Kansas Takes a Turn. No, Two Turns.

Toto, I have the feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore…oh, wait, we are.

I was a few hours into my research on Kentucky, when it occurred to me that something was missing. Something very flat. Something very boring (have you ever driven I-70 across Kansas? There are like two turns in the entire State, one as you enter, and one as you leave.) And it is flat. Very, very flat. For giggles someone compared the topography of Kansas with the topography of an International House of Pancakes plain buttermilk pancake. Kansas was flatter. But if we can all make it through Iowa, Kansas should be a snap!

Kansas, now here’s a surprise for you, is named for the local Sioux tribe called the Kaws or Kansa people. The rough translation is “people of the Southwind”. I wonder if “Southwind” was the Sioux term for “tornado”.

The Spanish were the first Europeans to scope it out, arriving in 1541, but they didn’t see any good reason to hang around, so the French took over management. At least, that is, until they unloaded Kansas as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Kansas became our 34th State on January 29, 1861, just in time for the Civil War!

Speaking of the War of Northern Aggression, more casualties took place in Kansas than any other State, even Pennsylvania. I am not sure if this figure includes the violence that led to Kansas getting the nickname “Bloody Kansas”. How did that happen, you might ask? Well, even if you didn’t, I am going to tell you. Kansas Territory was given the choice of whether to come into the Union as a slave or free State. Like today’s political discourse, folks on both sides felt pretty strongly about the issue. Which way did they go? Doesn’t really matter in the long run, does it? Kansas was the very first State to ratify the 15th Amendment, which gave Black men the right to vote.

But Kansas didn’t stop there with the expansion of voting rights! Shortly after gaining Statehood, Kansas extended the right to vote to women. But they did not go too crazy with the idea, Kanas initially only gave women the right to vote in school district elections. By 1887 women were permitted to vote in municipal elections as well. This resulted in Susan Madora Salter becoming Mayor of Argonia in 1887, making her the first female chief executive of a City in the USA. Kansas followed it up by beating the US by saying, “to heck with it, just let the ladies vote” in all elections (well except Federal elections). They did this in 1912, eight years before the 19th Amendment was adopted.

So, what else is Kansas known for, other than Dwight D. Eisenhower, Bob Dole, and an acid-tripping teen-aged runaway with a thing for a small dog named “Toto” (and what kind of a name is that for a dog, anyway?). Well, it’s flat, but we’ve already been through that. And while it is known as the “Jayhawk State” or the “Sunflower State”, or the “Midway State”, they should probably stick to the “Wheat State”. Kansas produces millions of bushels of wheat each year. In 1997 alone, Kansas produced enough wheat to bake 39.5 BILLION loaves of bread. I suspect that may be one reason why the National Baking Institute is located in Manhattan, Kansas.

Kansas also is the birthplace of many other notable things. The first ever recorded F5 tornado descended and promptly destroyed Greensburg, Kansas in 2007. In 1928 a tornado touched down that was so strong it actually blew the feathers off of chickens! Since they first started keeping track in 1950, Kansas experienced an average of 61 tornados a year. Unfortunately for them, since 2003 Kansas has “enjoyed” an average of 112 twisters a year. I am sure this is due solely to increased testing.
Kansas is home to some gastronomic additions to the American landscape. Both Pizza Hut and the White Castle hamburger chain were founded in Kansas. In fact, both were born near the University town of Wichita. Oddly enough, there are no longer any White Castle restaurants in the State. Unfortunately for the residents, there are still Pizza Huts. The “Icee” soft drink also originated in Kansas, as did the graham cracker. The s’mores ingredient was created by a Minister named Graham who wanted to make sure folks had some sort of cracker based on whole wheat. It did not quite work out that way in the long run, but if you really want to find whole wheat baked goods, I am pretty sure I saw some in Wal-Mart. The helicopter was invented in Kansas, and the first aircraft manufacturing factory was locared in Kansas. (That is aircraft plural, Orville and Wilbur don’t count.)
But Kansas is still more than tornados, bread, and mediocre restaurants. There are many sights and things to do that can only be found in Kansas. Want to see a really big water slide? Forget Disney, or Sea World, you need to head to the Schlitterbahn Water Park in Kansas City, one of the slides there is taller than Niagara Falls (which is not in Kansas). No barrel required.

String your thing? Head on over to Cawker, Kansas and you can feast your eyes on a roll of twine that is more than 5,000 pounds. In the mid 1950’s Frank Strober started the ball of twine and later gave it to the City. Residents and visitors have been adding to it every year during Cawker’s annual “Twine-A-Thon”. Surely something no one should miss!
How about a really big swimming pool? The Lee Richardson Zoo in Garden City, Kansas boasts of a swimming pool that occupies more than a half a city block and contains more than two and a half million gallons of water. I can personally attest that this is a LOT bigger than any of the three pools in Garden City, New York. If you are planning on visiting, I am sorry, but I am not sure of the cleaning schedule.
And be sure to visit Russell Springs in Logan County, Kansas. You wouldn’t want to miss the “Cow Chip” capitol, would you?
So, Kansas is flat, has bad weather, lots of wheat, mediocre restaurants, a big ball of twine, a huge swimming pool, and the cow chip capitol. What else can Kansas offer? Why the usual closing of some weird laws!
It is illegal to shoot rabbits from a motorboat.
Pedestrians crossing the road at night must wear taillights.
It is illegal to catch fish with your bare hands.
One may not hunt ducks with the assistance of mules.
In Lawrence, Kansas it is illegal to wear a bee in your hat.
In Overland Park, Kansas it is illegal to picket a funeral.
But my absolute favourite odd law is that it is illegal to hunt whales. One must wonder how this one got on the books considering that Kansas is completely landlocked.

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Betsey Ellis

Betsey is a recovering agent of Satan (.i.e. a legal professional) now working towards a lifetime goal of becoming a perfectly sane cat lady, medieval clothing designer, and occasional playwright. Maybe even finish my doctorate.....nyah, probably not, who needs another expert in Elizabethan Law and its effect on the growth of the middle class.