Sitting on a bluff overlooking the Kansas (Kaw) River is an out-of-the-way little historical park. At this location, wagon trains prepared to cross this river on their journey west to Oregon.
You will find a number of buildings at this 5 acre site commemorate events that took place here. Some of the buildings are old and historic structures, some are recreations. The Ward-Meade mansion and its gardens are a highlight.
The Reinisch Rose Garden, located in Topeka's famed Gage Park, has been a city landmark since 1930. More than 400 varieties of roses are represented in the gardens, totaling in excess of 6,500 plants. Not surprisingly, it is a popular wedding spot.
This magnificent building houses the Kansas State Historical Society and its splendid museum. Fascinating exhibits appeal to children and grandparents alike. The museum is conveniently laid out, allowing visitors to easily trace the state's history from prehistoric indigenous tribes to social and political happenings of the late 20th century. One exhibit area contains a 19th century train and an early aeroplane, another a log cabin.
A travelogue has been started for this museum. Photos have been added, with comments to follow, soon.
Those of us who regularly watch PBS' "Antique Road Show" are accustomed to seeing stained glass by Louis Comfort Tiffany - on lamps. At Topeka's First Presbyterian Church, I viewed some of work on a majestic style, a series of stained glass windows. They are a joy to behold.
Tiffany came to Topeka to formulate plans for the windows which were installed in 1911. Tiffany produced a unique favrile glass, made without paint, enamels, or stains. His formula included metallic additives (copper, magnesium, cobalt, gold, etc.) which produced the vibrant colors, further enhanced by using using layers of glass, and/or altering the surface texture. Tiffany ordered his formula to be destroyed after his death.
The part of the church building which includes the sanctuary and stained glass windows was built in 1884.
Several additional photos of these windows may be seen in one of my Topeka travelogues.
Railroad museum and education center, located in a former Union Pacific Railroad passenger terminal. Dedicated in 1927, passenger rail service phased out in 1971. Re-opened in its present capacity in 2004. The All Veterans Memorial was dedicated in 2006.
See the foundation's web site (link below) for information regarding exhibits and available services, then check out their plans for expansion of the educational facilities. It should be quite nice when finished. I did not make an extended visit; I was traveling with my dog and did not wish to leave her in the car.
Charles Curtis was a native Topekan – born here in 1860 with Kansas still a territory. His mother was of three quarter Native American ancestry – his father was white. Curtis grew up in an unstable family environment with his mother dying when he was only three and his father spending a bit of time in military prison. He split his early years between maternal grandparents – living on a nearby Indian reservation – and paternal grandparents – who lived in Topeka. Both sides of the family pushed Curtis to gain an education and he eventually became a lawyer practicing in Topeka. He was then elected to the U.S. House of Representatives where he served from 1893 to 1907 when he was tabbed by the Kansan legislature to serve as a U.S. senator – 1907 to 1913. He was selected again in 1914 – term beginning in 1915 – and with the 17th Amendment changing the selection of senators to a direct vote, he was selected by Kansans in 1920 and again in 1926. With his long stay in Washington, Curtis became a figure of some importance and was chosen by the Republican Party to serve as Vice President under Herbert Hoover in 1928. They were defeated four years later by the Great Depression and FDR and Curtis retired from public office for a few years of law practice before dying in 1936 in Washington. He is buried here in Topeka. His house, just southeast of the State Capitol, serves as a museum to one of Kansas’ most famous men, but the home is only open on Saturdays. Charles was the first person on acknowledged non-European ancestry – there are still questions about Harding’s ancestry floating about – to reach one of the nation’s two highest offices. He was also the last Executive officer to wear a beard or mustache while in office – Al Gore waited until he was out of office for his beard ;-]
For all of the interesting things you can find within and without the Kansas State Capitol the most intriguing might be the murals of John Steuart Curry on the second floor. Curry was born and raised in Kansas – on a farm near Winchester – though he had moved back east to follow a career in art. He is considered to be one of the three main painters of the American Regionalism movement of art which took place in the years between World War I and World War II – Grant Wood of Iowa and Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri were the other two. Curry was trained early on as an illustrator and he never gained the more masterful techniques demonstrated in the works of Wood and Benton, but coming from the illustrator background, his paintings and murals were always about the stories he wanted to tell. He had emerged onto the art scene with several paintings in which he remembered his formative Kansan years: “Baptism in Kansas”, “Tornado over Kansas”. With the success of Benton’s murals in the Jefferson City Capitol Building in Missouri, Kansas newspapers raised money to commission Curry to do a similar project here in Topeka. Curry planned a three themed approach. First, “The Settlement of Kansas” depicting the Conquistador Coronado along with the Spanish padre Padilla – claimed to be the first Christian martyr in Kansas, though other States claim him to have died in their States, as well – and a Plainsman who stands alongside a buffalo he has dispatched. All three figures have their heads turned to the right as they look to the scene that was both Curry’s masterpiece and his undoing here in Kansas – “Tragic Prelude”. This makes up the second theme, “The Life of a Homesteader”. The central figure is an enraged John Brown holding a “Beecher Bible” in one hand – a Sharps rifle – and a real Bible in the other. Abolition Free Staters are facing off with Border Ruffians on either side of Brown with a dead Union and Confederate soldier at his feet. There is blood on Brown’s hands as a prairie fire and tornado roar in the background foretelling the coming of the American Civil War. Immigrant wagon trains can be seen making their way through the chaos.
John Brown, death, prairie fires and tornadoes proved to be unpopular with contemporary Kansans who had hoped the art would be more positive about the virtues of the State. They then found plenty to nitpick about the scenes from the final themed murals “Pastoral Prosperity” which is better known as “Kansas Pastoral”. Here, the stance and color of the cows and the curl of the pig’s tails were criticized as well as the short length of the farmer’s wife’s dress. When the legislature failed to allow the removal of a section of marble wainscoting from the inner wall of the rotunda so Curry could finish a series of eight murals espousing the importance of soil conservation, he left these murals unstated and the other murals on the second floor incomplete and unsigned – though a family of skunks were imposed with the names of some of his worst critics hidden in their fur. The murals might be covered up at times during the next few years of Capitol renovation, but when on view, they represent a powerful and intriguing look at one Kansans view on his home State and an important piece of the short-lived Regionalism period of American art.
The artwork within the rotunda has inspired lots of controversy over the years. The Populist Party beat out both the Republicans and the Democrats in 1896 and to leave their mark Jerome Fedeli was contracted to paint a series of 16 half naked Grecian maidens encircling the oculus of the rotunda. When the Republicans regained power in 1902 it took little time to raise money to cover up the “nude telephone girls” – the maidens had long arms which was also useful for ladies working telephone exchanges – with allegorical murals featuring fully-clad male and female figures – Knowledge, Plenty, Peace and Power above the four wings and Temperance, Religion, Art and Science in the corners.
In 1937, John Steuart Curry was hired to paint a series of murals on the second floor which was to be followed by a series of eight murals on the rotunda walls. His second floor murals caused such a stir among Kansans that when he asked for the removal of a series of marble wainscoting panels in the rotunda to make room for his murals the legislature refused. Curry left in disgust and never signed his second floor murals and left the rotunda walls blank. Finally, in 1976, the legislature found another Kansan artist, Lumen Martin Winter, to paint a series of eight scenes dealing with topics less controversial than those chosen by Curry, who had hoped to highlight the importance of soil conservation and dangers of soil erosion on the panels. You will also find the statues of four famous Kansans in niches around the rotunda – Dwight D. Eisenhower, Amelia Earhart, William Allen White and longtime governor/U.S. senator Arthur Capper – who was also known in his time for his support of the Ku Klux Klan and as an author of a proposed anti-miscegenation amendment that would have outlawed mixed-race marriages.
Ad Astra Per Aspera is the State motto – “to the stars through difficulties” It was through difficulties that Kansas finally came about in choosing this statue – a bronze silica figure of a Kansa warrior of some 4,420 pounds and 22 feet high – to be placed atop the Capitol dome. Originally, a bronze statue of Ceres – Roman goddess of agriculture – was selected for the top back in 1889. It, then, was not until 1901 that a proposal was finally submitted to see how much the figure would cost. The estimate was a bit too expensive for the Kansas public who also had problems with the morals of Ceres with regards to her incestuous liaisons with brother Jupiter. Other ideas were bandied about over the years, but it was not until 1988 when Richard Bergen’s sculpture proposal for Ad Astra that the question about what goes on top was settled. Fundraising to pay both for the statue and extra reinforcement needed for the dome cupola to be able to hold the extra weight took only 14 more years and the statue was finally cast in June 2002. After a 3000 mile statewide tour, the statue was placed atop the dome on Oct 10, 2002. From the cupola’s railed balcony, the statue is a mere 23 feet above you.
OK, so the murals were covered up, but I was able to take part in one of the last Dome Tours that will be taking place until the renovation project is finished in 2012. Soaring capitol domes do just that, they soar. There is usually a secondary dome inside the outside dome which serves as the ceiling for the rotunda inside. There are very few places where you can see first-hand the architectural detail up-close of dome construction, but here is one. Half hour dome tours are offered which get you directly inside the upper dome sections to see just how domes are constructed. Some 296 steps lead you all the way to the very top of the dome – the cupola – where there is a little balcony you can walk out onto where the Great Plains winds whip you about as you gaze at the panorama of Topeka and the surrounding area. Just above you is the recent Ad Astera statue that was just placed atop the dome in 2003. The inside of the dome is covered with graffiti as it used to be possible for visitors to come up here unattended. With the ongoing renovation project here at the Capitol, the dome tours will be suspended until the project is complete in 2012.
About every half hour, tours wander through the Capitol giving visitors the chance to discover more about the history of the building. You can see the House of Representatives and the Senate chambers – as long as sessions are not ongoing. You pass through the State Library and can sit behind the Governor’s desk – as long as he/she is not sitting there. You also get the chance to get up close to the murals of John Steuart Curry and Lumen Martin Winter which adorn the walls in and around the rotunda. Realize that during the Capitol’s renovation the murals could be covered up to protect them from potential dust as they were on my visit.
Capitol buildings are usually finely wrought affairs with a bit of history tied up in them and the Capitol here in Topeka is a fine example. The building took place in stages from 1866 until 1906 with the two wings being completed before the central rotunda connected the separate wings. Four similar entrances are located on each side of the building and after some discussion it was decided that the north entrance was to be the main entrance. That was changed in 1947 to the south side. Once again, the north entrance will be the main entry upon the completion of the vast multimillion dollar multiyear Capitol renovation project. The renovation project is something that may wreck havoc with a visit to the building. As interesting as the building is, the main draw is found on the second floor just off the rotunda. Here, you will find two walls of murals completed in 1940 by Kansas native John Steuart Curry – ‘Tragic Prelude’ and ‘Kansas Pastoral’. At the time of my visit, the more well-known ‘Tragic Prelude’ was covered up! There are two different tours offered which can further enlighten you on the building’s history and highlights … or just read further ;-]
Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site
The Road to Justice
The story of Brown v. Board of Education, which ended legal segregation in public schools, is one of hope and courage. When the people agreed to be plaintiffs in the case, they never knew they would change history. The people who make up this story were ordinary people. They were teachers, secretaries, welders, ministers and students who simply wanted to be treated equally.
Is history a bunch of dry dates, boring numbers and names of people you've never met? Visit the Monroe School and much of that will change. You'll be amazed at what has happened in your own life time. Sit down and enjoy the 5 movies on Justice, Military, Education, ..., ...., and see real people looking for equality and what it took to finally move in that direction. Each movie is about 5 minutes and they are well done.
Cedar Crest is home to the governor of the state of Kansas. This twelve room French-Norman mansion was built in 1928. The more than 200 acres of nature, jogging and walking trails, and ponds surrounding the mansion are open to the public. Tours are available on Monday afternoons 1 to 4 pm.
Kathleen Sebelius is currently governor of the state.
There is no undoubtedly no painting in the state of Kansas that has been reproduced in as many places as this John Stuart Curry's mural on the east wing of the second floor of the State Capitol Building in Topeka. The wild-eyed fury of militant abolitionist, John Brown, dominates the bloody civil war battle scene. A fast-moving prairie fire in the background may well symbolise the blazing conflict in which the free-state Kansas were engaged with pro-slavery forces from Missouri.
*If you are curious as to the photo's caption referring to a Bible in each hand: In order for sympathetic easterners to ship rifles to the anti-slavery Kansas Territory settlers, they packed rifles in boxes marked "Bibles" and addressed them to "Beecher Bible Church." These rifles became known as "Beecher Bibles."