Monday, November 23, 2009

What I loved about the Outhouse Festival in Elk Falls

I love EVERYTHING about the Elk Falls Outhouse Festival.

It's a highly clever event that involves the community and is very fun for the public. That it happens in a small town of 112 is just a super bonus.

Aside from the main feature, there is an arts-and-crafts fair in the auditorium, rummage sales around town, 4-H sells goodies, there are activities for kids, and the senior citizen center, the cafe, and the the Mills' from Moline sell food. A quilt show is located in a small wooden church -- near the apple dumplings!

I felt good about buying $157 worth of stamps at the small post office and was glad for the post master's response that that would make her monthly report look good.

We got to help Dorothy -- sort of. She has run the "front desk" for so many years that you don't really want to mess up her system. It's a dollar for a button and a judging ballot. Then she checks to see if the number on the back of your button gives you a shot at the door prize table. Or, you can buy a jar of gravel from the front desk and then deposit it in the pot hole of your choice.

This is the outhouse at the headquarters and where you come later to turn in your ballot -- either at the drive through window or inside.

People come dressed for the theme.

I think there were 11 outhouses this year. The public votes for their favorites. Here are just a few:

The Greenhouse where you can get a view from the loo. The energy efficient system has the fish do the recycling.

The post office used some items laying around.

Gilligan's Island got in on the act, too.

This was the "Social Movement" venue.

And, the Dog Pound stop.

Part of the requirement is that the outhouse designers write a story to go along with their theme. The possibilities for a play on words with this subject is endless and, you can be sure, they are all used.

How such a crappy topic can provide so much relief from the hum drum world is a testament to the citizens of Elk Falls. Attendance was well over 1,000 people. Not bad for this town of just over 100.

If you want to be privvy to where small towns get their will to succeed come to next year's Elk Falls Outhouse Festival. It's held the Friday and Saturday before Thanksgiving each year.

KE #2 Marci Penner

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Explorery things help you "Get Wetmore!"

This blog serves as an example of what exploring is all about. Warning: If you prefer obvious commercial attractions, this isn't for you.

Explorers need to keep their eyes open and look for nuances that might be about architecture, art, commerce, cuisine, customs, geography, history or people. Interacting with the locals will help you find Explorery places or get your questions answered. Remember, don't judge a small town! If you do, you'll miss out on outstanding things behind the facade.

#1 What is this?
This 1925 service station is a clue.

The answer is that it was an outdoor oil pan! Drive your vehicle into the wheel troughs (my words) and the mechanic can drain the oil from there. (By the way, Robert Carson has a restored 1940s, 1950s mechanic garage available for tour. Many spit-and-polished antique autos and trucks are also on the showroom floor of the former car dealership that houses it all. It's located next to this restored filling station).

#2 This garage door is on main street in Wetmore. An Explorer would notice the door and would ask questions until they found out that Katie is a nurse in the clinic. She must be pretty important. Some people get their names written on the curb or a sign. Katie gets a whole garage door!

#3 Have you ever sign an 18-box hopscotch board? This one is permanently-etched onto the middle school sidewalk!

Look closely at this bar and grill. Notice the two doors? Above one it says "Dining" and above the other it says "Bar". Go in, have a beer, and ask the owner of Retingers why they did this. By the way, the food is great!

The last "big" nuance to notice near Wetmore is the Shoe Tree. Click here for directions and more information. The Shoe Tree was a finalist for the 8 Wonders of Kansas Customs.

Well, those are just a few Explorery things to see and do in Wetmore. There are more, like the calaboose, the Pony Express rider's grave, and the giant stone art northeast of town.

The point of this blog is that almost every town has something unusual to see if you open your eyes and your mind. Do that and you'll Get Kansas!

KE #2 Marci Penner

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day and the Emporia connection

Emporia shoe repairman, Alvin J. (Al) King, and his wife Gertrude, helped raise a nephew, John E. Cooper, who was serving as part of the Third U.S. Army in Germany when he was killed in action on December 20, 1944.

Grief over the young man's death started King looking for a way to honor not only his nephew but all veterans who fight during wars and serve during peace.

King began his campaign to change an existing national holiday, Armistice Day, to Veterans Day. He gained support from U.S. Representative Ed Rees of Emporia who agreed to take King's idea to Washington, D.C. The bill passed the House and Senate and President Eisenhower signed the bill to establish Veterans Day as a national holiday.

The nation held its first Veterans Day on November 11, 1954.

Fifty years later, the city was declared the Official Founding City of Veterans Day by Congress on October 31, 2003. Former Convention & Visitors Bureau director Liz Martell and the All Veterans Tribute committee did the bulk of the work to gain Emporia this designation.

In October, "Emporia, The Founding City of Veterans Day" was voted one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Customs.

Just a little information that helps you "get Kansas."

KE #2 Marci Penner

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Our Kansas History Museums Tell the Story!

Some have asked for this so here it is!

Speech given to Kansas Museum Association

Nov. 6, 2009

By Marci Penner, Kansas Sampler Foundation

I’ve been doing a little research. Listen to this as those you’ve never been to Kansas.


We have history museums in opera houses, jails, hospitals, Carnegie Libraries, newspaper buildings, old mercantiles, courthouses, auditoriums, schools, churches, banks, depot, houses, fire stations, city halls, an American Legion hall, a city shop, a county shop, a home for nurses, a grain elevator, a livery stable, and a water office.


You can enjoy the building or the stories they tell in places like the Strawberry Hill Mansion, the Brown Mansion, the Seelye House, and the Carroll Mansion.

Ah yes, the matter of the Carroll Mansion... In 1964 Ella Carroll, the last Carroll to live in this Leavenworth home, announced at church that she was leaving the mansion and people could come get anything from the house they wanted. After the last item was removed, Ella gave the key and the house deed to the Leavenworth County Historical Society.


The largest barn in the state, the Cooper Barn, once housed Hereford Show cattle and can now be viewed by all. Another museum documents the sad story of the largest horse barn in the state that met its fate from a lightning-induced fire. You can walk through a spectacular 1898 restored roller mill and a clay-brick Mennonite immigrant house or learn about pueblo Indian ruins that date back to the 1600s that you can still see! You can tour a Lustron and a Hartford House, too.

You’ll find a museum within an active high school and they give an awesome tour – even while school is in session. Or, you can tour and eat in the first Harvey House to have a restaurant!

Step inside Constitution Hall where the walls are still shaking from vigorous free-state and pro-slavery debates during our territorial days.


You can visit the homes that famous people lived in: Walter Chrysler, Dwight Eisenhower, Amelia Earhart, John Steuart Curry, Carrie Nation, Fred Harvey, General Fred Funston, Bernard Warkentin, Susanna Salter, and even the mayor of Munchkinland.


Our museums tell about colorful people. John Brown, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickok, George Custer, Martin and Osa Johnson, and even John R. Brinckley (the goat gland doctor).

The list goes on. A few more of our people include George Washington Carver, Gordon Parks, William Allen White, Clyde Cessna, Cyrus Holliday, Arthur Hertzler, Mother Bickerdyke, and there are so many more.

Satanta was held prisoner at Fort Harkner and you can still see the stretched bars in an upstairs window that were his escape route.

We tell about some real characters, too – Vivian Vance, Buster Keaton, Emmett Kelly, and Whizzo the Clown.

Athletes shine, too. From Olympians Thane Baker, Glenn Cunningham, and Billy Mills to Walter Johnson and Jackie Stiles, coaches Dean Smith and Eddie Sutton and the inventor of basketball himself James Naismith.

Do you know these people that you can learn about in our museums?

Merle Evans (Ringling Brothers band leader)

Ron Evans (astornaut)
Harold Krier (aerobatic flyer)

Wayne Dunafon (Marlboro Man)
Grace Bedell Billings (letter to Lincoln)

Grandma Layton (artist of social causes)

Earl Sutherland (Nobel Peace Prize winner)

Lorenzo Fuller (African American musician, Broadway performer, and early television pioneer)

---and we also have a Gallery of Also Rans...

We cover some really big and fascinating topics

Lewis & Clark

The Plains Indians

Santa Fe Trail

Oregon Trail and other overland wagon trails

Cattle Towns and cattle trails


Bleeding Kansas

Pony Express

Railroad expansion

Cherokee Strip Land Rush

Aviation industry

Oil industry

Lead, zinc, and coal mining


Immigration (Mennonites, Eastern Europeans, Hispanics, Asians, Scandinavian, more)


The evolution of agriculture and ranching

And we’re a hotbed for fossils

You can go underground to see where businesses were once housed, you can traverse through a tunnel once used as a getaway for bad guys, or you can take an elevator 650 feet down to hop a tram into a dark ride for a salty adventure.

On the flip side, we have another museum that will give you all the space you need and rocket you upward and onward.


We have the largest electric coal shovel in the world and our museums also tell about the largest hailstone on record, the largest hairball, the largest swimming pool, the largest cattle pool in the state, the largest gas field in the world, the oil field that was the largest producer/supplier of oil in the U.S. during WWI, the first 1950s all-electric house in the U.S. open to the public, the first MGM lion*, the first patented helicopter, the airplane of the first Kansan who built an aircraft that flew successfully, and the longest hand-carved wooden chain! We have displays about the only nuclear plant in the state, the first post office in Kansas, the first state mental hospital, the first Kansas radio station, the first feedlot, the first night baseball game to be played under lights, the first chimpanzee to go into space and survive!

Did you know that the first greyhound race was in Kansas, that a Kansan won the first NASCAR event, that we have the fastest half-mile dirt track in the world, and that the world’s first synthetic diamond was made in Kansas? One museum tells about a nearby Glebe, the only one left in the United States! And, Comanche, the only living being of Custer’s U.S. Seventh Cavalry found on the battlefield following the 1876 Battle fo the Little Big Horn, now stands proudly draped in his army blanket in a natural history museum.

ART (art museums are not included in this summary of history museums -- but we have great ones)

JJ Pennell left us great photos of early Junction City and the Everhard photos of African American life in early Leavenworth will leave you breathless. Vi Fick’s shark’s teeth art is just unbelievable -- in fact, was listed in Ripley’s Believe it or Not. See a display about the humorous trick larger-than-life photos of Dad Martin. Rudolph Wendelin painted a marvelous mural of Rawlins County but was better known as the illustrator for Smokey Bear. The Combat Air Museum and National Ag Hall of Fame are just two museums that feature incredible paintings that help tell the story.


Mickey Mantle was a member of the Baxter Springs Whiz Kids. In 1953, Ed Fouts put some shoes on and got on a train with the second largest ball of twine in Kansas went on I’ve Got a Secret.

We have whole museums for Girl Scouts, pharmacy artifacts, motorcycles, telephones, carousels, Bibles, and barbed wire.

FEATURED IN OTHER MUSEUMS ARE prison escapes, the start of suburbia, truck farming, auto-camping, deaf culture, jackrabbit hunts, chautauquas, rodoes, a round square, and Knute Rockne’s 1931 plane crash.

Find out about communities being lost under reservoirs, oil boom towns and gas camps that are now left for the ghosts, Asa Soule’s legendary effort to bulid an irrigation canal uphill. Learn the story of German POW prisoners in Kansas camps, orphan trains, the gripping account of those who attended Haskell Indian University in its early days, and the story of sister Rose Philippine Duchesne and how she ministered to the Potawatomi Indian children after their forced march along the trail of death.


Displays tell about the dust bowl, drought, floods (especially the 1951), tornadoes, including the 1955 tornado in Udall that killed 83 people, 270 injured, and erased 192 buildings.

Threshing Machine Canyon

Marais des Cygnes Massacre and the days of Bleeding Kansas

German Family Massacre

Kidder Massacre

And both sides of the Indian story


Find the Frontier Army Museum, U.S. Cavalry Museum, and the very interesting Fort Riley Regimental Museum that has exhibits that focus on training and combat operations of today’s Fort Riley units. Museums tell about combat from the air and training fields for B24s and B29s. Did you know we have a museum about the Kansas National Guard?


a fish within a fish fossil, a full-scale model of the Liberty Bell made out of Kansas wheat straw, printing presses, a chair made from cattle horns, 42 windmills in one row, a mini-scene built with 8,557 hand-carved pices of a wagon train attack or you can watch episode after episode of Gunsmoke. Admire collections of WPA dolls, brooches, fishing lures, and all things Wizard of Oz!

Visit our museums to "get Kansas!"

KE #2 Marci Penner

*now known to be the second MGM Lion but maybe the most famous.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A great idea in a tough time

During the Great Depression customers of the Clay Center city-owned power plant who couldn't pay their utility bills were given the opportunity to work off their debt.

Their work resulted in Utility Park. In 1934 Better Homes and Gardens awarded the park its highest community honor with a More Beautiful America Achievement Award.

A bronze plaque commemorating the award is found on a large red glacial rock in the park located at 4th and Pomeroy.

A zoo was added in the early 1950s.

A win-win.

Just a tidbit to help "Get Kansas!"

KE #2 Marci Penner