day. Lewis modified the regulations to state there were no objections to the sale and use of harmless fireworks such as sparklers, snakes, and fountains that local stores had on hand, but the larger and more dangerous ones would remain outlawed. These regulations also included restrictive use of fireworks within 1,000 feet of any business or residence, barn or storehouse.

With the Great War going on at this time, Lewis pushed his fire prevention as a way to aid in the war effort.

“Conservation of life and property is of extraordinary importance to the American people now engaged in a war for human liberty,” Lewis said.

He also warned that inattention to fire safety might affect grain storage, which would not only affect citizens on American soil, but also the ability of our country to supply food to the war effort.

By 1923, Lewis resigned his post as state fire marshal, but the impact of his passion for fire safety is still seen today in rules and regulations promoting a “Safe and Sane Fourth” in communities across Kansas.

Hussey died in 1954 and is buried in Topeka Cemetery.


wendibevitt2016bWendi Bevitt is owner of Buried Past Consulting LLC. She lived in Osage County for 20 years and her research interests include Osage County Civil War veterans and Osage County history.


One Response to Hidden History: Former Lyndon mayor, fire marshal orders sanity in Fourth celebrations

  1. Awbw says:

    Very interesting!

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