Front page article: "What do you love about the Sunflower State?"
Some of Kansas' top draws are casinos, the Kansas Speedway, theme parks, lakes and state parks. But officials hope this contest also will expose Kansans to the state's quirkiness -- Big Brutus in Cherokee County, the giant ball of twine in Cawker City or the Garden of Eden in Lucas.May I recommend the website Roadside America if you like those quirky things. Here's the list for Kansas, which has Big Brutus, the giant ball of twine, and the Garden of Eden.
"The best places you can find are in those small towns, in some of those family-owned restaurants that fix fried chicken and fresh-baked pies," Asher said. "Those hidden treasures are something we are lucky to have."
The Twine Ball story began in 1953, when farmer Frank Stoeber, like thousands of his rural brethren, found it tidy and efficient to roll spare bits of sisal twine into a small ball in his barn. But over the years, instead of re-using or disposing of the twine, Frank kept rolling. By 1957, his twine ball weighed 2 1/2 tons and stood 8-ft. tall. By 1961, when he turned it over to the town, Stoeber had over 1,600,000 feet of twine rolled into a sphere 11 feet in diameter.Did they preserve Stoeber's accomplishment, or did they intrude on its purity for the sake of competition? They went for the competition. They have Twine-a-Thons to add to the ball, and they have to worry that people will using string or yarn and not just twine, and the ball's gotten un-ball-shaped. Please visit them. They're twining for you to visit.
A few states away in Darwin, Minnesota, Francis A. Johnson had been rolling his own twine since 1950. He kept it up, four hours a day, until he died in 1989. Though twine ball battle statistics from the critical early years are hard to come by, we believe Stoeber, starting later than Johnson, matched and surpassed his achievement in the late 1950s. But when Stoeber stopped rolling and eventually died in 1974, Johnson surged back, broke the 11-ft. diameter "Twine Barrier" and continued until his own death in 1989. Darwin's 12-ft. diameter ball continues as a celebrated town shrine, and not an inch of twine has been added that wasn't wrapped by Johnson's own hands.
Cawker City faced a dilemma. They wanted to preserve Stoeber's accomplishment as a single-minded Dreamer. But his twine ball would remain for all time an also-ran, a fading and forlorn claim to fame; if more contenders came along it might drop entirely from the Great List of Obsessions.
The Garden of Eden is more my kind of thing. I don't have time to go that far out of my way today, but maybe I will schedule the ride home so I can see it.
A concrete Adam and Eve greet you; Eve offers an Apple of Friendship. Above them on tall concrete pillars are the Devil, frolicking concrete children, and two love storks. To the left, high in the air, an all-seeing concrete eye watches over the Garden.This is the work of one Samuel Dinsmoor, who was "[g]ripped by severe dementia concretia at age 64."
Biblical scenes mingle with political messages. In the back yard, Labor is crucified while a banker, lawyer, preacher and doctor nod approvingly. On one pillar, an octopus representing monopolies and trusts grabs at the world. A soldier and a child are trapped in two of its tentacles. Fear not. On the "Goddess of Liberty" tree, Ms. Liberty drives a spear through the head of another trust octopus, as free citizens cut off the limb that it rests upon.
So for me, Dinsmoor over Stoeber. I prefer the religious, artistic obsessive vision over the practical one. Still, I appreciate the charm of the practical endeavor that becomes absurdly impractical. And maybe that makes it the greater art.
And what of Big Brutus? He's not a man at all, but a big machine. Who knows what his obsessions are?