Kansas: Not “Land Of Oz,” It’s “Land of Odd”

Poor Kansas: 82 years have gone by since the iconic movie “whirled” (tornado pun) to life, and still they can’t escape their association with Oz. But our brief “spin” (again, sorry not sorry) across Kansas revealed that besides flat fields, tornadoes and Oz … that this state is as odd as a bunch of oompa loompas! A motorcycle made of aluminum can pull tabs, a public restroom shaped like a giant toilet, a home with 200+ concrete sculptures in the front yard, the world’s largest hand-painted Czech egg … no lions and tigers and bears, but we’ve got greyhounds and Ike and Amelia, oh my!!! Instead of Land of Oz — how about the Land of Odd?

I’ll just drop this right here in case you didn’t believe that Kansas can be weird.

Lucas, Kansas

If you’re looking for weird (and who isn’t?), Lucas — known as the Grassroots Art Capital — is definitely your place.

With the legalization of marijuana in many states, you might think Grassroots means something entirely different, but here it refers to the folksy art that has been created by non-trained, did-something-else-in-a-former-life, just-passing-time-in-retirement artists.

When people ask if I’m a trained artist, I have to laugh. I’m not a trained anything. I’m barely civilized.”

– Grassroots artist Cher Shaffer

Though less than 400 people live in Lucas, you’ll find more quirky art per square mile than you will in most big cities!

Lucas’ main claim to fame is their internationally-award-winning public toilets, officially billed as “America’s Most Artistic Toilet Bowl.” That’s right, this is a toilet-shaped public restroom.

The 14′ tall oval “lid” and two half-circle benches that form the bowl are made with mosaic materials including broken pottery, colored bottles, travel plates, quotes, toys, and more.

On top, three hubcaps depict the flusher, and the sidewalk in front undulates like an unspooled toilet paper, all the way down the fluffy path to the big roll of Charmin!

Inside the rim, 6′ of swirly water holds ceramic versions of all those things you may have accidentally dropped in the toilet after one too many of Philip Miller’s margaritas: cell phones, eyeglasses, a book, a goldfish! It’s like a creepy game of “I Spy.”

The doggie drinking from the edge, whose name was chosen from hundreds of suggestions, is Beauregard Flushmeister.

“Now entering the tank” (say this inside your head in the Shark Tank announcer voice), behold the public restrooms for the city of Lucas, residing right inside the tank. And not just any ordinary bathrooms, oh no!

I’m a sucker for unusual bathrooms, so much so that a few years ago we personally remodeled our hall bathroom to include a floor made from 19,220 pennies, and a sink sitting on a bicycle!

So of course I couldn’t wait to check these bathrooms out. The city’s public restrooms residing inside the “tank” of the giant toilet are elaborately decorated and mosaic’ed by Artist Mri (say it like “Marie”) Pilar.

Obviously, she did this before this whole “non-gender-identity” became a thing, because the men’s room has cars, robots and doughnuts …

and the women’s restroom has tiny glass flowers, kittens, and teacups.

A four-year project led to “Bowl Plaza” being a national and international award winner for the quirkiest restroom! For more awesome restrooms you can visit (maybe near you?), visit https://www.bestrestroom.com/

Down the road from the big toilet, the Grassroots Arts Center is one of the highlights of rural Kansas. What exactly is grassroots art? Grassroots art is created by self-taught individuals, usually during their retirement years, often “driven by a vision,” which just goes to show what can happen if you live too long on a flat Kansas prairie in the middle of nowhere.

They say: “Ordinary People, Extraordinary Art!” We say: “Hmmm, that is odd!”

Here, a motorcycle made from 149,000 old-style can pull tabs sits quietly beside a matching pull-tab car, both made by artist Herman Divers. If these don’t impress you, you can always head to the cameo portraits made out of chewed gum, created by Betty Milliken.

Colored-concrete and rock “postcards” of U.S. landmarks like Mount Rushmore line the borders of the Florence Deeble Rock Garden, where she recreated places to which she had traveled.

But the REAL excitement isn’t here — it’s inside the house in front of the garden. The front porch gives you a taste that what’s inside is gonna be odd.

Artist Mri Pilar (of toilet bowl bathroom fame in town) continued being an odd one-woman show by transforming the donated house into a crazy art installation/museum/gallery called the “Garden of Isis,” full of her art made from “found objects” (code for “junk”) including mannequins and dolls. All the walls and ceilings are covered in shiny reflective silver, adding to the strangeness.

Even the telephone poles on the streets of Lucas are odd, artsy delights.

Down the road, Lucas’ most well-known destination is S.P. Dinsmoor’s Garden of Eden, a self-proclaimed prairie fantasyland filled with over 200 quirky concrete sculptures with old-time political and biblical overtones.

Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the devil, serpents, political figures like the Goddess of Liberty and the Crucifixion of Labor, other symbols and more — they’re all here.

The ultimate late bloomer, ole Disnmoor got busy building his house in 1907 at the age of 64. Over the next 22 years, rather than go fishing or play bridge, the energetic senior instead turned 2,273 sacks of concrete and many tons of limestone into his house and surrounding sculptures.

Did I mention Gramps was energetic? At the age of 81 after becoming a widower, he married his (cute!) second wife, who just happened to be 20. But that’s not all. He proceeded to have two children with her! In his 80’s! Clearly a role model to Mel Gibson and Eddie Murphy. His second round of kids ending up being the youngest children of a Civil War Veteran in history.

When he died, he wanted himself mummified and displayed in a — what else? — concrete coffin he made himself for the occasion, featuring a glass-topped viewing square so everyone could continue to admire him even after death (can you say narcissist?). He is still displayed, in extremely rough condition, in his homemade 40-foot tall mausoleum, where guests can see him (but aren’t allowed to take photos). He’s not alone here, however, for his first wife beat him to it. When she died, he buried her in the backyard, but the local authorities had a problem with that and moved her to the city cemetery. Ol’ Dinsmoor grabbed a couple of buddies that night, went and dug her back up, installed her back on his property and covered the whole thing up with concrete so nobody could ever get her out again.

All in all, the Garden of Eden is a fascinating look into the mind of a fascinating fella, and worth a visit!

Other odd attractions in Lucas include Miller’s Park Sculptures, with miniature buildings in a tiny town made of rocks and shells and shells for no apparent purpose whatsoever …

the World’s Largest Souvenir Plate, made from an old satellite dish …

and the World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things, which was closed for Covid, but which I’m sure would definitely be worth the world’s largest handclap of the world’s smallest hands.

The Post Rock Scenic Byway is a rolling 18-mile route through the Smoky Hills in this area. Though you won’t find a Hard Rock Cafe here, you will find lots of hard rock!

Many buildings are constructed of this hand-hewn limestone, and the fenceposts lining this route bear witness to the pioneers’ ingenuity when they arrived to the rolling Kansas plains between 1870-1920 to find … absolutely nothing to build with. Not a single tree, no lumber, no Lowes or Home Depot to be found.

The limestone is an old exactly-10″-deep crust of an old seabed that extends for thousands of square miles in every direction here, and its many uses continue today, not only for durability but also for historical style.

Along the Post Rock Scenic Byway, Wilson State Park has a 9,000-acre lake rimmed by beautiful sandstone, “the clearest lake in Kansas,” with this photo taken through the least-clear RV windshield in Kansas.

Further south on the Post Rock Scenic Byway, the town of Wilson is known as the Czech Capital of Kansas, which admittedly has got to have pretty scant competition. At any rate, to prove it, they serve up the World’s Largest Hand-Painted Czech Egg. At 15 feet wide and 20 feet tall, this odd attraction is made of 8,000 pounds of fiberglass and was painted by over 50 local volunteers.

If the big egg seems like overkill, baby eggs are also placed throughout town.

If you want to “Czech Out” even more Czech heritage and learn to polka and eat some yummy ethnic food while watching the Czech-Slovak Queen Pageant, the After-Harvest Czech Festival is held at the end of July.

Lastly, if you’re looking to become a real estate developer, consider Wilson. Its fortunes have apparently declined so precipitously that they will give you free land, if you’ll just come and please do something with it!

Abilene, Kansas

Abilene, voted Best Historic Small Town by USA Today, has a rich history dating back to 1857 back when they were only a stage coach stop named Mud Creek. In 1860, they were named Abilene, after a passage in the bible referring to a “city of the plains.” 

This is the logical location of the Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home, since the military leader and former President of the United States spent his youth here.

Exhibit galleries give a comprehensive look at former General Dwight D. Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, ever remembered for her cutesy bangs, and probably some other stuff too.

Eisenhower is perhaps even more revered for his role as a 5-star General and Commander during WWI, than for his 8 years as 34th President. In solidarity with all the late bloomers out there, he was also a less than stellar student while at West Point, ranking 61st out of 164 cadets, and preferring smoking cigarettes and playing poker to going to class.

Much of the 22-acre campus was closed for Covid restrictions, including his on-site boyhood home, and the Place of Meditation where Eisenhower, his parents, and his son all lay in rest. But, technology to the rescue: there is a short and interesting video about his youth available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZk1UHYdy8U

There are many Presidential Museums and Libraries throughout the country; here are just a few of our faves!

You know you’ve really made it when somebody paints your likeness out of tiny little squares. Though the Eisenhower Museum was less stately than some of the others we’ve visited, it was certainly worth a stop to learn more about life and times of this enigmatic President!

Old Abilene Town pays homage to the early days of this dusty cow town, where Texas cattlemen brought millions of longhorn steer along the Chisholm Trail in the 1800’s, to load onto the rail cars and send on East to their inevitable fate on someone’s dinner table.

We thought it a little odd that sleepy little Abilene is considered the Greyhound Capitol of the World (who knew?), but indeed the city’s Museum of Greyhound Racing and Hall of Fame located here explores the world of greyhound racing.

Their official “greeter,” retired racer Ginger, escorted us through the museum and made sure we felt at home!

Scott City, Kansas

Near Scott City, we experienced something really odd in Kansas: NON-farm land!

If you’ve been out West, you may be underwhelmed by these formations. But taken in context, they are really quite odd, because this is what the rest of Kansas looks like!

Little Jerusalem Badlands is Kansas’ newest state park, opening in 2019, with a couple of miles of trails leading to overlooks that give best viewing of the unique 80-million year old Niobrara chalk formations.

The area is known as Little Jerusalem because when the early-morning sun lights up the chalk bluffs, some say they resemble the Walls of Jerusalem. The chalk sediment was deposited 80 million years ago when Kansas was just a sea bottom!

These fossil-filled limestone formations cannot be reached from the trails, but signing up for a guided tour through nearby Historic Lake Scott State Park will take you off-trail and down into the rocks under the watchful eye of a knowledgeable ranger.

Also nearby, Monument Rocks National Natural Landmark rises up to 70′ straight out of the ground while simultaneous being surrounded by the flattest farmland you can imagine in all directions.

Also called the Chalk Pyramids, Monument Rocks’ Keyhole is the perfect viewpoint for the vast nothingness all around.

While in this area, we camped at Historic Lake Scott State Park, a super nice campground with full hookups, large level gravel sites, hiking trails all around, and the location of the remains of El Cuartelejo, which is oddly the one and only known Indian pueblo in Kansas. The park’s swimming beach, part of a 100-acre spring fed fishing lake, was a wonderful way to spend steamy midwest summer afternoons.

Atchison, Kansas

The Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum is filled with fascinating artifacts and memorabilia related to the famous aviatrix’s life and times. Of course, the as-yet unsolved mystery of her disappearance in the Pacific Ocean in 1937 is perhaps one of the oddest events of the last century.

“When a great adventure is offered, you don’t refuse it.”-Amelia Earhart Philip Miller

The home, circa 1880 and overlooking the Missouri River, is owned in trust by the International Ninety-Nines, an organization of 6,000+ woman pilots of which Earhart was the first elected president.

History’s most famous female pilot was also a nurse, writer, fashion designer and educator in aeronautical engineering, before disappearing in a cloud of mystery during her attempt at circumnavigation. Here, these two adventurous souls compare mapping techniques.

Such is the town of Atchison’s pride in the their hometown heroine that in 1997, they constructed Amelia’s permanent likeness in a one-acre farmfield outside town, the “Amelia Earhart Earthwork” (photo from TripAdvisor so you can see the scale with the cars around it).

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Of course, here in Kansas you can’t get away from the Oz references and attractions, and places across the state like the Oz Museum in Wamego, and Dorothy’s House & Land of Oz in Liberal are happy to oblige. Just watch out for creepy flying monkeys and child molesters! It’s odd they haven’t apprehended this dude yet.

Kansas’ state bird is the Western Meadowlark, giving me a weak reason to repost one of my all-time favorite photos, one I snapped long ago and far away in South Dakota’s Badlands National Park.

And so we’ve come to my last (and possibly my worst) “odd” reference, as we say “odd-ee-os” (get it?) to the Sunflower State (of which we’ve seen exactly zero in an entire week, for the record), as we head across the Missouri River and onward eastward! Odd-ee-os from the Land of Odd, everyone!

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