Almost 134 years ago a man named Woody began a journey across America and down the road to mental health issues. Part of his journey is honored at the parking garage on William and Topeka.
A tribute to a man, you’ve probably never heard of, that changed the way we travel. You can see it as you exit the stairwell or elevator in the parking garage for the Ambassador Hotel.
The tile H from the front of his store along with several pictures give details of this part of his life.
Frank Woodville “Woody” Hockaday was born July 29, 1884 in Caldwell, KS.
At the age of fourteen, he moved to Wichita and ran a coal delivery company to pay for his business college education. Hockaday and his brother bought a bicycle business. With an increase in the automobile’s popularity, they started focusing their business on auto accessories and service.
Woody’s company offered free air, water, and battery charging for all of its customers, as well as free tire service for motorists stranded within a ten mile radius of Wichita.
In 1915 Woody began marking distances between towns with signs featuring a big red H and arrow directing the motorist to the next town. He hired a road crew and put up signs on almost 60,000 miles of roads from D.C. to L.A.
A professional cartographer, he also printed maps and gave them to tourists for free.
In 1924 he opened a Hockaday Auto Supply Company at Topeka and William.
It has long been rumored that U.S. 96 got its name from the telephone number to Hockaday’s store. The story is unfortunately an urban legend, as his phone number was “Market 102.”
As he aged, Hockaday started having mental health issues and spent time in a sanitarium. According to the Trenton Evening Times, on January 11, 1936, Hockaday was accused of kidnapping an 11 year old child. He took the child to the Jersey statehouse. He put red paint on his own face, got in a toy wagon, and had the boy push him around the grounds. He yelled at people saying he was, “Chief Wow Wow.” He told police on the scene he could solve the Lindberg kidnapping. His wife soon showed up and signed the papers to have him committed to a psychiatric hospital.
He must not have stayed there long because the Associated Press reported on July 5th that he was taken into custody… “after he jumped out of a taxicab clad in tights and an Indian war bonnet and began scattering feathers in the street and shouting mottos for peace,” like “Feathers instead of bullets”.
Hockaday died on March 28, 1947 in Macon, Missouri.
He is interred at Wichita’s Old Mission Mausoleum
His tire store was razed in 1949 and the spot sat empty for years.
You can pay homage to Woody by visiting the Block One Parking Garage on Topeka and William where according to the city’s website, “The interior pays tribute to the site’s history by recognizing F.W. “Woody” Hockaday, a famous Wichita cartographer, with a plaque and salvaged tile from the tire store that once bore his name on the site.”
Interesting side note: On March 8, 1914 “Woody” Hockaday bought the very first ticket issued in Wichita’s new Union Station.
Check out some of Wichita’s other public arts. I like to call it, How Great Our Art.
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