Saturday, May 30, 2009

Photographing Tombstones, Entry 2

Now equipped with my trusty digital camera once more, I stopped by the Delhi Cemetery on the way back from Lincoln to continue my project of taking photos of every tombstone in Osborne County. Located approximately nine miles north of Lucas, Kansas, Delhi Cemetery sits in the extreme southeast corner of the county in Delhi Township. Both the township and cemetery are named after Delhi, Vermont.

If you are into cemeteries, Delhi is certainly one to check out. Old and new stones are well mixed amongst each other here. The cemetery is also known for its native stone handcarved tombstones. The following are a few examples:

Among the many stories found in Delhi Cemetery is that of Bosen and Eliza (Jaman) Bronson. Bosen, or "Bose" as he was called, was a Kentucky slave who received permission from his master to fight for the Union side in the Civil War. Eliza was born in 1808 in Virginia, and ended up in Kentucky as well at the close of the war. The two then married (her fourth) and eventually took out a homestead in Delhi Township. They got to see their grandchildren graduate college here in Kansas. Eliza died in 1916 at the age of 108 years, still the oldest person to ever live in Osborne County. Surrounding their final resting place are what may be the unmarked graves of as many as 40 other "Exodusters" who left the South to resettle in Osborne County.

Explorer Extra: While the photo above shows one headstone for Bose Bronson, a second headstone for the Civil War veteran stands just to the north on the other side of an old cedar, giving a different date of death. Why there are two stones is no longer known.

Great Explorer Story: In the middle of four century-old cedar trees I was kneeling down in front of a small tombstone trying to focus my camera. Suddenly I heard something fall with a solid Whumph out of the tree about two feet in front of me.

Now, even though it is 2PM by this time, I instinctly know that I am in a cemetery, and that I am the only living human in that cemetery to boot. Therefore instinct took over and I did a very credible backflip and scrambled to my feet - just in time to see a large snake pulling the rest of its body out of the tree and along the grass.

The five-foot reptile gave me a little hiss and slowly slithered off toward the next tree, its middle clearly bulging with no doubt its latest prey. Either several hours or several minutes later (I really didn't care which it was) my heart finally calmed down and I went back to photographing tombstones - automatically jumping at every little sound I heard from the remaining trees I had to get under.

Moral of the Story: Explorers can Expect the Unexpected!

I'll finish with this photo of a tombstone for a three-day old infant. A cedar tree/bush has completely grown over this stone, and the only way to get a photo of it was to lie on my stomach and crawl under the bush, with all the cedar needles sticking in. Good thing I was the only living human in the cemetery; otherwise it would have been too good an opportunity for someone to lean over just as I was taking this photograph and yell,


Happy Exploring!

Fast Trip to Lincoln & Back

Today I had to make a fast trip to Lincoln, Kansas, to meet my sister and retrieve my camera, which somehow found its way into her car over the Memorial Day weekend. My sister lives in Salina, Kansas, and as Lincoln is roughly halfway between Osborne and Salina the Hungry Hunter Restaurant is an ideal place at which to meet for lunch.

The hodgepodge inside of the Hungry Hunter of antiques, stuffed game, art deco lighting, and ornate tin ceiling makes for a great atmosphere in which to eat. And the food is not bad either! Generous portions at generous prices. I opted for a simple Old English Burger with fries, and still had no room for dessert.

So we were sitting there eating and talking, when this man approached our table. "Do either of you own the Crown Victoria parked out front ?"he asked.

My heart sank. I've been run into, I thought. "Er, yes," I replied.

But no, there's a happy ending to this story.

"I'm Jim Williams, the photographer for the Lincoln Sentinel (the local newspaper). Well, I noticed that you are missing one of your hubcaps. I used to own a Crown Victoria," the man explained, "and I lost one of the hubcaps too. Found out that they would cost a lot to replace - well over $100 - so instead I took off all of my hubcaps. I've got the three in sacks on my porch for sale. You can have them for, say, five bucks each. I won't be home, but you can go by and get them."

He gave me his address and left, leaving my sister and I looked at each other in pleasant shock. We finished eating and went by the man's house and, sure enough, on the porch were the hubcaps. I left the money for two and left with another great story to tell about my fellow rural Kansans. And The Gold Standard has four hubcaps again! Thanks, Jim.
After lunch we went back our separate ways, and instead of taking State Highway 18 west out of town I decided as a proper Kansas Explorer that it was time to Dare to Do Dirt. So I turned onto Lincoln's North Street and headed west out of town, where the street suddenly turns into a classic Kansas dirt road.

Just a few miles west of Lincoln the road runs back into Highway 18, but not before you get to cross this historic trestle bridge. Fewer and fewer of these kinds of bridges are being maintained in Kansas each year.
Just west of Vesper on Highway 18 there is a roadcut that exposes the local clay deposits, including this rare purple layer.

Further along on Highway 18, a couple of miles west or so of Lucas, can be seen one of the last ceramic tile grain silos still standing with enough of its wooden roof to be able to understand this classic architectural style. Across the road to the south you can also see a native stone one-room schoolhouse still being preserved.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Attention, Kansas Explorers! - Quiz #1 on Osborne County

This past year the Kansas Explorers Club has been flirting with the 5,000-member mark. That's a lot of people out there, prowling back roads and being fascinated with the quirkiest things you can simply cannot imagine that the Sunflower State has to show everyone.

So Captain 8 (Kansas Explorer #8) is throwing the gauntlet down. You call yourself an Explorer? The following are a few photos from Osborne County, Kansas. See if you can identify them; you have until June 15th to do so. If you can, I'll treat you to a mess o' Chili Cheese Fries down at Daddy O's in Osborne. But if you can't . . . well, you'll know that there is always more to come back to Osborne County and Explore!

Currently being under renovation, this town's Heritage Seekers plan to have this building open soon as a community museum. What town are we talking about?

This group of octogenarians waited their entire lives to stand at last on this unique point located on a high lonesome hill in southeast Osborne County. What point is this?

Wander around the oldest building in this unicorporated village and you will find Explorer gems like this carving, now 130 years old. What village are we talking about?

And no, my math is not faulty; the carving was actually done in 1879, and the 1873 date refers to the formation of District No. 10. An Explorer Tidbit!

People love to gather at this community's newest food & drink establishment. Be sure to try the Four Berry Smoothie the next time you stop by! What place and town are we talking about?

Osborne County is the Homestead Literature Capital of Kansas, this site being one of the reasons why. Freshly mowed and awaiting the adventurous Explorer, this shelter, picnic table and stone monument are the starting & ending point for a tour of the sites made famous in what great Kansas book?

And Finally - An original copy of the March 1872 Volume I, Issue 2 of the Arlington Express, the oldest known Osborne County newspaper in existence, can be found hanging in this architectural gem that is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. What great Osborne County building are we talking about?

There you have it. Good luck, and may The Explorer Wind be forever at your back!

ANSWERS: (1) Natoma; (2) Geodetic Center of North America; (3) Bloomington; (4) The Gathering Grounds in Downs; (5) Sod-House Days by Howard Ruede; and (6) the Osborne County Courthouse.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The 8 Wonders of Osborne County

Osborne County Tourism held a contest in 2008 to name the 8 Wonders of Osborne County, in homage to the 8 Wonders of Kansas project by the Kansas Sampler Foundation. Seventeen candidates were chosen and presented to the general public, who then voted on the eight finalists. Over 800 votes were cast (in a county of 4,000 people!) and the winners were:

Alton Bluffs, Alton
Covert Ghost Town, Covert Township
Geodetic Center of North America, Delhi Township
Missouri Pacific Railroad Depot, Downs
Natoma Presbyterian Church, Natoma
Old State Bank of Portis Building, Portis
Osborne County Courthouse Square, Osborne
Sod & Stubble Country Self-Guided Tour, Ross Township

This year Osborne County Tourism, together with the Osborne County Transient Guest Tax Board, authorized eight postcards to be created in honor of the 8 Wonders of Osborne County:

The limestone Alton Bluffs tower above the South Fork Solomon River a mile south of the city of Alton. They are the setting for the annual Sunrise Service, held every Easter morning for the past 60 years.

The former town of Covert was founded in 1880 and was a thriving community until the post office was closed at last in 1966. At its height the six blocks that comprised Covert sported a population of 150 people. Covert Rural High School (1915-1952) was the lifeblood of the community for many years. Teacher John Locke was born near Covert and taught his first years here; as the lone senior (and the team's coach!) he led Covert in 1926 to the Kansas State Basketball Tournament, the smallest school to ever do so. Locke went on to become the winningest high school basketball coach in Kansas history and was named to the Kansas State Sports Hall of Fame in 1990.

In 1910 a point atop a hill in the southeast corner of Osborne County in what was then known as Meade's Ranch was selected by U.S. Geodetic Survey as the center point for its grid of survey dots and lines across the nation. In 1927 both Canada and Mexico attached their grids to this point as well, and it received the official name as the North American Datum. More commonly called the Geodetic Center of North America, all surveys and deeds on the continent originate from this point. This unique site was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

The pride of downtown Downs, the 1917 Missouri Pacific Railroad Depot recalls the days when Downs was a major railroad division point. Recently restored, the depot is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Natoma's elegant Presbyterian Church is considered to be the finest example of Carpenter Gothic architecture in Kansas. The 1898 structure is the National Register of Historic Places for another architectural milestone as well: it was the second structure in the world built with the "no-sag roof" concept. This revolutionary idea of distributing the weight on a roof eliminated the need for supporting columns was created in Natoma by construction owner Henry Beisner and is now a fundamental part of all modern architecture.

The former State Bank of Portis building commands your attention as you drive down Market Street/U.S. Hwy. 281 in the village of Portis. It was built of native limestone in 1886.

Courthouse Square in Osborne County, Kansas was selected by the first county commissioners in the fall of 1871 to be the site for the local seat of power. The historic square is the home to several county entities: the Osborne County Hospital; the Osborne County Jail; the 2000 Osborne County Veterans Memorial; the 1929 Osborne County Pioneers Memorial; and the Osborne County Courthouse. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the century-old building was a finalist for the 8 Wonders of Kansas Architecture as a prime example of the Richardsonian Romanesque style. A further attraction is the face of pioneer John Wineland, carved into the south face of the clock tower.

Still being printed is the postcard for the Sod & Stubble Country Self-Guided Tour. The 20-mile, 21-stop driving/biking tour is located two miles northwest of Downs and features many of the people, sites, and events made famous in the 1936 book Sod & Stubble by John Ise. An international bestseller today, Sod & Stubble is considered a classic piece of literature and is used as a textbook in many colleges and universities across the United States and Canada.

Merlyn Brown of the Merlyn Entertainment Professional Group in Osborne designed the postcards, making it as truly local county grassroots project.

So come and see the 8 Wonders of Osborne County! You won't be sorry!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Kansas Music Scene: It Started with the Harlan Brothers Orchestra

Recently I've grown enamored with the song Walking Where the Roses Grow, a nice story of eshewing the lure of the bright city lights for the simplicity and beauty of rural life. It's by the very successful 1980s British rock/pop group Katrina & the Waves, best known for their monster hit Walking on Sunshine among others. What most people don't know is that the lead singer in the band was a Kansas girl, Topeka native Katrina Leskanich. Her journey from the Sunflower State to England, where she still lives and records today, is one worthy of a major studio bio pic.

This Kansas connection has led me to muse on the musical roots of the Sunflower State and its continuing contribution to the national and international music scenes today. And that leads me back to April 1873, when the Kansas music influence was born. That month saw Dr. Brewster Higley show up at the doorstep of Dr. John and Sarah Harlan on their farm near the town of Harlan in Smith County, Kansas. He had brought with him a poem he had written two years before, called My Western Home.

Now the Harlan family were extremely musical, so much so that Dr. John and two of his sons made up the locally popular Harlan Brothers Orchestra along with friend Dan Kelley. Upon reading Higley's poem, the family called Dan over to their place, broke out their instruments and played around with Higley's words. Once Dan Kelley hit upon the right music to go with the words, the song Home on the Range was born. It was debuted at a dance almost immediately afterwards and was an instant hit, and today is the official Kansas state song.

Later another Kansas Harlan family member went on to even greater heights of musical popularity. Byron G. Harlan (1861-1936) recorded over 50 Top Ten hits between 1899 and 1920. In this same period he teamed up with Arthur Collins to create the most popular comedy recording duo in the pre-World War II music era. Some of the songs Byron had a hand in making immortal include: Alexander's Ragtime Band; Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie; In My Merry Oldsmobile; School Days; Hello Central, Give Me Heaven; and The Dark Town Strutters Ball.

In the 20th Century Kansas contributed to several genres of popular music. Coleman Hawkins (Topeka) and Stan Kenton (Wichita) are jazz legends. Big Joe Turner of Kansas City was the first to record the classic Shake, Rattle & Roll in 1954. Bonner Springs native Gene Clark was a founding member of the 1960s legendary group The Byrds. Other Kansas contributors to rock & roll include Melissa Etheridge (Leavenworth), and the groups Kansas (Topeka) and Shooting Star (Overland Park). Country music has seen Chely Wright (Kansas City) and Martina McBride (Sharon) become stars in recent years. Even alternative rock has benefited from a strong Kansas connection, led by groups such as Kill Creek. No doubt there are others out there that deserve recognition as well.

There is a Kansas Music Hall of Fame that has held annual inductions in Lawrence since 2005. But until they acknowledge rock legend Joe Walsh (Wichita) as an inductee you'll not see me mention them again. I mean, c'mon people, we're talking about a member of the Eagles, for heaven's sake!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Photographing Tombstones, Entry 1

Today was another gorgeous day, and of course I was stuck in the house all day. Finally at 8PM I decided that it was high time for a quick break. I got in the Gold Standard and drove seven miles west to the Bloomington Cemetery for a quick foray of photographing tombstones. There are over 50,000 people known buried in what is now Osborne County, Kansas, and I have made it a project to go out and photograph every known tombstone in one year's time.

Why, do you ask?
Simple: (1) it gets me out of the house; (2) you get to see some pretty interesting country as you Dare To Do Dirt tracking down some of these public cemeteries (Osborne County has 41, officially); (3) Genealogists and even the odd historian or two will kiss your feet to discover that there is a photograph available of that long-lost ancestor they are half a continent away from and so cannot come and take the photo themselves.

At any rate, the Bloomington Cemetery is relatively easy to reach, being on rock roads only a mile north and a half mile west of the comforting pavement of U.S. Highway 24. The small cemetery has had a rough time of it over the years; of the over 80 known burials, only 42 tombstones can be now be found.

If you ever have the chance to visit this cemetery, be sure to look for one of the five oldest marked graves in Osborne County. Bryan Frentress was born in November 1860 in Iowa to Thomas and Martha, and when only ten years old he passed away on September 5, 1871. Check out his tombstone - no doubt adding to his parents' sense of loss was the final ignominy that the stonemason spelled his name incorrectly as Byon.

One grave you will not find - that of Delbert Tunison. Delbert was six months married in 1885 when he was shot and killed during a midnight visit to the barn of his wife's parents. The story goes that her family objected strongly to their marriage and after a few months the new Mrs. Tunison began to as well. So one night she convinced her husband to go out at night to her parents' farm and bring back two horses and a buggy that should have been her dowry.

Upon entering the barn Delbert was met by his wife's two brothers, who promptly declared him a trespasser and shot him dead. One brother eventually went to prison for the crime, the other brother received a lesser sentence, the widow got off scot-free, and poor Delbert had only his ten-year old brother William to mourn his passing. Delbert lies to this day somewhere in the northern part of the cemetery in an unmarked grave.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Great Day to be Out in Osborne County, Kansas

Today started out bright and early for myself and Joe Hubbard, two members of Osborne County Tourism, as we got several locations clean and ready for visitors during the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. We urge everyone to come and see for yourselves all there is to see and do in this great county.

Our first stop was at the ghost town of Covert, where as the Covert Street Department we mowed and erected new street signage for the seven streets in the abandoned community, along with moving and cutting any number of limbs that had grown in the way. The Covert Rural High School alumni will be holding their biannual reunion in the nearby Covert Creek Lodge next weekend.

Then it was across the county to the former site of the Kill Creek Store, the starting point for the Rediscovering Sod-House Days Self-Guided Tour. There we mowed and cleaned up the picnic shelter and left it in great shape for future visitors.

After eating the special (chicken-fried steak dinner) and great homemade pie at the Homestead Cafe in Alton, there was one more stop at Bloomington, where we cleaned up the travel information kiosk there.

Then Joe headed back to his day job as co-proprietor of the Riverbend Bed & Breakfast east of Osborne, Kansas, and I went on to an afternoon of helping out at the Carnegie Research Library in Osborne. Three out-of-town travelers with queries about Osborne County history made the day both enjoyable and go fast.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Looking toward the 2010 Kansas Sampler Festival

Recovery from a Kansas Sampler Festival takes a few days. In one weekend you've talked to hundreds of people you know, hundreds more that you don't know but that certainly doesn't stop you, and have eaten a lot of great food from a lot of great Kansas food vendors that seemed like a great idea at the time - and it was! The homemade ice cream stands are a must for me each year, and now I've discovered a new favorite with which I can also replenish my energy.

So one of the food vendors I certainly will look forward to revisiting at the 2010 Festival in Leavenworth will be Capone's Famous Shaved Ice of Garden City, Kansas, the home of Gourmet shaved ice treats. And when they say Gourmet they mean it. I highly recommend that everyone who travels to Leavenworth the first weekend in May next year knuckle down and try Capone's "Frog in A Blender." Don't let the name throw you; it only looks like they put a frog through a blender. In actuality it's one of the tastiest desserts you will find anywhere.

"Frog In A Blender." A Great Kansas Taste Treat! Remember, you read it here first.

Monday, May 4, 2009

2009 Kansas Sampler Festival a Rousing Success

This year marked the 20th year for the staging of the Kansas Sampler Festival. For those not in the know, the "Sampler" is the place to be in terms of how to find out what there is to see and do in the Sunflower State. Sponsored by the Kansas Sampler Foundation, this is currently the only festival of its kind in the world, where towns of less than 30 in population man booths & exhibits next to those of 300,000.

Bill Williams, Laura McClure, & Carolyn Williams of Osborne County Tourism (OCT) can be seen putting the finishing touches on the Festival's Osborne County booth.

Concordia has been an excellent host the past two years for the Sampler. Over 5,000 very curious people attended this year's Sampler on May 2-3. From kolaches and buffalo fat soap for sale to historical reenactors and native Kansans of all kinds everywhere, there was indeed something for the entire family.

OCT had its usual large all-volunteer contingent to let people know what there is to see and do here. This year's volunteers included Bob & Adeline Eickhoff and Betty & Orville Pruter, all of Natoma; Bob & Carolyn Williams, Alton; and Mildred Morgan, Laura McClure, and yours truly, all of Osborne. In all we gave out hundreds of brochures and talked for several hours each day with people both familiar and brandnew when it came to knowing about our region of the state. It was hard on the feet, knees, and vocal chords (it took a few days for everyone to recover afterwards) but well worth the effort. Everyone should be applauded for their work ethic and commitment to promoting tourism in the county.

This was the 2009 version of the Osborne County booth. This year's theme featured the 8 Wonders of Osborne County for people to come see and enjoy. As usual, the main attraction in the booth was The Rock, seen at lower left. Scientifically called a Septarian Concretion, the Rock is an annual hit with both kids and adults alike.

This was my 10th Sampler, and I can tell you that they get better and better every year. Leavenworth County in NE Kansas will be the Festival's host for the next two years, so make your plans now to be in Leavenworth the first weekend of May 2010!