Open Mic

What You'll Find in Cronkite's Birthplace, St. Joseph, Missouri

Aaron Barnhart Posted July 18, 2009 at 12:00 PM

Tags: Kansas City, St. Joseph, Walter Cronkite

[Editor'sNote. Our friend Aaron, the TV Critic of the Kansas City Star, wrote a terrific obituary on the passing of Walter Cronkite, who is from Missouri. To read the entire obituary, click here. Below is a short excerpt focusing on Cronkite's ties to his birthplace, St. Joseph, Missouri.]

Walter Cronkite was just a baby when his family left St. Joseph, but it’s St. Joe that will always have the honor of being the newsman’s birthplace.

The big draw at the Patee House Museum, 12th and Penn streets, is probably the house where Jesse James was shot in 1882. But the museum’s “Streets of Old St. Jo” section includes a small exhibit devoted to Cronkites — two of them dentists (his father and grandfather). The display features a portrait of Walter Jr. (as he signed letters to his dad), the same portrait his dentist dad proudly displayed in his office.

There’s also a Cronkite family Bible there, and a thank-you note Walter Cronkite wrote to museum director Gary Chilcote when he dropped by to see the dental-office exhibit in October 2006.
The building where Cronkite was born in 1916 still stands at 15th and Edmond streets. Then a physician’s maternity hospital, it’s now a residential care facility.

The Cronkites left St. Joseph in 1917 — baby Walter’s dad would serve as an Army dentist in World War I. Curiously, while the Patee House exhibit mentions the family’s relocation to Houston (when Walter was 10) , it does not acknowledge the years before that, when they lived in Kansas City. Walter as a young man would return to KC, and his father would return to St. Joseph.

 In a 1994 interview, Cronkite told the St. Joseph News-Press he remembered taking the Interurban from Kansas City to St. Joseph in the 1920s to visit his grandfather’s farm. “He had horses, and a storm cellar that always smelled marvelously of apples,” Cronkite said.