Homer's Travels: Kansas Roadtrip - Day Three: Cathedral, Eden, Folk Art, Cannon, And Hell

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Kansas Roadtrip - Day Three: Cathedral, Eden, Folk Art, Cannon, And Hell

Day three, the last day of our Kansas wanderings, started with a Cathedral in the town of Victoria, KS.  Actually, for the Wife, it started earlier with the revenge of last night's dinner.  Nothing like a little food poisoning on top of the cold she was recovering from.

The Cathedral of the Plains was built between 1908 and 1911 by German immigrants but there appears to be a Russian/Eastern European influence in the area. We decided to visit the cathedral after the Wife saw how catholic northern Kansas was. The cathedral, like most large public buildings in northern Kansas is built of yellow limestone.  It's pretty impressive but I was more interested in the statues near the cathedral which had a distinct Russian feel to them. (Cathedral of the Plains pictures can be found here.)

As we started with a religious site, our next stop could be nothing but the Garden of Eden located in nearby Lucas, KS.  The Garden of Eden is an outdoor folk art garden.  Built by S.P. Dinsmoor after he retired from farming, the garden consists in a limestone "log" cabin (the limestone logs are notched and stacked just like a real log cabin), a limestone pyramid mausoleum, and concrete statuary of biblical, masonic, and historical figures.  Dinsmoor used his art to express his freethinker political views.  The place opens in the afternoon but the Wife had called the day before and asked if they could open the place early for us.  They said sure, no problem and we ended up with a private tour.  The tour started with a video discussing local history include history of the limestone quarry in the area.  We then wandered around the house before getting a guided tour of the yard where all the statues are and the mausoleum.  The weirdest part of the mausoleum is the concrete and glass coffin housing S.P. Dinsmoor is all his rotting glory.  Yes, you could actually see his decomposing body including the remains of his long beard.  Pictures in the mausoleum were prohibited which was fine since it was kind of creepy and a little gross.  (Garden of Eden pictures can be found here.)

We almost left Lucas at this point but decided to stop by a gallery on main street called the Grassroots Art Center.  As we parked in front I asked the Wife if the metal sculpture in front of the center looked familiar.  It was an M.T. Liggett sculpture.  The place was awesome.  The director of the center showed us around.  She was wonderful.  She was a real promoter of folk art, telling us all about the artists and even allowing me to take pictures.  The art varied from concrete and glass sculpture to portraits done in chewing gum (!!!) to buildings carved out of limestone to a full size motorcycle and car made of beer can pull tabs.  (A close up of the pull tabs is here.)  After taking us through the center she took us to a nearby house to show us more (another center person described it as the O-Zone).  This house was left empty when the artist/resident passed away.  Another artist asked if she could stay in the house if she produced art.  They agreed provisionally to see what she would produce.  Well, produce she did.  We walked in and ... said "Oh!"  The ground floor rooms are completely full of pieces - mostly Barbie art she calls Rebarb.  Floor to ceiling.  The place was amazing.  There was even a poster on the wall that I had when I was 7 (A solar system poster).  Truly incredible.  In the backyard there were cement sculptures of places the former resident had vacationed.  If I ever win the lottery I'd be tempted to move to Lucas and be creative. (Grassroots Art Center pictures are here.)

We ended up spending way too much time in Lucas.  When we left we were about two hours behind schedule and frankly, I didn't care.  This vacation was a pseudo-random delight and we still had more to go.  We stopped in the town of Wilson, the Czech capital of Kansas, for a brunch that, due to the late hour turned into lunch.  We ended up eating at a  restaurant suggested by the Garden of Eden tour guide.  When we sat down the Wife looked up and pointed out a flier hung up near the cash register - it was for Barefoot Becky.  Barefoot Becky and the Ivanhoe Dutchmen was the polka band that played at our wedding (Yeah, we had a polka band at our wedding! - I'm excited and I don't even dance!)  Very cool and the hot beef open face sandwich with mashed potatoes and brown gravy was great too.

We got back on I-70 heading east this time.  Our next stop was just past Junction City.  Up on a hill, overlooking the freeway and Marshall Airfield, is an Atomic Cannon.  How cool is that!?!  The Wife was not quite feeling well so I hiked up the hill alone to take pictures of the big cannon.  The things pretty big.  Very cool in a little boy way.  (Atomic Cannon pictures are here.)

Continuing east we headed for our last destination on this three days of roadtrip weirdness.  Our final destination, as it were, was the town of Stull, home of the Gates of Hell.  Stull is just southeast of Topeka and the forces of evil traffic were fighting us all the way.  After almost three days of back road driving not seeing a car for miles/hours, the increase in traffic around Topeka started to irritate me.  Finding a place to get gas, snacks, and bathrooms proved a near impossible task.  By the time we reached Stull, after a wrong turn or two, a toll road, and after finding the cemetery with the remains of the supposedly haunted church remains, we decided not even to stop.  There were reasons.  A chainlink fence with a multitude of No Trespass signs was one reason.  Another is that I'd read online that the residents of Stull weren't very keen on their local tourist attraction.  Making it worse, one of the legends says that bottles thrown at the old cemetery church would not break.  This results in all kind of yahoos throwing bottles into their cemetery.  I don't blame the cemetery owners.  It had also been a long day for us.

We drove back to Topeka to catch a road north back home.  By the time we got out of Topeka, I'd really felt like I'd been to the gates of hell and back.  (Before anyone complains, I'm sure Topeka is a perfectly wonderful city.  I exaggerate based on my heightened state of irritability as I drove through your town.)

The rest of the drive was without incident ... well, except for the warning for doing 40 MPH in a 35 MPH zone in Auburn, NE that is.  I'd been so careful to slow down through towns but I slipped on the last day.

We got home after dark and it was nice to be home after three days and some 24 hours of driving.  Now my only question now is: Where to next?


  1. First, my sympathies to The Wife!

    The pull tab car kinda blew my mind. And I like the way you got behind schedule but didn't care; that's the best way to travel!

    Now, slow it down a little there, leadfoot, m'kay? ;)

  2. GH: Thanks, she's feeling much better now. We may have finally gotten through all the disease crap.

    The pull tab car is amazing. Apparently he had deals with the town bars, restaurants, and just about everyone else in his small town collecting pull tabs for him.

    I have found that the best vacations have a very loose schedule and plenty of time to play around with.

    Sorry, not possible.