March 31, 2007

The Wichita Eagle.

Don't you love when your hotel delivers a newspaper, and it's not USA Today, it's the local paper? For me, today, that means The Wichita Eagle.

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.

"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."
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 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.

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.
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.

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.

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.
This is the work of one Samuel Dinsmoor, who was "[g]ripped by severe dementia concretia at age 64."

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?


Peter Palladas said...

Still edited by the Lineman I trust.

Gretchen said...

If the choice is the Garden of Eden, or Cawker City's Ball of Twine, the Garden should win out, just on artistic merit alone. Lucas is out of the way, but not nearly as far out as Cawker City.

I see the ball of twine every time I visit my inlaws- side-linked blogger John Hawks (my sweetie) grew up about an hour west of there.

I've seen the Garden- it was slightly bizarre, but interesting nonetheless. If you pay admission, you can see the creator himself in his glass-topped concrete casket.

Just sold you on it, didn't I?

Spring hours- 1-4pm. Admission is $6.

Pogo said...

I just love that quirky stuff. The unwarranted optimism, independence of mind, desire for immortality, pointless striving, strange and dark personality required, and sheer duration of enthusiasm required to complete work over a period of decades.

Makes you like people all over again.

peter hoh said...

As for Kansas, is it any wonder that they would start a community effort to undermine Darwin?

Darwin, Minnesota, that is.

By the way, the Amazon sidebar is offering a 10 pound ball of sisal twine for sale. Let's get started on the Althousian ball o' twine.

Dave F said...

I'm so not interested in middle America....

Jeff said...

Been to all of them. Garden of Eden is a bit creepy. The house is concrete also. And you can see the dead guy by taking the tour. Or jumping the fence after hours. The ball of twine is right there on main street as you go into town, and is in a gazebo. You can actually touch it! Unlike those Minnesotans who guard theirs behind Plexiglas. (so I have heard) Big Brutus is not so good since they stopped letting you climb all the way up the top of the thing. But it is something to see when your still a mile away, towering over the tree line. None of them are actually on your way back, but none of them are really that far out of your way. Oh, and Dave F., middle America is not so interested in you either. Quite the coincidence, huh?

Freder Frederson said...

As someone who lived in Kansas for five years (seemed like fifty). What did I love about the Sunflower State? Seeing it in my rearview mirror.

Maxine Weiss said...

What are the chances that Althouse is going to bad-mouth a foreign town, right on it's own soil? Pronounce a place...a Dump !!!

She simply won't do it, that would be the height of insubordination, something Althouse simply won't engage in.

Instead, she'll say nothing. Which is why we didn't hear a word about Council Bluffs, Iowa; or Omaha Nebraska.

I'm pychic. She'll say she didn't see those places and couldn't make a judgment.

You'll never hear her say anything negative about a place she currently hangs her hat....where ever that may be at the moment.

Just you wait: Althouse LOVES Austin. Not a thing wrong with that town, or at least none that you'll hear from her while she's there.

Peace, Maxine

Zach said...

The fact that the maker of the Garden of Eden was diagnosed with "dementia concretia" just made my day.

When I was little, my family did a Biking across Kansas tour for a few years. It was a great way to see the state.

If you're lucky, maybe you'll get to see a storm front moving across the plains some evening, with ripples of lightning spanning a hundred miles.

rightwingprof said...

I've seen that ball of twine. It's not quite so impressive as the Corn Palace (which isn't).

Zach said...

... and now I see that you did hit a storm front up close and personal!

The plains really are a primal experience, aren't they? When you're in other areas, the topography acts like a cocoon -- the geography is like a bowl you're in the middle of. The sky only really begins at 20 degrees above the horizon.

It's no wonder people associate Kansas so strongly with tornadoes. You don't have your 20 degrees of geographic cocoon from the sky anymore. You feel exposed, naked. There's this huge hemisphere of blue. It's simultaneously unaware of your existence and centered on you.

Andy said...

If the Garden of Eden is your kind of thing, you might want to check out Dinsmoor's kindred spirit down in Florida: Coral Castle

George said...

I've been to the Garden of Eden. It's well worth the trip...the concrete American flags, concrete devils, concrete Civil War soldiers...all make it one of the best Outsider Art Environments in the U.S.

Of course, Dinsmore was born near Coolville, in Ohio.

Lucas, KS, is also near the geographic center of either the US or N. America. There's a church the size of a shoebox there where you can take your picture, like, of being in the middle of things.

Gretchen said...

Actually, Lebanon, in Smith County, Kansas, is the center of the contiguous United States. Not much to see there, apart from the aforementioned chapel and a historical marker.

Zach- Great description of the vast feelings of the plains. I miss living in all the open space, especially for watching the storms or gazing at the night sky.

Simon said...

Zach - I've never been to Kansas, but your comments are making me want to visit! Lovely image it calls to mind.

hdhouse said...

Interesting that the Eagle is very close in circulation to the Madison paper (State Journal).

I wonder what Ann thinks about papers that reflect the readership or guide/shape the reader.

George said...

And then there's Harold Warp's Pioneer Museum in Minden, Nebraska, a beautiful farming community. The Smithsonian of the Midwest, I tell you!

Warp was an industrialist, the inventor of Flex-O-Glas.

joated said...

Hey! Let's not forget Goodland, Kansas and its 80 foot easel with a representation of Van Gogh's Sunflowers.

And while Kansas may be flatter than a pancake, the whole state is tilted. Going east to west you climb several hundred feet in a steady, against the wind manner until you reach the Colorado border.

Jeff said...

Interesting article there. Having traveled around the entire state, I knew it wasn't flat. However I had no idea it was the 32nd flattest state.

Freder Frederson said...

Going east to west you climb several hundred feet in a steady

More like several thousand. From Kansas City to the Colorado border you go from about 1000 ft to 4000.

joated said...

"From Kansas City to the Colorado border you go from about 1000 ft to 4000."

I stand corrected. Anyhoo, it (and the damn wind) play havoc on your mpg when your hauling a trailer.

Tully said...

Quick hit in Wichita.

mikeyes said...

I lived in Wichita for several decades and loved it ("Nice place to live, but I wouldn't want to visit there", I was told before we went)especially the wide open skies that seem to intimidate Easterners.

The wind is such a constant presence that during Desert Storm I was asked, "Sir, how can you stand this (15 knot and constant) wind?" to which I replied, without thinking about it: "What wind?"

It's a different life for most coastal dwellers and needs to be experienced at least once.