Friday Report: Damn Toto, we are still in Kansas
Ryan Summerlin July 10, 2014
Remember last week when I claimed the Garden of Eden in Lucas, Kansas defied description? Ha-ha, I was joking of course. The English language is so encompassing and versatile that if you can imagine it, you even get to make up words to describe it. Every word becomes a tool that anyone can use to ratchet up nuance and subtlety. Without these tools, we’d be little more than Howler Monkeys, hanging out and picking fleas off the kids.
If you hear someone say, “words cannot express . . .” make a mental note to buy them a thesaurus. Words, spoken, printed, or digitized, are all we have to keep us from that steady diet of fleas.
Words create images and since we’re speaking of fleas, I might casually mention that my basset hound, Freeta Goodhome, smells mephitic. Mephitic is an adjective that means so hellaciously stinky as to threaten death itself. Like most good adjectives, it provides insight and a mental image of the dog herself. (My eyes! My eyes!)
Still, I suspect the dictionary duo of Funk & Wagnall would scratch their heads in search of descriptive words for S.P. Dinsmoor’s Garden of Eden. Dinsmoor was a Kansas schoolteacher and veteran of the Civil War. He retired in Lucas in 1905 when he turned 62. Undaunted by the dramatic lack of trees, he built his three-story home entirely out of cast-concrete logs. But he couldn’t stop there and spent the next two decades adorning his garden with 150 biblical-themed concrete statues. Still, he couldn’t stop there and at age 81 married his 20 year-old best girlfriend and fathered two more children. His garden is an eye-opening example of the manic manifestations that can pop up in a topsoil of plains, poverty and passion. The public restrooms in downtown Lucas are worth the trip alone and would be totally in character in the Kingdom of Oz. Just a few doors down, the Grassroots Art Center is an award-winning time machine that for $6 will whisk you off to prairie life before Netflix. Lucas is a well-worthy stop alongside the Ol’ I-70 trail.
The Geographical Center of the United States also lies in Kansas, about an hour north of Lucas. In 1918, the first Coast and Geodetic Survey determined that, on average, the most central spot in the country was just outside Lebanon, Kansas. Attempting to capitalize on this perceived visitor magnet, the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce hastened to construct a commemorative pyramid on the spot and soon built a new road out to it. The pyramid has a fancy brass plaque claiming their town was the “Center of America”.
In thanksgiving for expected better times, the town fathers built a four-pew prayer chapel near the pyramid and convinced some poor Shmoo to invest in a fancy new motel. They cut the ribbon and had a beer, grinned at each other and fist-bumped around in anticipation of the buckets of dollars that would soon be driving into town.
Unfortunately, bored visitors dragging around pre-Apple children heaved a collective, “Ho-hum” before packing off to the Poconos. Maybe if Lebanon had installed a zip line out to the pyramid, things would’ve turned out better. Zip lines are designed to flip tourists upside down and shake all the money out of their pockets.
Things went from bad to worse when the Lebanon Motel had to close and then, in a terrible blow to entrepreneurs everywhere, a drunk driver had a high-speed head-on with the chapel, reducing it to heaps of holy kindling.
By now, several of you have asked the obvious question: back in 1918, before drones and satellites, lithium batteries and internet, how the heck did anybody figure out where the center of the lower 48 was? The surveyors cut out a U.S. map on heavy paper and Lebanon happened to be the spot where that map balanced on a pencil point. Crude, but then you try it without Google Maps. Subsequent surveys have identified several “centers” but even today, the 212 residents of Lebanon still cling to the pyramid, hoping for a resurgence in Geographic Central tourism.
Lebanon is definitely going to have to spruce it up a bit before I can recommend anything but a drive-by photo-op with the pyramid. Absolutely needs a zip line.