Walk through historic KC with this new free audio tour

No matter how long you’ve lived in Kansas City, you’ve probably missed out on several historical tidbits. For example, the City Market neighborhood was once a bustling red-light district where renowned district queen Annie Chambers owned an opulent twenty-five room brothel. After Chambers died in 1935, an evangelical Christian ministry inherited the home and turned it into a women’s shelter until it was razed in 1946. Today, an engineering firm’s office stands in its place.

For two years, the Jackson County Historical Society, which operates out of the Truman Courthouse in Independence Square, has been working on an immersive audio tour called KC History Now, focused on downtown Kansas City’s Main Street. The group raised thirty thousand dollars with the help of Bank of America and H&R Block to fund the interactive app, which will launch on May 1.

“There’s so much history on the streetcar line, so we thought an app was a good idea,” JCHS executive director Caitlin Eckard says. “Everyone has a smartphone and everyone is always on their smartphone.”

Eckard and her team researched a few apps for the storytelling experience and landed on VoiceMap, which uses GPS to tell location-aware stories. The experience will guide listeners along a fixed path while introducing them to historical landmarks along the way.

Eckard doesn’t want to give too much away, but she tells us that KC History Now will have three storytelling locations—River Market, the Library District and Union Station—and that the tours will cover historical information between 1880 and 1915.

Each tour experience, narrated by voice actors, will take about twenty minutes to listen to and walk through. Eckard and fellow history buff Joseph White plan to co-write the scripts for the tours.

Eckard says the team has garnered support from local organizations such as the Central Library, KC Streetcar Authority and Downtown Council of Kansas City.

“I think they will be a huge social media help,” she says, adding that businesses along the streetcar line are also excited about the app.

“Ever since 2015, when the Royals won the World Series, there has been so much civic pride in Kansas City, in what we do and who we are,” she says. “A lot of people, whether transplants or lifetime residents, want to know more about the history of the city.”

Isolation-Friendly Alternative:
Johnson County Library created its own audio tour on historical segregation, Dividing Lines, which takes listeners on a twenty-four-mile drive throughout the metro area. Tour narrator and ethnographer Nathaniel Bozarth also hosts the Wide Ruled podcast, which discusses equality in education from history to present day.

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