Thursday, March 24, 2016


Kansas State History Museum

Kansas State History Museum

How do you make an impressive state history museum? In 1980, Kansas started by choosing Kansas architect Robert Schaefer to design an impressive 30,000-square-foot building in Topeka.
Thousands of artifacts were added to tell the history of Kansas from the days of the American Indians to today. It was an adventure to walk through the many rooms in the presence of wax figures of iconic Kansan figures and related objects and stories.
We were greeted at the first exhibit, “From the Farm to the Dinner Table,” by the figure of President Dwight Eisenhower dressed in a chef’s outfit. This temporary exhibit explores the government’s effect on what Americans eat with some emphasis on posters from World War II encouraging Americans to conserve food and cut back on meat so there would be more available to keep our troops fit.

We rounded a corner and were startled by the figure of a large Indian standing in front of us. This was a chief of the Kiowa, known as the “Orator of the Plains.” We also saw a Cheyenne teepee and a grass lodge — like those built by the Wichita — surrounded by pumpkins, corn, gourds and other plants grown in this locale by American Indians. The Osage and Kansa also were among the many tribes who lived in the area at various times.

Cheyenne grass lodge surrounded by Native American foods

As we examined a covered wagon loaded with supplies and a prairie diorama, we learned about the lives of the pioneers who crossed the area on their way to Oregon or California. One quote gives some indication of what the travelers faced: “Were it not for the sick and dying that everywhere meets the eye, and the vast number of graves along the road, the journey would be a pleasant one.”
Kansas prides itself on being the nation’s breadbasket because of how of much of the land is given over to farming.

The objects that show the history of farming were well chosen: a furnished log house rescued from the banks of the Saline River, a stagecoach used by the Southwestern Stage Co., a sodbuster plow and small but evidently effective “Queen” windmill.

The farmers found the land was better for wheat than corn and other crops, and the state has become our country’s major wheat-growing state.

The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway was founded in 1860. It carried passengers, often immigrants, into the state, along with manufactured goods, and it carried Kansas farm products out to the rest of the world.
Having a railroad could make or break a town. In keeping with the importance of the railroad to the state, the museum has a steam engine from the company and two passenger cars on rails inside the museum.

We were surprised to find that Wichita — with its prominent airplane manufacturing companies — in 1929 had been dubbed the “Air Capital of the World” by the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce. Kansans turned out 24,000 airplanes in World War II.

To highlight Kansas’ aircraft history, a very realistic-looking Amelia Earhart stands in front of a biplane built in 1914.
Iconic objects surround wax figures such as newspaper writer William Allen White, temperance crusader Carrie Nation and artist John Steuart Curry.

Other exhibits focus on topics such as the Civil War, blacks in Kansas and modern developments.
Printed guides are available at the entrance to help young visitors get involved in scavenger hunts — a fun way to learn about what they are seeing.

A separate but connected building contains the state archives. Outside the museum is a 2.5-mile walking trail with native plants and wildlife. A one-room school building is used for tours to illustrate what early schools were like.

Chief of the Kiowa, known as the “Orator of the Plains.”