Monday, February 29, 2016


Last September I was playing around on Travelocity (yeah, I do that) and happened on an unbelievable airfare for a non-stop flight from Los Angeles to Minneapolis: $135 round trip. I thought it might be a mistake, but no, when I clicked through to purchase, it said $135 in the "Pay this" box.

My sister Angie lives near Minneapolis, and I had been checking the fares occasionally over the last few years. I never saw one that was less than $300. What could we do? We HAD to go, so we booked a flight for early October. As luck would have it, we got an incredibly good deal on a rental car as well: $107 for five days through Costco Travel and Alamo. Then I found a place to park near LAX for $48 (Fox Auto Park). All totaled up, that was $425 for our flights, our rental car, and our off-site airport parking in Los Angeles. I'm telling you, the stars were aligned in our favor! (Well, except for the additional $60 baggage fee, but more on that later.)

Our flights were on Spirit Airlines, a company we had not flown with before. I had heard it was a discount airline, similar to Southwest.

Not even close.

It's not that I wasn't grateful for the cheap flight, but Southwest is all about customer service (free bags, free change fees, free drinks and snacks) and Spirit Airlines is all about keeping the cost low by charging for everything, and I mean everything. Still, Spirit has a wonderful sense of humor. For example, check out the stretchy things that created the long line for check-in:

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


One of the earliest events in a long string of events that became the Civil Rights Movement involved a group of black children who were being bused to a segregated elementary school in Topeka. It wasn't a bad school--in fact, it was designed and built by the same company that built the all-white elementary school in town that many of the children lived quite close to. In addition, there were more teachers with master's degrees in the black school than in the white school. Unlike other places, "separate but equal" seemed to apply in this case. After all, Kansas had sided with the Union in the Civil War and, as far as states go, was quite progressive on race issues. The junior high and high schools were already integrated.
Monroe Elementary, an all-black elementary school built in 1926

The beef, however, was that some of the students who attended Monroe School, the black students' school, lived much closer to the white students' school. Some of the parents wanted their kids to have the opportunity to attend in their own neighborhood. None of the parents, along with the NAACP, liked the idea of "separate" in the "separate but equal" ruling of the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).  A group of thirteen parents, who represented their twenty children and were encouraged and supported by the NAACP, were the plaintiffs in this case. The eponymous plaintiff, Oliver Brown, was the father of a third-grader named Linda. Linda walked six blocks to her bus stop, and then she rode the bus a mile to Monroe School. An all white school, Sumner Elementary, was just seven blocks from her home. In the fall of 1951, the NAACP encouraged the parents to try to enroll their children at the neighborhood school. Of course they were denied and told to register at the segregated schools.

The District Court ruled in favor of the Board of Education, noting that the standards established in Plessy v. Ferguson for "separate but equal" facilities had been met. Thurgood Marshall, who was the NAACP's chief counsel and who would later be appointed to the Supreme Court himself, argued the case before the Supreme Court in spring 1953, but the justices could not reach a decision and asked to rehear the case in fall 1953. (I had no idea that could be done.) Initially, it appeared the vote was sharply divided. Chief Justice Earl Warren argued that segregation was based wholly on the idea that black people were inferior to white people, a preposterous idea. His simple argument was effective. Eventually there were only two holdouts, but Warren and Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter decided that this was such a significant case that there needed to be a unanimous vote rather than a simple majority, even though legally a majority is the same as a unanimous vote. They continued to work on the holdouts, and eventually they got their consensus.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


     “I cannot understand why you should wish to leave this beautiful country and go back to the dry, gray place you call Kansas."
     "That is because you have no brains," answered the girl. "No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home."
     The Scarecrow sighed."Of course I cannot understand it," he said. "If your heads were stuffed with straw, like mine, you would probably all live in beautiful places, and then Kansas would have no people at all. It is fortunate for Kansas that you have brains.”                       ~L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

As noted in a previous post, the Oz books were my life when I was in elementary school, and I must confess that everything I have ever thought about Kansas came from their pages.

Boy, was I mislead. I suppose Kansas can be hot and dry, and most likely I would feel differently if I had visited during a cyclone, but now that I've been there, I think Kansas is full of art and culture and lots of surprises. We ran across one of those surprises in Topeka.

Topeka's First Presbyterian Church, built in 1884, is relatively simple as far as churches go. The original building had a wooden steeple that stood 160 feet high. It was damaged by lightning in 1888, repaired, and then damaged again in 1910. Can you blame the church leadership for deciding to permanently remove the tower?
Photo from here

The church has a large sanctuary with a beautiful hand-carved altar:

However, the real glory of the church and the Big Surprise referred to earlier is on the surrounding walls: ten stained glass windows designed by none other than THE Louis Comfort Tiffany and installed in 1911 at a cost of $14,000. The church calls them "Windows of Comfort," a nice play on Tiffany's middle name.
(These are terrible photos, but they give a good idea of how the windows are placed in the church.)

Saturday, February 13, 2016


Topeka, Kansas, was our third state capital in a week, and the capitol building, along with the one in Lincoln, Nebraska (see post here), and Des Moines, Iowa (see posts here and here), was one of the most beautiful we've seen. It has the classic majestic exterior known to those who are familiar with the US Capitol. At 304 feet, this dome is actually taller than the 288-foot-tall US Capitol dome, but its 50-foot diameter is about half of the US Capitol's 96 feet. It has the look of a rocket ready for launch.
Construction took 37 years, and the capitol was declared finished in 1903. In 1901, a proposal had been submitted for a sculpture of Ceres, goddess of agriculture, to "complete" the tower.  Controversy over the cost and the pagan subject (and her questionable morals) prevented the statue from ever being cast and installed. It wasn't until 1984 that the process for selecting a new design began. The winner of the competition was a sculptor named Richard Bergen, whose design was a Native American warrior shooting an arrow at the sky:
While funds were being raised to pay for the sculpture, the cupola had to be reinforced so that it could hold the 4,420-pound, 22-foot-tall figure. Before it was installed, the finished sculpture was driven 3,000 miles to 35 cities around the state in the back of a truck so that Kansans could see and touch it. It was 2002 before the sculpture was finally lifted in place by a huge crane:
Photo from here

Surprise, surprise! A copy of the Statue of Liberty graces the capitol grounds. This is the third or fourth one we've seen at a capitol.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


Starting in about 4th grade, I became obsessed with the Wizard of Oz--the book (which was actually originally titled The WONDERFUL Wizard of Oz, but the word "Wonderful" was dropped in 1903), the movie, the characters, the music--I loved it all. When I discovered that there was a whole slew of sequels to the original book, I was overcome with joy and read every one that was on the shelves of our local library. The first book that I can recall buying with my own money was Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, Baum's fourth Oz book (published in 1908). I still own the book. In fact, that's a photo of my copy to the left. It cost $1.50 and I bought it at the BYU Bookstore.

During my childhood there was no such thing as a "video," so the only way to see a movie was in the theater or on TV. The 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz came around on TV once a year, usually on a Sunday evening, and that was one of the rare times my mom would let us watch TV on a) a Sunday and b) a school night.

I remember inviting my next-door neighbor and best friend Lori over to watch the movie with me and my sister Christine. Mom would let us pop popcorn, and then she even let us eat it in the living room while we were watching TV. It was epic, and Lori was soon converted to loving Oz too. I was sure I was named after Judy Garland (doubtful), which may have been part of my love for the movie. The Wizard of Oz was the principal source of magic that filled my childhood.

Fast forward 45+ years. Naturally, when we decided to travel through Kansas, the first thing I thought about was Dorothy and Toto and Auntie Em and the farm. A Google search revealed a potential Mecca: The Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas, and I made sure Bob put it as a #1 priority on the itinerary.

So why is there an Oz museum in Wamego? Was it the home of L. Frank Baum? One of the actors/actresses? The director/lyricist/composer/producer of the movie? The books' publisher? Was there actually an Auntie Em on whom Baum based the character?

No, no, no, no, and no. The Oz Museum was founded in Wamego in 2004 because . . . well, just because.

If you're wondering--and I know I was--L. Frank Baum was born in New York in 1856, moved to the Dakota Territory with his wife and sons in 1888 (the region on which he based Kansas in his book), then moved his family to Chicago in 1891. In 1897 Baum published his first successful book, Mother Goose in Prose, followed in 1899 by Father Goose, His Book. In 1900 he hit the jackpot with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which was the best-selling children's book for two full years. He followed it up with eleven more "Oz books" and two collections of Oz-related short stories over the next eighteen years. Two more of his Oz books were published posthumously. An incredibly prolific writer, he penned dozens of other non-Oz full-length works and short stories under his own name and at least seven other pseudonyms.

The Baums eventually moved to California, where Frank worked on stage and silent movie versions of his works, and where he died of a stroke in 1919. He was buried in Glendale, less than two hours from my home. (Yes, his grave is on my Pilgrimage/Places to Visit list.) He never did live in Kansas.

Okay, back to Wamego.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


After driving through Missouri, Iowa, and Nebraska, we headed for our fourth and last state: Kansas. During the next few days, our plan was to visit Abilene, Wamego, Topeka, Lawrence, and Kansas City (Kansas side):
(Wamego? What's in Wamego? You'll have to wait and see.)

The first leg, from Lincoln, Nebraska, to Abilene, Kansas, was 165 miles of corn fields. Some people would call this a soothing drive; others might say it's mind-blowingly boring. By this point in the trip, I'd probably go with the latter except for the fact that we had a good audiobook going, so the drive was great.

Our first Kansas stop was the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum, and Boyhood Home in Abilene. Like the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library site we visited earlier in the trip, this is a sprawling park that obviously includes much more than just the museum. Those Midwesterners like their space.

Eisenhower's family moved to Abilene from Texas in 1892 when Ike was two years old, and to this house in Abilene in 1898. Ike lived here with his five brothers and his parents until he left for West Point in 1911 at age 20. Ike's parents lived here until they died in 1942 and 1946.