Sundays at the Site kicked off its 2019 summer series. Loren Pennington re-enacted the life of Jeremiah “Sockless Jerry” Simpson.
Pennington is a former history professor at Emporia State University who has presented three different characters for various historical presentations.
Pennington was quick to dispel the rumors of Simpson’s nickname, plopping a socked leg up on a chair for the audience to see.
“Take a look,” Pennington (as Simpson) said. “I have never appeared sockless in public.”
Victor Murdock, a reporter from the Wichita Eagle, is responsible for the nickname. He wrote that during a speech, Simpson removed his boot and showed off his bare leg and foot. Murdock wrote that Simpson declared, “Because of the high Republican tariff, the Kansas farmer can’t have no drawers and ain’t got no socks.”
“That never happened,” Pennington (as Simpson) said.
During that campaign period, Simpson received over 300 pairs of donated socks.
About 20 community members were engaged by the humorous spunk of Pennington as Simpson, laughing regularly at mostly political jokes.
Pennington covered Simpson’s history from his youth to his career as a cook-turned-captain. He also presented on the sweeter moments of life, such as when Simpson met his wife and lost the first round of the spelling bee in she requested he partcipate.
The majority of the presentation focused on Simpson’s political career as an active populist.
William Allen White Board member Kathy Buckman read information on the populist party. After the Civil War, the industrial revolution pushed farmers west, including to Kansas. They produced a surplus of corn and wheat, so those prices fell while other products held their value.
The farmers, being in a tight cost-price situation, believed inflation was the answer. This could be achieved by printing unbacked paper money or buying silver at $1.29 per ounce. The only way to get to that position was through political action. The People’s Party of America was established.
Simpson was a Populist Congressman from the 7th District. He regularly spoke to audiences about populist ideals, but never once sponsored a bill in support of those values.
Despite regularly speaking out against the railroads, Simpson ironically had a train pass that allowed him to ride for free. White also had this train pass.
More interesting historical Kansas stories can be heard during Sundays at the Site. The events are at 2 p.m. on the second and fourth Sundays of each month through September. The next presentation is “Friends of Bill White: The Finneys” by Jean Runge on June 23.