The Man of a Thousand Faces


The story begins with the founding of the Kansas School for the Deaf by Philip A. Emery, a deaf man who had lc been a student and teacher at the Indiana School for the Deaf until 1860.

Emery had come to Kansas to start a new life in a part of the country that was opening up. In his new community, Philip became acquainted with a neighbor, Jonathan R. Kennedy, who was pleased to discover that an experienced deaf educator was now living nearby.  At the time, there was no institution for deaf education and Kennedy’s three children, due to their deafness, were shut out of regular schools.  He was successful in persuading Emory to use his Indiana skills to start the necessary school. With $250 borrowed from a relative of Kennedy’s, the two men found a good location in Baldwin lc2City, about 20 miles southeast of Olathe and established what was later to become the Kansas School for the Deaf in 1861.

These were trying times in the US as it was the beginning of the Civil War.  which was fought over slavery. Kansas was a “Free State” and those in the confederacy were  opposed to the Free State concept. A raid by Confederate Guerilla William Clarke Quantrill on August 21, 1863 nearly saw the early demise of the school.  Quantrill’s Raiders had sacked and burned the nearby town of Lawrence and were headed to Baldwin City, probably intending to destroy the town and everyone in it. However, Major Preston B. Plumb, with 200 Union Cavalry soldiers and assorted farmers, intercepted Quantrill before he reached Baldwin City, thus saving the future Kansas School for the Deaf.  Later the school was successful in obtaining public funds from the Kansas Legislature and was finally settled in Olathe, Kansas.

The Move to Colorado

lc3The 1870s found Jonathan Kennedy and his family moving to Colorado City, Colorado (now part of Colorado Springs, Colorado) and, again, the family had no place their deaf children to obtain an education. Armed with knowledge from his time spent assisting at the Kansas School for the Deaf, Kennedy set out to establish a school in Colorado which eventually became the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind (CSDB).  Initially, his school provided for the  lc5education of seven deaf children, three of whom were his own. With donations from General Jackson Palmer, land a mile or so east of Colorado Springs and a $5,000 grant from the Territorial Legislature, the school was founded in 1874, providing education for deaf children from across Colorado.


Jonathan Kennedy’s deaf daughter Emma, then 20, fell in love with Frank, one of the other pupils in school and who was four years her senior.  Emma had been born deaf and began her schooling in Kansas at age 8 while Frank was deafened at age 2 from an illness.  The lovers graduated from CSDB and, after a three year courtship, married in 1877 settling in Colorado City, the Colorado portion of what is now Colorado Springs.  It was the time of gold discovery at Pikes Peak and Manitou Springs, and Colorado City was the supply city for the goldlc10 camps.  Many men were locating in the area hoping to strike it rich in the gold fields. Catering to the mining clientele, Frank set up a barber shop to support his family and other relatives living in their household.  Though deaf, by all reports. Frank and Emma were great parents to their children, Jonathan, Earl, George, Caroline, and Leonidas – all of whom were hearing.

While all of the siblings became successful in their own way, the most famous of Frank and Emma’s children was Leonidas.  Being born to deaf parents lead young Leonidas to learn to express himself through facial and hand gestures rather than through speaking. He became proficient  at telling his parents stories about the neighbors and townspeople through pantomime.  At age 19, Leonidas entered a stage career and in 1902 began traveling withlc11 popular Vaudeville and theater acts.  As fate would have it, in 1905 at age 22, he met and married a 16-year-old singer, Cleva Creighton, and in 1906, their only child, a son, Creighton was born.  For a few years Leonidas and Cleva continued touring with Vaudeville acts but finally settled down in California in 1910 where Leonidas was a stage manager for famous vaudeville acts, as well as moonlighting in the film industry.

The early 20th century was a time of great invention in many areas.  Cars, airplanes, inside plumbing, movies, phonographs were all in their infancy.  It was also the heyday of  silent films with their stars and scripts, and the evolving technology was creating a powerful new industry. Although Leonidas’s marriage to Cleva ended in divorce in 1913, it forced him  out of the theater and into films. A bad personal situation led to more beneficial opportunities with Universal Studios, with whom Leonidas was under contract from 1912 to 1917. He then worked with other major studios, making such famous classic slc6ilent films as The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera.

Leonidas, grandson of Jonathan Kennedy, was none other than silent film star Lon Chaney, Sr (1883-1930). His masterful disguises made him a household word in film, particularly horror films.  Indeed, he was the man of a thousand faces!  Lon and Cleva’s son, Creighton, became Lon Chaney, Jr. (1902-1973) who delighted film audiences in the lc8famous horror films of the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s.  Click here for the famous Lon Chaney, Sr. unmasking scene from the 1925 movie the Phantom of thelc7 Opera and Click on Lon Chaney for a trailer of his famous 1941 classic The Wolf Man.

Lon Chaney, Sr was a legend of silent films who learned his skills from interacting with deaf parents and his son, Lon Chaney, Jr. dazzled us for decades with talents learned from his father.  The Chaneys were more than mere actors: they are part of Deaf History as descendants of a caring father who had the foresight to begin schools for the Deaf in Kansas and Colorado, creating education and opportunity for deaf people.



American Masters (2002).  Lon Chaney:  A thousand faces.  Retrieved May 23, 2016.

Kansas School for the Deaf (2012).  A School History.  Retrieved May 23, 2016.

Vogrin, B. (2014). Side streets :  School has 140 years of teaching deaf and blind students.  Colorado Springs Gazette.  Retrieved May 24, 2016.


Barber Girls (2016).  Barber Antiques.  Retrieved May 25, 2016.

Mass, N.  (2012).  Lon Chaney, Sr.: Phantom of the Opera. Universal Pictures (1925).  Retrieved May 25, 2016.

Unknown, (2016).  William Jackson Palmer.  Colorado  Retrieved May 24, 2016.

Vogrin, B. (2014). Side streets :  School has 140 years of teaching deaf and blind students.  Colorado Springs Gazette.  Retrieved May 24, 2016.


Chaney, Sr,  L. (1925).  Phantom of the Opera: Unmasking Scene.  Universal Pictures.  You  Retrieved May 25, 2016.

Chaney, Jr., L.  (1941).  The Wolf Man Trailer.  Universal Pictures. You  Retrieved May 25, 2016.

Florio, D. (2015).  Vaudeville History Part I.  Retrieved May 25, 2016.


About Robert Traynor

Robert M. Traynor is a board certified audiologist with 45 years of clinical practice in audiology. He is a hearing industry consultant, trainer, professor, conference speaker, practice manager, and author. He has 45 years experience teaching courses and training clinicians within the field of audiology with specific emphasis in hearing and tinnitus rehabilitation. Currently, he is an adjunct professor in various university audiology programs.

1 Comment

  1. Nice history of special interest to me, Bob. My grandmother, a Colorado native, deafnd at age 6 months from meningitis, attended CSDB for her entire education prior to going to Gallaudet University in 1898. Her only daughter, my aunt, graduated in deaf education from Gallaudet University in 1938 or so…and taught at the Kansas School for the Deaf in Olathe for some 25 years.

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