Delbert J Haff – The Hammer Crusher
The concept of “Bring down the hammer” was never more evident than in the early years of the KC Parks system. A group of KC citizens who thought a well-planned park and boulevard system was too costly from a tax perspective was caused quite a brouhaha in the 1890s and brought many headaches to the park supporters. However, this group, known as the “The Hammer and Padlock Club” was no match for Delbert J. Haff.
Born in 1843 in Michigan, Delbert lost his father at an early age and was basically self-educated until he decided that law was his career of choice. Armed with energy and a vision of a beautiful park system, Haff created and led the Municipal Improvement Association. From there, he created a Park Law that gave the city the authority to create and maintain parks and boulevards, along with an innovative way to fund the new system.
When the newly formed Parks Board hired him as an attorney, Haff was successful in his defense of his Park Law against the Hammer and Padlock Club, a group of real estate owners and big taxpayers. In doing so, this created a pathway for the Parks Board to build an extensive park and boulevard system in Kansas City. Eventually becoming the Park Board President in 1908 through 1912, Delbert was able to extend the parks and boulevard system by 60 square miles.
In 1916, to commemorate Delbert Haff’s achievements, a local artist was commissioned to create a portrait bust of Haff. However, for unknown reasons, the bust was placed in storage and not displayed publically until 1967, many years after his death.
But great news, he was recognized during his lifetime! In 1940, when Haff was 81 years old, the Park Board paid tribute to his Kansas City achievements by dedicating the 600-foot circle landscape outside the entrance of Swope Park to him. The circle itself had been in existence since 1927 and was one of the most beautiful places in all of KC at the time. Just a few months before the dedication, the Works Progress Administration was finishing up the large rectangular mirror pool that was directly east of the circle. In 1966, a center spray ring and 7 vertical jets that carry the fountain sprays some 25 feet in the air were installed in the mirror pool.
Finally, in 1967, through the efforts of Parks Director Frank Vaydik, the final tribute was complete when he discovered the long-forgotten bust of Haff and moved quickly for its installation at the west end of the mirror pool.