Category Archives: Kansas

Exploring Concordia, Kansas: POW Camp, Orphan Train and Longest Brick Mural

One of the great things about full time RV traveling is the ability to have a flexible itinerary. We try to keep to a certain travel schedule, but sometimes we learn about interesting places and want to stay longer than planned or decide to change our route. This was the case while visiting Kansas. One of our first stops in the state was Liberal which has declared itself to be the “Wizard of Oz” town although it has no connection with the story or film. They had a nice visitor center there with brochures and one of them was on the German WWII POW Camp in Concordia. I had never given any thought to what happened to German POW’s and was surprised to learn there was a camp in Kansas. Actually there were several of these camps in Kansas as well as in many other states. This is the only POW camp that still has original structures remaining. I thought this would be a unique and interesting place to visit and Mark has done a lot of reading about World War II so I figured he would enjoy as well. Plus, there were a few other things of interest to see in Concordia. So, we ended up staying a little longer in Kansas then planned.

Guard tower above was built of stone by German POW’s who reportedly were ashamed of the shoddy wooden towers built by the Americans

Mark and I had our own private tour at the Camp with a knowledgeable docent named Paul. At one time this place was quite large with over 300 buildings, but almost all of them were dismantled years ago with a guard tower, warehouse, officer’s club and guard station remaining. The museum that we toured is in a warehouse building called T-9.

Warehouse building – T9

I would call this museum a “work in progress” as it has only been opened a few years. There are some good displays though and we spent quite a bit of time looking at everything. It only took 90 days to build Camp Concordia which opened on May 1, 1943. The Camp was completed with a 177 bed hospital, barracks, mess halls, administrative buildings and an officer’s club. Paul told us that the prisoners were accorded the same rights as American soldiers would be treated as far as food rations, sleeping quarters and other necessities. Treatment was fair in other areas as well. The POW’s had their own band and newspaper (called the “Barbwire”) and could take classes offered by the University of Kansas. They had a sports field and their own sport teams. A library was provided with reading materials in German. A PX was available where they could purchase items and the German officers had their own club.

Original kitchen prep table

The enlisted POW’s were put to work at area farms but officers were not expected to work. Remarkably, the POW’s even received a wage. Relationships were reported to be good between the prisoners and the local farmers. I watched a very good documentary on Camp Concordia called “Prisoners of Plenty.” You can find it on You Tube if interested. A letter sent by a POW to one of the farm families thanked them for their many kindnesses and how much he enjoyed working on their farm. He reminisced about the chicken dinners they fixed him. Good relationships were also made at the Camp with POW’s and American staff. One former worker reported that she corresponded for over 50 years with a soldier who also made visits back until he died. There wasn’t much concern that prisoners would escape since they were in the middle of the Kansas prairie with no place to go. But one incident that occurred was when prisoners were being trucked back to the Camp and at an intersection, two of them jumped out. Their absence was not noted by the guard who was in the cab until they reached the Camp. MIlitary police were sent back to town to look for them and they were found walking on a road about 1/2 mile out of town. They reported that they had stopped to get a beer and were walking back to Camp.

Some of the prisoners were quite talented and the museum displays examples of their artwork, sculpture and furniture crafting. My favorite is this picture of a horse above. It was created by a prisoner while sitting at a campfire. He picked up a piece of charred wood and drew this picture of one of the horses of an American sergeant. A drawing of his village in Germany is also in the museum.

Paul told a story about how he was able to develop a relationship by email with the son of a German officer and they even met in person. The deceased officer had a pair of boots that his son wanted to donate to the museum, although some family members were reluctant. Eventually, the boots were donated. It is amazing how far these boots have come – from many battlefields throughout Europe to Camp Concordia, then back to Germany and civilian life before finding a final home back in Concordia. The Camp closed on November 8, 1945. When I stood outside the warehouse building and looked at the many fields surrounding the Camp, I could imagine the area probably hadn’t changed much since the 1940’s. This still looks like a farming region where German POW’s would have labored.

Fire truck from Ebay

There are a couple of vehicles at the museum, but the best is this vintage fire truck that Paul found on EBay of all places. It was formerly in use at another German POW camp in Kansas. Paul was able to arrange the purchase of this truck and it came to Concordia. He turned on the lights and siren for us. I love this old truck………good old eBay!

Orphan Train Museum

I was interested to visit this museum since I have read some on the subject including a historical fiction novel titled “Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline. Located in the old Concordia train depot, while the museum space is rather small, it contained quite a bit of information. Having the museum near the train tracks added to the experience because as I was reading about these youngsters traveling out west by rail, trains would come rumbling close by.

Orphan train riders

A film and exhibits with letters, photos and memorabilia portrayed the lives of these young ones. The orphan trains sent children whose parents or legal guardians were either deceased, absent or incapacitated from New York City and other places in the East to families primarily in the Midwest. There were several organizations involved in placing these children with the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) primary. The belief was that these children were better off with families than left to fend for themselves on the streets (like in the photo below) or in crowded orphanages.

New York City youngsters sleeping on the street near a grate to keep warm.

The Orphan Train officially began in 1854 with a group of 46 boys and girls, ages six to fifteen who were sent to Dowagiac, Michigan. From there, 36 remained and 10 more went on to Iowa. Once the children were placed with families, CAS continued to monitor the children with agents visiting yearly, filing a progress report and maintaining written communication with the children and their new parents. The children were in a foster care like situation where the Agency could remove them and place elsewhere if needed. Foster parents were recruited and applied for these children. To identify them the child and foster parents were given a number so they could match up when pick up time came at the train station.

Bonnet from Marie who had Number 25 sewed on her bonnet

The museum shared a number of stories and pictures regarding individual children, their siblings and families. Many of the placements were deemed to have successful outcomes, but for some there were many difficulties and not all remained in their initial placements. Over a period of 75 years, more than 200,000 children were placed in all 48 states and even into Canada.

Orphan train rider Clara

In Cloud County where Concordia is located, you can find 28 sculptures paying tribute to an orphan train rider. I believe there are plans to continue to place more around the County. As I walked around downtown I spotted several of these statues, all of them had plaques with information about the riders. The statue pictured below represents two siblings, Elmer and Ethel who were placed together in a home in Iowa after their mother died in childbirth and their father could not care for them or their siblings. When Ethel died in 1990 at the age of 93, she had 197 descendants.

Elmer and Ethel, Orphan Train riders

Concordia has something else to be proud of – the longest sculpted brick mural in the U.S. The mural is on the wall of the Cloud County Museum/Visitor’s Center and is a real beauty. It contains 6,400 bricks and is 140 feet in length. The mural shows the history of Cloud County and was completed in 2008. One of the staff at the visitor center gave us a tour and explained how it was created and put together which was a real feat.

Standing by one small section of the longest sculpted brick mural

The mural is so long that I couldn’t take a photo of the whole thing without doing a panorma shot which shows the mural curved instead of a straight wall. But it gives an idea of how big it is.

It was a great day in Concordia but we had one last stop on our way back “home” to Salina. On the drive to Concordia I had seen a sign about a monument to President Lincoln’s little letter writer. As Mark drove I looked it up and read an intriguing story I had never heard of. While traveling, I have great fun researching things as we drive from place to place. There are always interesting tidbits of history we learn about! So, on the way back we made a stop in the very small town of Delphos.

This monument to Grace can be found in a park in the town’s tiny center. The buildings, few in number have seen better days with the park looking the best kept. Located on the monument are two letters inscribed in stone, one from Grace and the other from President Lincoln. When Grace was a girl of 11 and Lincoln was running for the presidency, she wrote him that he should grow whiskers as it would improve his appearance and help him get elected. Lincoln responded and the last sentence of his letter reads: “As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affectation if I were to begin it now.” After that, Lincoln did grow a beard and during his inaugural journey from Illinois to Washington D.C. he stopped in Grace’s hometown of Westfield, New York and met with her. Grace recalled the meeting years later: “Gracie, look at my whiskers I have been growing them for you and then he kissed me. I never saw him again.” In her adult years Grace moved to Delphos and lived here until she passed away in 1936 at the age of 87.

Next time finds us in Missouri in the home town of Mark Twain!

Exploring Grassroots Art in Lucas, Kansas

World’s largest souvenir travel plate made from an old satellite dish

During our stay in Kansas when I talked to people about visiting the town of Lucas, they would always say, “You have to see the bathroom in the public park!” I had never heard of a bathroom being so celebrated before, especially one in a city park which at times can be kind of iffy in quality. Lucas is proud of their public bathroom, but they are also proud of so much more in this tiny town. Known as the “Grassroots Art” town, much space, time and energy has been devoted to displaying art which can be viewed in different places throughout the town. While staying in Salina, I made a day trip alone to Lucas to discover what this town was about.

Garden of Eden house

My main reason to come to Lucas was to see the well-known “Garden of Eden” house. Some years ago I had read about this historic and unusual home and was curious to see it. Samuel Perry Dinsmoor, was a Civil War veteran who began building this home in 1907 when he was 64 years old. For 22 years he used tons of cement and limestone to build not only the house but also create 150 sculptures that surround it. His “log” cabin is actually made of limestone logs, a common rock found in this part of Kansas. When finished, he opened his home to the public giving tours until a few years before he died in 1932. Dinsmoor created the sculptures as his interpretation of society and religion, especially as seen through his populist party ideals. Topics such as war, work/labor and government are explored here.

Front door entry into the house

The guided tour started inside the home and then continued out in the yard. I tried my best to view and understand the sculptures that are supported by cement trees around the property. It was amazing to see this work of one man who only used an assistant to help mix the cement. I liked seeing the house, but was not particularly wowed by it or the sculptures. Perhaps I was just not as inspired as others seem to be.

Adam and Eve sculptures

The craziest part of the tour was when the guide took me into Mr. Dinsmoor’s mausoleum. After his death he wanted to be laid to rest in a glass topped coffin so the public could continue to “visit” him. Photos of his body are not allowed. Upon seeing Mr. Dinsmoor all I could comment was that his face did have some similarity to the photos I had seen. I believe this is the first attraction in my travels where the deceased wanted to be continually viewed after death. It surprises me that someone would want to be seen by the public in this state of decay.

Mr. Dinsmoor’s mausoleum

After my visit with Mr. Dinsmoor I went over to the Grassroots Art Center to see their exhibits. The Center gives this definition for grassroots art: “A term describing art made by people with no formal artistic training using ordinary materials in an extraordinary way.” The Center also reports that Kansas ranks third in the U.S. in the number of grassroot art sites after Wisconsin and California. This was a fun place to visit, especially since the art was so creative and unusual. I was given a guided tour with stories about the artists and an explanation of what I was seeing. One installation was even hands on: The artist created a board with pictures, letters and other items to help you guess the first names of boys and girls. Each square represented a name and when you hit a button, it would light up the correct name on the bottom. It was fun to see how many I could guess.

Female name guess installation

My favorite piece was a car made entirely of pull top tabs from soda cans. These pull tabs are the old fashioned kind from the 1970’s and each had an extension on it that could be bent to secure onto the next tab with no glue or other reinforcement needed. The artist used hundreds of thousands of them to create this full sized vehicle. He also made the motorcycle next to it which took 179,200 pull tabs as well as a couple suits of clothes hanging on a nearby wall.

Car made from soda can pull top tabs

There was great variety in the objects displayed Including wood carvings, mechanical motion machines, carved figures inside narrow necked bottles, yard ornaments, scrap metal totem poles, recycled household items and limestone carvings. Inez Marshall started carving stone in the late 1930’s and created this horse and wagon sculpture in the photo below that weighs 1500 pounds. Among other objects she made was a one-fifth size Ford Model T.

I was surprised to look into a case and see displays of Betty Milliken’s chewing gum portraits. She worked for over 70 years creating hundreds of portraits and liked to use unconventional materials. One of her favorite mediums was using grapefruit rind also displayed here. I doubt I will ever again see art made from chewing gum.

A small tray of chewing gum portraits

After finishing with the Center, the guide took me a few blocks to the Florence Deeble home. As a young girl, Ms. Deeble watched Mr. Dinsmoor create his yard sculptures and became inspired to create painted concrete sculptures in her backyard garden. These became “postcards” of places she had visited on vacations and included Mount Rushmore, Colorado’s Rocky Mountains and the Arizona desert. The guide explained that this type of yard art made by a woman was unique for the time period. Unfortunately, I did not find the sculptures to be very interesting as they looked worn and colorless, really needing some refurbishing. I didn’t even take photos of them which is unusual, as I take lots and lots of pictures everywhere I go. (About 36,000 so far).

Garden of Isis

Although I found the backyard drab, the inside of the house now owned by the Grassroots Art Center was an explosion of color and activity by a single artist, Mri-Pilar, who calls it the “Garden of Isis.” The Center describes Mri-Pilar as having a vision to transform the Deeble House into a “recycled art installation.” The walls and ceilings are covered in silver insulation and Mylar. Almost every inch of the walls have items she has created from trash heaps, dumpsters and second hand stores. Many of these are old dolls and barbies so one wall has the title, “rebarb.” There are even displays on the floors, including this large figure I am standing next to. I feel rather overdressed and drab compared to her.

This place defies description and was something I had never seen the likes of before. I actually found it more intriguing than the Garden of Eden house. Yes, it was wierd and bizarre but also so quirky and interesting that I really liked it. There was so much to see that I couldn’t look at every piece, it would require return trips. The fact it is done by one woman in her spare time is incredible and how she comes up with these ideas is surprising as well. Since the items are for sale, she continues to make more and bring them over to hang wherever she can find a few more inches of space.

Garden of Isis

After my tour was over I walked to the Bowl Plaza to see the famous bathroom. The building is designed to look like a toilet tank with the seat cover. The curved benches in front are the toilet seat and the winding concrete path is toilet paper leading to a large concrete roll. I had a photo with the roll which is off the side of the building but I didn’t like the way it turned out, so am using this photo instead.

Bowl Plaza

Although the outside is great, the inside is even better. Every wall from the entry way to both men and women’s restrooms is decorated with stones, rocks, shells, gems, jewelry as well as different gadgets added for special effect. For example, one wall in the men’s has a large design of hot wheel cars. Our grandsons who are avid collectors of these cars would love to see this wall!

Hot wheel collage in the men’s restroom

The photo below is a view of the women’s restroom looking towards the outside door

Decorated walls in the women’s restroom

After many hours of work by artists and volunteers, the bathroom was opened in 2012. I read that in 2014, the Cintas Corporation sponsored the best public restroom in the U.S. contest and the Bowl Plaza won 2nd place by popular vote. I have to say that the restroom really was as neat as everyone said and deserves that award!

Post Rock Scenic Byway

Part of my drive to Lucas was on the Post Rock Scenic Byway, a lovely drive through the Smoky Hills with pasture and farmlands fenced in with limestone posts. Pioneers had to use whatever materials were available for fencing and since there were few trees to work with on these plains, they often cut limestone rock for posts. At the Grassroots Art Center I found out about an artist that carved figures from some of these old posts. Looking at a map, I kept an eye out for them on my drive back and found this one which I thought was beautiful. Her name is Chelsea.

I made a couple more stops on my return. The first was a visitor center where you can purchase things made in Kansas. I was surprised how big it was and how many items for sale. I got the tip to come here from the Grassroots Center guide who told me the visitor center regularly made homemade kolaches, a Czechoslovakian pastry. After picking up a few of these I then drove to see the world’s largest Czech egg located in the town of Wilson, the Czech capital of Kansas. The colorful egg is sitting in a park and measures 20 feet tall by 15 feet wide.

Stay tuned for more Kansas exploration!

We Got the Heck Into Dodge

Traveling through Kansas while heading to the Midwest we decided to make a stop for several days in Dodge City. After all, it is one of the most famous old west towns and we wanted to see if there was anything interesting there. We found that the city had changed quite a bit since its long ago days of cowboys and gunslingers.

The historic Front Street buildings are gone, torn down to make way for newer ones and a parking lot. The downtown seemed subdued, not vibrant as other touristy towns often are. But tourism is still alive with its heart in the “Boot Hill” area. Much of Boot Hill is currently under construction to expand and revitalize. All around the downtown are reminders that Dodge City is the “Gunsmoke” town. Gunsmoke was a popular western TV show set in old Dodge City that ran from 1955 – 1975, one of the longest running TV series. There are numerous statues and plaques commemorating stars from the show as well as other famous former citizens. Even our campground was named for the show and had an old west theme.

Marshall Dillion of Gunsmoke played by James Arness

One day I decided to take a walk around Dodge City and soak up the atmosphere. I renewed my acquaintance with Doc Holliday who I first got to know in Tombstone. In that town he and his friend Wyatt Earp and the Earp brothers tried to bring law and order. Doc and Wyatt also spent some time in Dodge City. Doc seemed to like to pass much of his time playing cards and carousing, so fittingly the sculpture pictured below poses him in a card game setting. Wyatt became an assistant Marshall and of course he also has a statue downtown.

Doc Holliday statue

Although the old buildings are pretty much gone, I couldn’t help notice something that Dodge City has preserved – their red brick streets. I am a fan of cobblestoned and red brick roads, so was pleased to see these throughout the downtown. The streets were paved in bricks beginning in 1913 after the City decided to do something about their rutted and muddy roads.

Red brick streets in downtown Dodge City

The Longhorn Cattle statue honors the role they played in developing Dodge City. But before the Longhorns came, it was buffalo that kept the town busy. Before they were wiped out from the plains, the city was a major shipping point for hides and meat to the East. I learned that even in Britain, it was very fashionable to have a buffalo hide coat. The longhorns were descendants of Spanish cattle brought to Mexico in the 16th century. Between 1875 and 1886, over 4 million head were driven from Texas up the Great Western Cattle Trail to Dodge City where they could be shipped. Dodge City earned the nickname “Queen of the Cowtowns.” The days of the longhorn cattle drives ended when it was found they were transmitting Texas cattle fever through ticks.

While traveling, overlooks often give you a scenic view of the countryside or a nearby town or city. I drove several miles outside of Dodge to a different kind of overlook – an expansive view of the largest cattle feedlot one could ever hope to see. Although these feedlots are not that close to the overlook, people report that at certain times the smell can be pretty pungent. Signboards gave some interesting information to show that Dodge City is still queen of the cowtowns.

There are two beef processing companies here – Excel Corporation (6,000 cattle daily) and National Beef (4,000 cattle daily). I read that these two plants annually market enough beef to feed over 16 million people for one year. Other information was that Kansas ranks first in the U.S. in commercial cattle production. I have never been much of a beef eater, but after seeing all the feedlots while driving through the Texas and Oklahoma panhandle and now in Kansas, I am thinking of eating even less than before.

Local historian Charlie Meade

While in Dodge City I saw information about local historian Charlie Meade’s walking tours. I thought it would be fun to arrange one but unfortunately, I let the time slip away and didn’t get one scheduled. So I was surprised when Mark and I were walking in the door of a local restaurant to see a man who looked like Charlie just coming out. We struck up a conversation and he was more than eager to talk. This was after leading a tour of 3rd graders as well as two other walking tours that morning! Born in 1935, he was sworn in as a Marshall in Dodge City in 1965, which is what law officers were called at that time. Charlie told us so many stories that it was almost like having a private tour with him. He knew cast members from the Gunsmoke series and traveled around the country to promote Dodge City and Kansas history. It only makes sense that his ranch is located south of Dodge City on the famous Great Western Cattle Trail. Meeting local people and hearing their stories has been one of the nicest things about our traveling!

Boot Hill Museum – Recreated Front Street

After meeting Charlie and finishing our meal, we headed to the Boot Hill Museum complex, located at the site of the original Boot Hill cemetery. The name is because cowboys were supposedly buried here with their boots still on. This museum has set up shops and buildings to replicate ones that were once part of old Dodge City such as a saloon, barber shop, pharmacy, bank and general store. In various rooms were exhibits and memorabilia on life in the old west which were rather nicely done.

Very cool cash register in the General Store
Mark waiting at the bar of the Long Branch Saloon for his …… Diet Coke

I liked the old pharmacy with its shelves of medical cures. What really caught my attention were the orange and blue glass show globes near the window. I read that these globes were a pharmacy symbol and have been used for centuries to help illiterate people identify this as a drug store. It also showed the customer that the pharmacist knew what he was doing as it took some skill in those days to create colored water.

Old time pharmacy with show globes

It seems in every old west town there has to be a historic jail and Boot Hill is no exception. I don’t pay much attention to them any more, but the story behind this one caught my interest. This 1865 jail once belonged to Fort Dodge, located several miles from the city. The local Jaycees wanted that jail for the Museum but were told that it couldn’t be given to them because it was located on Federal grounds. However, government officials and those in charge of the grounds saw no problem with it being stolen. So on November 1, 1953, the Jaycees and their accomplices, masked and on horseback rode out to Fort Dodge to “take” the jail. We were told by a woman working at Boot Hill that one of those thieves was none other than Charlie Meade.

Jail cell at Boot Hill Museum

One night at our campground I found out that Kansas has great sunsets. I will close with a photo of one.

Three Stumps and a Monument to Grass

 

We headed west from Topeka for a little road trip, traveling mostly on scenic byways.  The scenery was pretty through rolling tree covered hills, quaint towns, farms and prairie grasslands.   Our first stop was in Council Grove (above) a very historic town that I was interested in seeing.  We learned quite a bit about the Santa Fe Trail at the history museum in Topeka (as well as at other museums) and the trail ran right through the town.

We headed to a cafe for what we hoped would be breakfast but got there a minute too late, so it was lunch.  When we went to pay at the counter it was amusing to see this big wooden clip sitting there with tickets.   We knew we were experiencing small town living at its best … a cafe where you can charge your meal!

I call Council Grove the town of three stumps.  Three events took place in this town by trees long gone leaving only stumps.   I doubt there are too many towns that have three historic stumps (chuckle).  The first stump we visited was Council Oak (pictured above) where in 1825 U.S. Commissioners and Chiefs of the Osage tribes signed a treaty to allow passage for the Santa Fe Trail across Osage lands.  The tree was destroyed in 1958 during a wind storm leaving only the stump.

The second stump is called Post Office Oak (above).  From 1825 to 1847 Santa Fe trail travelers left messages in a cache at the foot of this tree to inform others of trail conditions.  The tree died in 1990 and now only the preserved stump remains.  The third stump, Custer Elm was the site of a camp for General Custer and his men in 1867 while they were patrolling the Santa Fe trail.  The tree died  in the mid 1970’s.

Thousands of travelers passed through Council Grove and stocked up before heading into the frontier.  It was their final opportunity  to get what they needed before they reached New Mexico.  The picture above shows the Last Chance store built in 1857 and the last chance on the Santa Fe Trail to purchase supplies.

My favorite old building in the town is the Farmers and Drovers Bank (above) which was built in 1892 and has a fancy dome and roof work.  I am a sucker for beautiful historical buildings.

The Madonna of the Trail statue was erected in 1928 by the Daughters of the American Revolution and is a monument to a pioneer woman and her children.  It is one of 12 statues placed in each of the states through which passed the National Old Trails Highway.

Our next stop was the Tallgrass Prairie National Monument.  I had been curious about visiting this area for some time and wanted to come in the spring when the wildflowers bloom.  In the fall there are few flowers of course but the prairie grass is taller and more interesting.  My sister Barbara first introduced me to the wonders of the prairie.  Approximately 20 years ago she suggested we do a road trip from California to South Dakota to see the prairie and the Little House on the Prairie sites of Laura Ingalls Wilder fame.  Taking our daughters Shannon and Kyla we made it across South Dakota and I can still recall the day we laid in the prairie grass on the Ingalls homestead site.  The grass was tall and cocooned around us, sheltering us from the sun and wind.  I realized on that trip the special beauty of the prairie.

At one time tall grass prairie covered the Midwest but most was lost when the land was cultivated and developed.  Today less than four percent remains, mostly in the Flint Hills of Kansas where the Monument is located.   After parking at the visitor center we noticed a hitchhiker on our windshield, the largest grasshopper I think I have ever seen.  I started thinking about how the pioneers in Kansas had to deal with grasshoppers coming in great numbers and ruining crops.  This grasshopper in numbers could sure wreak some havoc.

After getting a trail map at the visitor center we took off for a hike to see some tall grass.  There are a variety of hikes here of various lengths.  There is a herd of bison that roam a certain part of the monument and signs warned that at this time of the year, the bison were acting aggressive towards people.  We decided to walk away from their area and avoid a bison charging us.

It was a lovely and peaceful walk.  The grass wasn’t as thick and tall as I thought it would be but it was still interesting to walk around and see some prairie.  Much of our walk also followed a creek.

 

It had been a warm, sunny day when we started with no rain in the forecast.  After walking awhile we heard thunder in the distance and the weather changed dramatically.  Dark clouds started moving in and we finished our walk watching lightning in the distance.  By the time we got back to the visitor center, it was raining.

Spring Hill Ranch is part of the monument and located next to the visitor center.  It was once a cattle ranch which began in 1878 and grew to 7,000 acres. The huge barn, house and ranch buildings built of native limestone are well preserved.  I walked around checking out the interior of the barn and the farmhouse.  I really liked all the beautiful stone walls around the property.  I read that 30 miles of stone fences were built on the land to keep the cattle contained.

Thanks for reading – in my next blog we are on to Missouri!

 

Traipsing Around Topeka

Another beautiful state capitol building to tour!   I walked all around it for awhile, just taking in the great architecture and flower plantings.  This building was under construction for 37 years and completed in 1903.  I really like the color of the dome which is covered with copper sheeting.

Entering this building was a different experience than the capitol in Lincoln. In Lincoln I just wandered in the building with nobody to check me in.  Not even a security guard at the door.   In the Kansas state capitol, I had to go through a security checkpoint and even have my bag checked.  There was no gift shop at the Nebraska capitol but here in Kansas there was a gift shop bustling with tourists buying souvenirs.  The tour inside the capitol was very interesting and we got to walk around several different floors.  Below are pictures of the dome and inside the elegant Senate Gallery.

We visited the National Park Historic Site of Brown vs. Board of Education.  This museum is housed in a former elementary school where black children attended during the time of segregation.  Having the museum in a former school site really added to the experience.

The museum highlights the landmark Supreme Court case that arose due to separate educational facilities for whites and blacks.  The case challenged the doctrine of “separate but equal” and argued that separate educational facilities was unconstitutional and a denial of “equal protection of the laws” under the 14th amendment.

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that the doctrine of separate but equal had no place and that separate educational facilities were inherently unequal.  This ruling opened the modern civil rights movement for African Americans and laid the foundation for similar movements by other minority groups.  In spite of the Supreme Court decision, there was great resistance for over 10 years.  Through sign boards, photographs and video screens the museum shows the long struggle for Civil Rights.

It was interesting to read that in some areas of the country including Topeka, black schools did have similar facilities and resources as white schools.  Unfortunately, some black schools in the south were housed in dilapidated buildings with little educational resources or materials.  Above is a photograph comparing two supposed “separate but equal” schools in South Carolina.  As I write this I am looking forward to visiting the Little Rock Central High School site in Arkansas where nine black students first attended an all white school.

We visited the Kansas Historical Society Museum which contained many exhibits.   Above is a picture of the oldest locomotive from the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway in the 1880’s.  There was also information about Indian tribes, for example the name Kansas comes from the Kansa tribe.  We learned about the pioneer trails, settling the frontier and the Civil War.  Prior to this war, Congress declared that the Kansas Territory should decide if they wanted to be a free or slave state.  Both sides fought bitterly over this.  This museum has a nice collection of pre Civil War and Civil War flags.  Below is a picture of one of them from 1857 along with a cannon from 1856.

The museum also covers modern times and even has a fast food exhibit.  The White Castle company from Kansas that makes the small square hamburgers was the first hamburger chain in America in 1921.  Pizza Hut, the largest pizza chain also started in Kansas.  I figured Mark who loves McDonald’s sausage biscuits would like this old McDonald’s sign from the first McDonald’s restaurant in Topeka in 1961.  It featured “Speedee” as a mascot before Ronald McDonald.

The museum has an interesting temporary exhibit – the largest mural made from M&M’s in the world.  The Mars candy factory in Topeka is the only factory that makes caramel M&M’s and created the mural to celebrate this new flavor.  Visitors are able to try and guess the number of M&M’s and the winner gets some kind of prize.  I wonder if Mark or I will be winners (doubtful).  We tried a small bag and I thought they were the best M&M’s I’ve had.

Nearby Lake Shawnee is a gem created in 1935 by the WPA.    It features numerous recreational activities.

We enjoyed playing disc golf and walking through the beautiful botanical garden.  In the picture below Mark takes aim and lets fly.  Can you spot the disc?

While there, I picked up one of many large round alien looking fruits from under a tree.  I learned it is the fruit of the Osage Orange tree which grows in the Great Plains.   It was named for the Osage Indian tribe who used the wood for making their bows.  Settlers planted the trees for fencing.  The fruit has an orange smell and although the flesh is not edible, squirrels love eating the seeds inside.

Mark and I like old time eateries and Bobo’s Drive-In, started in 1948 is one of the oldest in Topeka.  Bobo’s is still serving customers either at curb service or inside their tiny diner.  In the 1950’s customers were supposed to flash their car lights if they wanted curb service and burgers were only 30 cents.  Apple pie, an unusual offering for a burger joint has been a favorite menu item here since the restaurant opened.  Mark and I both had their hamburgers and they smash the patties very flat while grilling.  It was good food and still pretty cheap eats.

As always, thanks for reading – any comments or suggestions on how we can  improve the blog are appreciated!

Tall Grass

I haven’t written anything for a while so I’ll put up a quick post.  Today we drove about an hour and a half to see some tall grass (prairie).  Seems a little extreme.  We had tall grass in Modesto.  We just took the lawn mower out and cut it every once in a while?  Beth will I’m sure have more to say on this so I’ll just share a few pictures.

This is what one of the grasses looks like.

And here are lots.  I guess there used to be thousands of acres of these grasses, but now they are almost gone except here in this area.

We took a nice walk through the preserve and took a lot of pictures.  There were interesting plants, flowers, birds, bugs, etc. etc.  There was even interesting weather and we got back to the truck just in time to miss a pretty good downpour.

Beth did her usual thing and ranged far and wide to explore and take pics.  I wound up taking a number of pictures of her taking pictures.  My favorite subject matter.

Tomorrow we are headed out again, this time to Independence, Missouri, right next to Kansas City.  We are going to stay there about a week.

 

Thanks for reading and the kind comments about the blog.  Glad a few people find it interesting.  We have a lot of fun sitting down in the evening to work on it.

Last pic here is my favorite of the day.